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On Oct. 5, 2016 the Alumni Achievement Awards took a big new step. For the first time the ceremonies were held at the Bella Concert Hall, and additional hosts, guests and entertainment turned the festivities into “A Royal Night.”

As usual, the 2016 alumni award recipients were announced and recognized with inspiring video stories celebrating excellence in their chosen fields. But this year offered even more. Recording artist, Mount Royal alumnus and Storyteller-in-Residence Paul Brandt (Nursing, 1992) gave a talk titled, "Legacy Collection - Intellectual, Creative and Personal." A beautiful performance on the Bella Concert Hall stage by dancers from Pure Motion Dance Company was led by alumna and past Horizon Award recipient, Nicola Kozmyk Jones (Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship, 2016). Attendees were treated to music by the Mount Royal Artio and Cum Vino Cantus choirs as well as the Calgary Fiddlers, which all sounded amazing in the acoustically flawless Bella. For the sixth time, Doug Dirks (Sport Management Diploma, 1983) and Jenny Howe (Broadcasting Diploma, 2006) from CBC Radio Calgary hosted the awards, and were guilelessly entertaining as usual.

Words by Collette Burjack
Photos by Chao Zhang

It is an eclectic group. From a crown prosecutor to an opera singer, and from a gymnast coach to a venture capitalist, their diversity is wide. And from a newspaper editor to a cowboy, and a pilot to an orthopedic surgeon, their impact is deep. Every year, the Mount Royal University community comes together in a special celebration of our outstanding students and graduates.

Selected from among more than 90,000 alumni, recipients of the Alumni Achievement Awards embody the sense of citizenship and dedication to excellence that are the hallmarks of a Mount Royal education. Recognized for their significant contributions to their community or profession, recipients serve as ambassadors for the University and as an inspiration to future graduates.

This year, the Alumni Achievement Awards encompass three categories.

  • The Outstanding Alumni Awards acknowledge alumni who demonstrate outstanding achievement in their fields
  • The Outstanding Future Alumni Award distinguishes a current student based on academic accomplishments, school involvement and volunteer history
  • The Horizon Award recognizes the outstanding achievements of alumni early in their careers

We are proud to introduce the 2016 recipients of the Alumni Achievement Awards.

Patricia Patton

Outstanding Alumni Award­­ — Professional Achievement

Justice Administration Diploma, 1985

Patricia (Pat) Patton can only be described as a trailblazer. During a career that spans more than three decades, she has broken gender barriers, been an agent of change in her field and taken every opportunity to seek and apply new learning. She built a department from the ground up, and today oversees just under 100 employees as director of Security and Operations at the University of Regina.

For Patton, her most significant impact has been the opportunity to affect change in young people.

“Security has a role to play in students’ education,” says Patton. “We help teach them how to live in a community.”

While a university is a natural fit for Patton’s appetite for learning and helping others, she began her studies at Mount Royal under the assumption she’d enter policing. An excursion to Houston, Texas, opened her eyes to additional possibilities.

“We got to see jails and youth camps, as well as the University of Houston and its police department,” says Patton.

“I loved the atmosphere at Mount Royal, and I knew there was such a thing as campus security; this trip made me realize that could be a career opportunity.”

After graduation, Patton landed her first job at the University of Saskatchewan, which was in the midst of evolving a new security model.

“It was very much people-based and about being involved in the community,” says Patton. “It really piqued my interest.”

A decade later, Patton leapt at the opportunity to build a security department from scratch at the University of Regina, only a 10-minute walk from where she grew up.

Since then, Patton has developed an award-winning team that is integral to campus life. She has been critical to the University’s success, providing leadership during fires and floods; implementing security plans for major events; liaising with local law enforcement agencies; and, instigating security policies across the campus. She is also heavily involved in the community, serving as a Canadian representative for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

There have been obstacles along the way. As one of the few women in Canada to hold a senior position in campus security, Patton has faced sexism and discrimination throughout her career.

“People would defer to my male colleagues,” says Patton. “They’d assume a woman was not physically capable.”

Patton’s experiences in part fuel her interest in Man Up Against Violence™ (MUAV), an international initiative born at the University of Regina that has been presented internationally as a model to promote healthy masculinities.

For Patton, who sits on the MUAV Advisory Board, this program addresses the missing piece in conversations about sexual violence and assault.

“We know a huge proportion of violence against women is done by men, and research shows a lot of that is a result of socialization,” says Patton. “We put men in a man-box.”

Used to operating behind the scenes, Patton was surprised to learn she was a recipient of an Alumni Achievement Award.

“I was stunned, but I’m proud of what I’ve done,” says Patton. “It all started with my education.”

Brad Nichols

Outstanding Alumni Award — Community Service

Bachelor of Applied Justice Studies, 2003

It sounds like the opening to an episode of CSI: a team of investigators await the results of an unconventional DNA test, hoping it will hold the key to a series of grisly attacks.

The team is led by Officer Brad Nichols, manager of Animal Cruelty Investigations at the Calgary Humane Society. The case is the 2014 deaths of a Siberian Husky and a domestic cat, acts of violence that outraged the Calgary community.

Describing the case as a “classic whodunit,” Nichols and his team scoured the neighbourhood for information, which eventually led them to sending samples garnered from the execution of a search warrant for forensic testing — an unusual step in cases of animal cruelty. Ultimately, their perseverance resulted in the perpetrator’s arrest, conviction and imprisonment.

For Nichols, this case showcases the dedication and resourcefulness of a team he has cultivated for more than a decade.

Moreover, it exemplifies the commitment and collaborative spirit Nichols has exhibited throughout his career — a potent combination that has brought his team international renown.

Nichols’ thirst for autonomy and free thinking first brought him to Mount Royal in 2000, after three years of study at another university hadn’t got him any closer to choosing his career. In Mount Royal’s Applied Justice Studies, he thrived on the small class sizes and one-on-one attention from instructors.

Through his program, he completed a practicum with Rocky View County. After graduation, he continued working with the county as a bylaw officer. Favouring creative problem solving and peaceful mediation over ticketing, he saw his role as building a community.

“I’m a problem solver,” says Nichols.

“I enjoy helping the community.”

After two years as a bylaw officer, Nichols accepted a position with the Calgary Humane Society — a rare union of law enforcement and the nonprofit sector. There Nichols discovered his true calling.

Since 2005, Nichols has risen to the position of senior manager. Along the way, his collaborative approach has brought incredible results. In particular, he’s cultivated close ties with the Calgary Police Service, Calgary Animal Bylaw Services and forensic veterinarians, allowing Nichols’ team to be more responsive, close more cases and operate more safely. Under his direction, the department began using forensic evidence for the first time in 2009. Today, Nichols’ team is the gold standard for animal cruelty departments, nationally.

While there is an emotional toll taken when working with animals who have suffered neglect and abuse, they give Nichols motivation and strength.

“I’m inspired by their transformation,” Nichols says. “When you approach an animal who’s fearful or scared, and you win their trust and follow them through to the adoption process, it keeps you going.”

In addition to his managerial duties, Nichols regularly supervises practicum students from Mount Royal and other institutions, encouraging them to entertain different opportunities within law enforcement.

Nichols is honoured to receive an Alumni Achievement Award, and insists his achievements are a reflection of his team. “I consider this to be a departmental, not an individual, award.”

Carmen Morin

Horizon Award

Music Performance Diploma, 2008

Search for Carmen Morin online and you may stumble across a grainy video of her when she was eight years old, playing the piano alongside her two brothers on the iconic TV show, “Hello Calgary”. When the host, Gord Gillies, asks about her plans for when she grows up, Morin smiles and muses, “I might be a piano teacher.”

Several decades later, Morin has more than fulfilled that eight-year-old’s dream. She is the founder of Morin Music Studio, a music instruction studio that has grown to incorporate more than 600 students in a little over two years.

Morin credits her fierce work ethic and perseverance to her own music education.

“Music was the vehicle to enrich our lives,” says Morin of her childhood. “In our formative years, it taught us how to set goals, brought a sense of accomplishment and showed us there was no limit to what we can do.”

With music infusing her life, it’s no surprise that she became involved with the Mount Royal University Conservatory at an early age.

“Some of my earliest childhood memories are in the Mount Royal Conservatory hallways,” says Morin.

Morin excelled in the Conservatory’s Academy for Gifted Youth, finding herself in a like-minded community of musicians and instructors. One of her most memorable moments was representing her country on a performance tour of Mexico on behalf of the Canadian Embassy.

As an adult, Morin enrolled in Mount Royal’s Music Performance Diploma program. She bolstered her studies with classes in business and entrepreneurship. At first glance, business and music seem unusual bedfellows, but for Morin these two disciplines form the core of her success.

“They complement each other,” says Morin. “Entrepreneurship is creative thinking, imagining all the different ways things can be interpreted, not setting limits. That’s how a musician’s mind is trained.”

Upon completing her diploma, Morin transferred to the University of Calgary to pursue a Bachelor of Music. She later transitioned from student to instructor, joining Mount Royal’s faculty. While valuing the support of Mount Royal’s close-knit community, she always knew she wanted to strike out on her own.

In 2013, she made the leap. Starting her own studio proved an immense — and rewarding — challenge. Morin describes a whirlwind two years of planning, renovating and, most importantly, honing her vision for her studio.

“My studio philosophy focuses on developing the whole child,” Morin says.

“We use music as a means to enrich, teach skills and bond parent and child.”

Dedicated to increasing access to music education for all children, Morin also founded the Love of Music Calgary program, which provides lessons to children whose families cannot afford private instruction. She continues to give back to Mount Royal by serving as a mentor through the Harry G. Schaefer Mentorship Program and being a proud donor to the Conservatory’s new Bella Concert Hall.

Morin is honoured to receive an Alumni Achievement Award.

“Mount Royal has been such a big part of my musical journey and my career,” says Morin. “It’s very close to my heart.”

Cassandra Nysten

Outstanding Future Alumni Award

Bachelor of Science — Health Science, 2017

Being raised on a family farm on the outskirts of Carstairs, Alberta, fostered Cassandra Nysten’s sense of community. “Growing up in a small town, you take care of each other. You grow up together,” she says.

Nysten was an active member in Carstairs’ athletics, participating on countless teams and leading the Hugh Sutherland High School basketball team to provincials for the first time in 30 years.

“I believe that by implementing healthy and positive changes in your own life, you can encourage others to do the same,” says Nysten. “You can make a huge impact in your community.”

This focus on community is what attracted Nysten to Mount Royal University and its small-town feel. Away from home for the first time, Nysten initially struggled to find a balance between a demanding course load, her athletic pursuits and her volunteer commitments. Thanks to her family’s support and the resources available at Mount Royal, she soon found her stride. Today, she holds a remarkable 4.0 GPA and continues to work to improve people’s lives throughout the campus and beyond.

Nysten is most proud of the impact she’s had as a Peer Health Educator. In this role, she assists in planning and running events to promote a healthier campus, including educating her fellow peers on mental, physical and financial health.

Also dear to Nysten’s heart is her involvement with the Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured. Having worked closely with several clients during the previous year, Nysten says she gained a new understanding about the perseverance and determination required to recover from a brain injury.

“It’s rewarding to be able to reach out to so many people.”

In addition to her volunteer activities, Nysten continues to nourish her love of sports by participating in Mount Royal Intramural Basketball. During the summers, also an entrepreneur, she raises and sells free-range chickens.

“I sometimes take on more than I can handle, but I love it all — volunteering, academics, basketball,” says Nysten.

Above all, Nysten is driven by her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Describing the challenges ahead as “daunting,” Nysten is nevertheless determined to succeed in this highly competitive field.

“It tests your character and commitment,” says Nysten of the path to medical school.

“You have to decide if this is really what you want to do with your life.”

Nysten is honoured to join the illustrious company of present and former Alumni Achievement Award recipients. To students just beginning their post-secondary path, Nysten says, “Never give up, but lean on the support you have. You don’t have to do this journey alone.”

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Past Winners - Alumni Achievement Awards 2015

Check out the winners.