An entirely blue background including soccer balls, a vote sign, speakers and fruit painted the same kind of blue

Alumni Achievement Awards

There are more than 100,000 Mount Royal University alumni making a difference around the world.

In this sea of successful folks, we pause to celebrate four outstanding graduates.

It’s how they serve others.
It’s how they save lives.
It’s how they break down barriers.

Photos by Chao Zhang


Mount Royal is celebrating those who have excelled in both their academic and professional lives. They have different careers and backgrounds: there’s an academic, a pilot, an executive director and a former police officer. What these four have in common is their dedication to others. They serve as an inspiration for those around them and embody what it means to be Mount Royal University alumni.


The Alumni Achievement Awards are presented in three categories:

  • The Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award recognizes alumni at the culmination of their careers who have brought honour to their profession and alma mater.
  • The Outstanding Alumni Award, which acknowledges alumni who demonstrate exceptional achievements in their fields.
  • The Horizon Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements of alumni early in their careers.
  • The Outstanding Future Alumni Award is given to a current student who has demonstrated significant contributions to the University or wider community and exemplifies the leadership and ambassador qualities of our alumni community.


Photo of Jacquie Hertlein on a uniformly blue backdrop. There are a variety of sports objects painted blue around as she props a foot on a blue painted soccer ball.

Jacquie Hertlein

Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award

Criminology Diploma — Law Enforcement, 1996

WORDS BY Kyle Napier

Jacquie Hertlein spent 17 years with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) and now leads women to championships on the soccer field.

Hertlein entered Mount Royal’s criminology diploma program in 1995 on a sports scholarship as captain of the Cougars soccer team, taking her team to two provincial championships. She graduated in 1996 and started with the CPS three years later, eventually earning the rank of acting sergeant.

“When I put on my jersey for Mount Royal and stepped onto the field, I became a serious person,” Hertlein says. “I was serious, professional, dedicated. When I had that uniform on, I couldn’t switch that off. That same sense of pride came when I put my police uniform on.”

“When I put on my jersey for Mount Royal and stepped onto the field, I became a serious person. I was serious, professional, dedicated. When I had that uniform on, I couldn’t switch that off. That same sense of pride came when I put my police uniform on.”

Guided by empathy, Hertlein accomplished a lot in her 17 years with the police service. She sweet-talked a stray moose into slumber, made friends and fostered relationships with marginalized people in Calgary’s southeast and made an executive decision at a critical moment that would lead her team to save a life.

Hertlein would later receive a thank-you letter from the individual whose life had been saved. It read, in part, “You treated me with dignity and respect when all I had was contempt for myself. Some may say that you were just doing your job; I feel you went above your call of duty. For that, I am eternally grateful.”

Hertlein retired from the CPS in 2016 following an off-duty injury.

“I vividly remember handing in my gun and my badge,” Hertlein recalls. “It’s like a piece of you goes after working so hard to accomplish a lifelong ambition to become a police officer. I was so proud to wear that badge. It’s still hard to think about.”

Hertlein then transitioned to the role of executive director for the Calgary Women’s Soccer Association. The position plays into her passion for supporting women’s success, not only in sports, but also in life. In 2016, the association bestowed upon Hertlein their Award of Merit.

She is the first and only woman on Alberta Soccer’s Technical Committee. And for the past three years, Hertlein has coached the SAIT Trojans women’s soccer program. She has also coached the Alberta Soccer Association’s provincial U13 girls team since 2017.

Hertlein remains committed to the success of MRU students, having coached the Cougars women’s soccer teams in 2015 and 2016. She recently joined MRU’s Alumni Council, the Alumni Association’s representative committee.

Her office is lined with awards earned from the teams she’s been a part of as an athlete and a coach; however, Hertlein doesn’t take credit. “It takes an entire team to create success.”

Sandy Sangster, president of the Calgary Women’s Soccer Association, nominated Hertlein for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Jacquie is extremely passionate about helping those in need, and her sacrifices and dedication to others does not go unnoticed,” Sangster wrote in her nomination. “Jacquie has not only brought great honour to Mount Royal University through her outstanding achievements, but I feel very fortunate to know Jacquie and honoured to watch what she has brought to the city of Calgary and province of Alberta.”

Hertlein is the recipient of Mount Royal University’s Lifetime Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her dedication to helping individuals and communities, her distinguished career with the Calgary Police Service and her unrelenting passion for soccer.


Photo of Sophia Wells on a uniformly blue backdrop. She is surrounded by blue paper airplanes and clouds cut out from blue construction paper.

Sophia Wells

Outstanding Alumni Award

Aviation Diploma, 2009

WORDS BY Geoff Crane

Sophia Wells is used to hearing “no.” Now, she uses her history with that word to inspire hundreds of women and young girls to consider the male-dominated world of aviation as a career path.

When she was a senior in high school and a successful air cadet, Wells applied to join the Canadian Forces but was turned down over a poor score on a surprise test. She thought her dreams of flying would remain just that.

“I was crushed. At 17 I was wondering what I was going to do. Coming from a small town, I had no idea how pilots go about becoming pilots. I thought it was military or bust,” Wells says.

While attending Mount Royal and taking general studies, a chance encounter with the school’s flight simulator ended up putting Wells back on track to becoming a pilot.

During her first year of the demanding aviation program, Wells experienced another setback. She had still not completed her private licence due to challenging weather and was in danger of having to leave.

“I just want to provide this idea that the world is open to [women and young girls].”

“I’m sitting in front of this board thinking ‘Here I go, I’m going to be out again,’ ” Wells says.

“The board members were really awesome, though. They said I’d probably had the worst luck with weather they’d seen in forever, so they encouraged me to just keep trying and I said I’d find a way.”

Wells would go on to become a flight instructor with the Edmonton Flying Club, completing her Class One instructor rating at the age of 25, one of the youngest in Canada to do so.

Passionate about flying, Wells is also the director of advocacy at Elevate Aviation and is now the club’s chief flying instructor. The Edmonton-based not-for-profit organization promotes gender balance in the industry.

“I just want to provide this idea that the world is open to them,” Wells says of the women and young girls who are part of the Flight Path to Success mentorship program she runs for Elevate.

The program consists of more than 400 mentees and 150 mentors. The professional women in aviation share their passion with mentees and offer advice about how to succeed in the industry.

Additionally, Wells organizes week-long tour sessions in 21 cities across Canada, giving women, girls and members of Indigenous communities a behind-the-scenes look into aviation and the various career paths it offers.

Her refusal to take “no” as a final answer has allowed Wells to inspire hundreds of women.

In 2018, Wells was named to Wings magazine’s Top 20 Under 40: Agent of Change. In 2019, she is Mount Royal University’s Outstanding Alumni Award recipient.


Photo of Heather Graham on a uniformly blue backdrop. She is sitting on a blue painted speaker and is leaning against a larger stack of blue painted speakers.

Heather Graham

Outstanding Alumni Award

Bachelor of Applied Nonprofit Studies, 2009

WORDS BY Erika Holter

In 2001, Heather Graham bought a book on international travel and made her way to Casa Guatemala — a Guatemalan orphanage. What was originally intended to be a short-term summer volunteer position changed the course of Graham’s life. Eighteen years later, Guatemala is now home.

“I saw the potential from the beginning, saw the amazing amount of love that was there, saw the relationships with the kids, with the families,” Graham recalls.

As Graham continued to deepen her involvement with the organization she identified some knowledge gaps she wished to fill, which led her to Mount Royal’s applied non-profit studies program in 2005. In 2010, Graham returned to Casa Guatemala. Four years later, she took on the position of executive director.

“We were given the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from some of the brightest and most innovative minds of the third sector.”

Graham, who uses music as an outlet for her emotions, loved her time at Mount Royal and was a tremendously engaged student, winning scholarships and actively participating in volunteer roles.

Graham credits MRU with equipping her with the necessary skills to thrive in her new role. And she says the experiential learning environment was key to her success.

“We were given the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from some of the brightest and most innovative minds of the third sector,” Graham says, referring to the economic sector of voluntary, non-profit and non-governmental organizations. “The balance of non-profit knowledge and business skills is what has made me into the executive director I am today.”

Casa Guatemala opened its doors in 1977 as an orphanage for children from all over the country. Guatemala was once a major provider for international adoptions, however due to corruption in the system the government implemented extensive reforms in 2007. As a result, Casa Guatemala decided to shift their focus to children from the local Mayan communities who lacked resources and access to education and nutrition. As the children in their legal care grew up and moved away, there was more room for those who would otherwise not have had the chance to go to school. Now Casa Guatemala provides an education, plus health care and nutritious meals, to more than 200 children from 35 different remote communities.

“The balance of non-profit knowledge and business skills is what has made me into the executive director I am today.”

“We work with families to give them an opportunity to bring their kids to get that foundation of a good education, proper nutrition and health care to really break the cycle of poverty and move their communities forward,” Graham says.

Graham passionately describes how rewarding it is to see those positive changes take effect.

“I’ve literally watched kids who grew up as orphans, who came from extreme poverty and abuse, become young professionals providing a loving and caring home for their own families.”

Despite the physical distance from Calgary, Graham remains closely tied to Mount Royal and has hosted numerous students who have travelled to volunteer at Casa Guatemala. Graham is also heavily involved with the Fair Trade Field School, which introduces students to organizations fostering economic and community development in Guatemala.

Graham’s dedication to helping communities in Guatemala break the cycle of poverty, while remaining a strong supporter of Mount Royal students, makes her the ideal recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Alumni Award.


Photo of Robyn Madden on a uniformly blue backdrop. She is tossing blue painted food out of a blue wok into the air and holding a blue spatula. In the background blue painted food rests on a blue table.

Robyn Madden

Horizon Award

Bachelor of Health and Physical Education — Sport and Recreation Management, 2016 and Bachelor of Business Administration — General Management, 2017

WORDS BY Geoff Crane

Robyn Madden is a young researcher in sports science who is making waves with her work on athletic nutrition — and she credits Mount Royal University for making it all possible.

Currently pursuing her PhD in kinesiology, focusing on research in nutrition, genetics and metabolism, Madden is looking to create benchmarks for Paralympic athletes for how they train and fuel their bodies.

“I think my biggest accomplishment so far has been bringing the Paralympic athletes to the forefront and trying to establish nutritional recommendations for them,” Madden says, pointing out that these athletes currently default to recommendations for able-bodied athletes.

“It’s not appropriate for them because of their physiological differences. I am trying to take the first steps and get the ball rolling to create those guidelines.”

This ambitious undertaking was inspired, she says, by a couple of her professors at Mount Royal while she was a student in the sport and recreation management program.

While looking to complete her practicum, she reached out to Jill Parnell, PhD, an associate professor of health and physical education at Mount Royal who needed a research assistant.

The four-month experience ignited a passion for research and inspired her to pursue graduate school.

Parnell now serves as Madden’s co-supervisor, and has co-authored multiple papers with her. She joined Madden in presenting their work at national and international conferences.

“I still keep in touch with so many of my professors. It’s a more personal experience, so it has had such a positive impact.”

Another one of her Mount Royal professors, David Legg, PhD, serves as a committee member for her PhD and co-authored a paper with Madden, presenting their work at the International Symposium on Adapted Physical Activity. Legg teaches in the Department of Health and Physical Education.

“He really inspired me to drive this movement forward,” Madden recalls. “He was always telling his students that (parathletes are) just as valid and important as able-bodied athletes, which is so true.”

Mount Royal impacted Madden beyond her academic pursuits, too.

“It sounds cliché, but it’s not always what you know, but who you know. I’ve met so many amazing contacts who have helped me to succeed, not only in graduate school, but outside the classroom, too,” Madden says. “I still keep in touch with so many of my professors. It’s a more personal experience, so it has had such a positive impact.”

Madden wants to inspire other students who are unsure about pursuing postgraduate studies. She’s already mentored a few as research assistants and would love to set up a formal program for undergrads, providing a similar experience like the one she had with Parnell.

For her research in Paralympic sport nutrition and her dedication to Mount Royal students, Madden is the 2019 Alumni Achievement Horizon Award recipient.


Photo of Shifrah Gadamsetti on a uniformly blue backdrop. She holds a blue picket sign with the word vote writtten on it. Blue construction paper floats down around her.

Shifrah Gadamsetti

Outstanding Future Alumni Award

Bachelor of Nursing, Pursuing Bachelor of Arts — Sociology

WORDS BY Kyle Napier

Shifrah Gadamsetti completed her first bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2014, only four years after entering MRU at the age of 16. She was president of the Student Nursing Society for a year and a half, and after graduation while working as a nurse she was motivated to get into public policy work.

“I was not satiated with my education and what I wanted to do,” she said. Gadamsetti noticed a need for larger system changes and recognized that she could make a bigger difference by pursuing further education.

Gadamsetti returned to Mount Royal in 2015 to pursue her Bachelor of Arts — Sociology with a minor in women’s studies for the qualifications to influence change. To further bolster her experience, in 2016 she ran for — and won — the position of president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, a role she would go on to hold for two academic years.

One of her proudest achievements of that time, she said, is championing Mount Royal’s sexual violence policy and supports on campus.

“I have no idea what the future holds, but I like governance, public health and social policy. I hope that whatever I end up doing speaks to the quality of my experience at Mount Royal.”

Gadamsetti maintains her status as a registered nurse in the operating room through perioperative nursing with an orthopedic specialization. She has worked as a crisis intervention support worker with the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team and is currently a research assistant with the Riddell Library and Learning Centre focusing on open educational resources for Mount Royal students. She also sits on the Executive Advisory Committee for the Standard on Psychological Health and Safety for Post-Secondary Education with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and on the board of directors for AskHerYYC — a non-profit board with the goal of improving access, education and representation for women and other marginalized people in politics and leadership.

Gadamsetti hopes to improve accessibility for everyday people to engage with their society and participate in the democratic process. She believes that intimidation is the greatest factor against people getting involved.

“A lot of people forget that lived experiences are valuable to share, and representation is important,” Gadamsetti said.

Gadamsetti also stood for Canada at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York, held the role of elected chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations in 2017 and worked as the executive director for the Council of Alberta University Students in 2018/2019.

“I have no idea what the future holds, but I like governance, public health and social policy,” Gadamsetti said. “I hope that whatever I end up doing speaks to the quality of my experience at Mount Royal.”

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Past recipients – Alumni Achievement Awards 2018

Check out the recipients.