Mount Royal
Alumni Achievement
Award Winners

Meet four MRU graduates who are making a difference in their communities, industries and beyond

Words by Lisa Kadane
Photos by Chao Zhang

What makes alumni or students stand out in a veritable sea of success stories? Is it their dedication to helping others? Their mission to make Canada a better, more equitable country? Their courage to shake up the status quo, or their willingness to take a chance on a groundbreaking idea or design?

In the case of this year’s Alumni Achievement Award recipients, chosen from more than 90,000 graduates, it’s all of the above. Mount Royal is celebrating four outstanding graduates who have excelled in their professional and academic lives to make a big difference in their fields, communities and beyond. From a teacher entrepreneur to a communications pro, and a lawyer to an interior designer, this year’s recipients embody the commitment to community engagement and pursuit of excellence that are the cornerstones of a Mount Royal education. They also serve as inspiration for tomorrow’s alumni.

This year, the Alumni Achievement Awards encompass three categories:

  • The Horizon Award recognizes the outstanding achievements of alumni early in their careers
  • The Outstanding Alumni Award acknowledges alumni who demonstrate outstanding achievements in their fields
  • The Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes alumni at the culmination of their careers who have brought honour to their profession and alma mater

Meet the 2017 award recipients!

Michael Parker

Interior Design Diploma, 1972

Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award

When Mount Royal Interior Design alumnus Michael Parker began his career in the 1970s, the industry was misunderstood, seen merely as a vehicle for showing off the latest colours or furniture styles.

Now, interior design is considered an integral part of the building process, and more people — from designers themselves to architects and clients — view it more as a science than an art. Through his work as a designer and his role as a booster of the profession, Parker has helped facilitate that evolution in Calgary.

“Interior decoration has matured to include critical knowledge of interior health and well-being, sustainability and changing lifestyles,” Parker says. “It’s not just about trend and fashion; it’s how people can function and grow in a space. I want people to talk more about the science of our industry.”

Parker graduated from Mount Royal in 1972, and like any star alumnus, he has maintained a strong relationship with the school. A champion of the interior design program that launched his career, he’s served with the Interior Design Alumni Chapter and supported its annual fundraising event, Primarily, It’s a Party, which raises money for student bursaries and supplies.

Professionally, Parker spent the majority of his career at the design firm Dialog, where he worked on numerous commercial projects for both corporate and not-for-profit clients. He was part of the team that designed the office space for Renaissance Energy (now Enbridge) in the 1980s. The award-winning design included concepts such as fewer walled-off corridors for dynamic workflow, open coffee stations that encouraged brainstorming and “light harvesting,” in which glass-fronted offices facilitated natural light reaching the middle of the space.

“People would come in to work, feel good and want to be there,” Parker recalls.

Another award-winning project was the design of the Gulf Canada (now ConocoPhillips) office space in the 1990s. The company’s president at the time was all about knowledge sharing and wanted an open-concept workplace, with no walls or private offices for anyone, to assist with the flow of ideas. Workers were presented with a kit of options for personalizing their space, so they could have control over their cubicle and customize it to work for them. Though that style of space is common in today’s tech industry, it was a revolutionary concept in the oilpatch 25 years ago.

“We were on the cusp of this generational shift that was starting to happen (with workplace environments) and I’m so proud of that,” Parker says.

He’s also proud of his smaller projects, such as Rosedale Hospice. There he was tasked with creating a homey space where residents would feel safe and be able to die with dignity.

“No matter what you’re designing, it comes down to people,” Parker says. “How can people feel comfortable in this space?”

Parker also found time to speak nationally and internationally about best practices for colour usage. As well, several of his projects have been featured in publications such as the Calgary Herald and Canadian Interiors. “I am particularly honoured to have shared my expertise with numerous agencies, charities and educational institutions. This award rounds off my resumé.”

Now retired and looking back on his illustrious career, Parker thanks Mount Royal for giving him a solid foundation all those years ago.

“What’s remained consistent is Mount Royal’s attitude toward the student,” Parker says. “The school just feels good, and when people are comfortable and feel good, they perform.”

Cyndy Morin

Bachelor of Arts — University Transfer, 1999

Outstanding Alumni Award — Community Service

Family lawyer Cyndy Morin has seen a client fight with a soon-to-be-ex over canned goods in the garage and an eyelet bedding skirt valued at $8. It sounds petty, but when couples are in the throes of a nasty divorce, the gloves come off over anything and everything. Interestingly, in Morin’s experience, disputes over material goods — the spoils of splitting up — are more common when people aren’t getting the essential support they need.

“Divorce is very emotional; when emotions run high, people don’t tend to make good decisions, let alone good legal decisions. They have to be ready to deal with divorce. If high emotions get in the way, conflict increases and so does the likelihood of court,” Morin explains.

“Without getting clients the non-legal emotional supports they may need, the process can go sideways.”

Morin calls her award-winning practice and its multidisciplinary approach to family law a “bridge builder.” The firm employs a full-time client support coordinator who matches, or bridges, clients to agencies such as the Calgary Counselling Centre that can help them cope emotionally and transition mentally from couple- or family-hood to being on their own or living as a single parent.

Morin understands first-hand what it’s like to need emotional rescue. In 1997, she was expecting her third child and had just started classes at Mount Royal as a mature student when her husband was killed in a car accident.

“I had a Grade 10 education with no real work experience, and I had two very young children, one of them diagnosed with autism. I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’” Morin recalls. “I felt so overwhelmed with grief. I couldn’t even make a phone call. But everyone just came to my rescue.”

At the same time, one of her friends was going through a painful divorce and grieving the dissolution of her marriage. Morin noted that no one was helping her friend, even though divorce is well documented as being the most stressful life event, after death of a loved one.

“It always bothered me that everyone was there for me and no one was there for her,” Morin says.

After she completed the Bachelor of Arts — University Transfer program at Mount Royal, Morin went on to earn her psychology degree (with distinction) and a law degree from the University of Calgary. She joined a family law firm before starting Resolve Legal Group in 2011.

The longer Morin practised family law, the more she realized it was impossible to separate its emotional impact from the legal process. She saw that some people aren’t able to rationally split up finances and negotiate custody arrangements, for example, unless they’re simultaneously receiving emotional — and, in many cases, financial — support. That “aha” moment was the impetus for Morin’s multidisciplinary approach.

Her firm also helps clients seek financial support with the Step Forward Program. This partnership with more than 90 local businesses provides discounts on products and services ranging from daycare and dental work to food and shelter for those going through separation and divorce.

Today, Morin’s programs and services have expanded to five Calgary-area locations with 18 full-time staff. She is also implementing the results of a study with the Calgary Counselling Centre on a streamlined custody arbitration program called Kids In Mind, which she designed to achieve cost- and time-efficient results using a supportive process. The program works as an alternative to an adversarial court procedure.

Morin definitely likes happy endings with a “win-win” resolution, and she appreciates the foundation she got at Mount Royal.

“I loved the smaller classes and the more personalized learning experience,” Morin says.

“It was very conducive to supporting my needs.”

She’s thankful to the school for supporting her through her own difficult time all those years ago, and setting her on a path that would see her helping others. Morin has paid it forward to current students by being part of MRU’s Harry G. Schaefer Mentorship Program.

Tim Richter

Bachelor of Communication (Applied), 1999

Outstanding Alumni Award — Community Service

Tim Richter’s optimism is infectious. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness president and CEO believes the country has reached a tipping point and will see an end to homelessness, hopefully in his lifetime.

Just imagine — every woman, man and child with a home to call their own. It’s a profound and moving thought, and one that’s fuelled Richter’s fire since 2007. For the past decade, Calgary’s homelessness pioneer has dedicated himself to housing everyone, first in the city and now across the country.

“A home is so much more than just a roof over your head,” Richter says. “At a superficial level it’s shelter, a building, a space. When we talk to people about getting a home it’s so much more than that. It’s an oasis away from the violence, stress and fear of homelessness. There’s healing there and there’s comfort there. And a huge part of it is belonging. It’s being back in society and being connected again.”

Richter didn’t attend Mount Royal with an eye to one day helping some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens. But he did enrol with a record of service — he was a member of the Canadian Forces Army Reserve, worked in government as a political staffer in Ottawa and was a dedicated volunteer.

So it’s not surprising that he took his MRU skill set and applied it towards making a difference.

“Community service runs deep in my family and I’ve always felt a deep sense of duty,” Richter says. “I was looking for a mission.”

It came in 2007, when Richter was working as the director of government relations for TransAlta and volunteering in his spare time. He was approached by the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), an organization that wanted to build a plan to end homelessness and was looking to corporate leaders for help.

“I immediately thought, ‘Holy smokes, this might just work,’” Richter says.

What sold him on the plan was “housing first” — the idea that if you give a person a home, their other problems, such as addiction or mental illness, can then be addressed more successfully. This approach had worked in cities in the U.S. and Richter was eager to try it in Calgary.

By the time Richter left the CHF in 2012, Calgary’s homeless population had shrunk for the first time on record. The idea of housing first had spread across the province and housing numbers were improving in cities from Edmonton to Lethbridge.

Richter established the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) in 2012, with the goal of building and leading a national movement to end homelessness in Canada. There are now housing first projects across the country, and the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to a national housing strategy that could signal the beginning of the end of homelessness in Canada.

Now, through the CAEH’s 20,000 Homes Campaign, Richter has set his sights on ending chronic homelessness in 20 communities and housing 20,000 of Canada’s most vulnerable homeless people by Canada Day 2020. Richter hopes the campaign will set an example for other communities and governments to follow. He’s enlisted 36 communities in the campaign and they’ve already found housing for more than 7,200 people.

“I think we’re finally at a point where we’ll begin to reverse the lethal trajectory of homelessness in Canada,” he says.

Richter credits his MRU education as a key to his success. “I developed a communications skill set and I use it every day in my work.”

Eric Carbert

Bachelor of Child Studies (Applied), 2014

Horizon Award

When Eric Carbert enrolled in Mount Royal’s applied child studies program, he thought he’d end up working with young offenders and youth at risk. But through a serendipitous series of events, the 23-year-old launched a career in special needs education, and it’s led to something larger than he could ever have imagined: Eric’s House.

Carbert’s young cousin has special needs and attends Calgary Quest School, a designated special education private school. After helping out with his cousin over the years, when an opportunity arose to work at Quest for one of his MRU practicums, he made a last-minute decision to take it. It proved fortuitous — Carbert loved it.

“My job at Quest was to help graduating students transition to adulthood,” Carbert says.

Through his work at the school, Carbert discovered a lack of services for adults with disabilities, and that the agencies offering programming are often full. As a result, parents or caregivers must hire private therapists for one-on-one support, or aides to assist with recreation and community outings. It’s a solution, but one that puts the onus on the caregiver to organize everything. It also doesn’t necessarily foster socialization or peer interactions, something Carbert says is really important.

So in late 2015, Carbert rented a house in Calgary to operate a day-program facility. Young adults with disabilities could learn alongside their peers and under the tutelage and supervision of staff who would also take them into the community for field trips and hands-on learning. Eric’s House was born.

Carbert and his team help adults with disabilities develop skills that will increase their independence.

“A lot of what we work on are life skills — teeth brushing, folding laundry, grocery shopping, basic meal prep — the skills that will help them every day,” Carbert says.

Each day is different for every client because Eric’s House personalizes individual programs based on clients’ needs and level of functioning. Some programming and skill building happens on site, such as weekly music therapy sessions and cooking, where kitchen counters are lower to accommodate those in wheelchairs. But a lot of learning happens out in the community, such as shopping, paying for groceries and counting change, or learning how to safely cross a busy street.

“You’re learning street safety out on the street, in real time,” Carbert explains. “We are striving for a more holistic approach to community, where those with disabilities play a role that is not only needed, but welcomed by everyone around them.”

Thanks to Carbert’s dedication and word-of-mouth marketing, in less than two years, Eric’s House has grown to two locations with five full-time staff serving more than 10 clients. What’s more, Carbert is in the middle of opening a commercial space that will allow Eric’s House to more than triple its number of clients.

Carbert credits Mount Royal with not only giving him the confidence to quit his job at Quest at age 21, but for also building the skills necessary to make Eric’s House a success.

“Leaving school with that amount of work hours under my belt was pretty useful. I feel like Mount Royal set me up. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

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Past Winners - Alumni Achievement Awards 2016

Check out last year's winners.