Entrepreneurs, philanthropists and artists among those recognized
Before Queen Elizabeth II passed on Sept. 8, 2022, the Alberta government initiated a program to honour the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada as well as recognize outstanding Albertans. Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal was awarded to those who’ve made exceptional contributions to the province.
Among those recipients are grads and staff, each acknowledged for unique skills and talents expressed in their dedication to serving their communities. Proud to have them as part of the NAIT community, we present them here, following the conclusion of the program on Feb. 5. Please join us in congratulating them.
(Know of a grad, student or staff member we’ve missed? Please let us know.)
Natalie Bak, welder, advocate for women in trades
Since becoming a welder, Natalie Bak (Welder '14) has emerged as a strong advocate for women in the trades. She pays forward the start she got through Women Building Futures by serving on industry panels and speaking to student groups about her experiences. In early 2023, Bak helped stage Next in Trades, NAIT's outreach event to encourage underrepresented groups to consider careers in the trades.
Josh Bilyk, community builder
Josh Bilyk (Biological Sciences Technology – Renewable Resources '93) has made a name for himself not just as chief of staff to the Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors at the Government of Alberta but as a dedicated volunteer for a variety of causes.
Among them are the Lord Strathcona Horse Regimental Society, Alberta Ballet, Angels Anonymous Connection and more.
"I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of working with so many great and passionate people, on so many incredible causes, and am thankful for the many lessons learned," Bilyk wrote upon receiveing the honour. "We truly are better off when we work together for the greater good."
Jason Carter, artist
Jason Carter (Graphic Communications '01) is an Indigenous artist from Little Red River Cree Nation. His paintings and carvings have been used extensively as public installations and acquired by many private and public collections. Carter has also been commissioned by numerous organizations. Among the latter is the Edmonton International Airport, where Carter created a 100-foot-long permanent installation, the subject of a 2012 techlife magazine story.
Read “An Artistic Departure,” p. 36
Monita Chapman, entrepreneur and philanthropist
Monita Chapman (Marketing ’06) is the founder of a successful meal prep company called Simply Supper, which delivers made-from-scratch, ready-to-cook dishes to customers looking for convenient but nutritious meal ideas. She is also the creator of Lemonade Stand Day, a uniquely collaborative philanthropic initiative that has raised more than $355,000 for the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Bean Gill, entrepreneur and advocate for those with disabilities
In 2012, the life of Benveet “Bean” Gill (Medical Radiologic Technology '03) changed forever. One day while on vacation in Las Vegas, her spinal cord was attacked by a paralyzing virus; she’s been a wheelchair user ever since. Gill has emerged as an advocate for those with disabilities. She’s the co-founder of ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre and a central character of CBC’s 2023 docuseries Push.
Read more about Push, starring Bean Gill
Laura Jo Gunter, NAIT president and CEO
Laura Jo Gunter was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal on Sept. 1, 2022. Gunter has served as NAIT president and CEO since August 2020, joining the polytechnic in the midst of the pandemic to help lead it through one of its most challenging times and setting a new strategic plan to lead it forward.
“I am humbled by this distinction,” Gunter said of the medal. "I look forward to continuing to serve Alberta, and NAIT.”
Tune in to Laura Jo Gunter’s podcast, The Curious President
Yasmin Jivraj, NAIT Board of Governors chair
After serving on NAIT’s Board of Governors since 2016, Yasmin Jivraj became its chair in August, 2022. She brings the experience of having founded and led tech companies as well as board membership with a variety of economic development and humanitarian organizations.
At NAIT, “I hope to encourage strategic thinking, innovation and action with the focus on the future,” said Jivraj.
Read more about what Yasmin Jivraj sees as opportunities for NAIT
Jodi Manz-Henezi, emergency management educator
As chair of NAIT's Disaster and Emergency Management program, Jodi Manz-Henezi plays a key role in shaping curriculum for students interested in helping to safeguard their communities and organizations.
But she's also been instrumental in strengthening emergency response at large.
Manz-Henezi is the current president of the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network, was a contributor and co-facilitator for the Disaster Risk Reduction Roundtable with Public Safety Canada, has served as a peer reviewer for Canada's National Risk Profile, and more.
Arlo Maverick, musician and filmmaker
Arlo Maverick – aka, Marlon Wilson (Marketing ’02) – is an award-winning Edmonton-based hip-hop artist. He also mentors emerging artists and is a tireless champion of the city’s music community. Maverick is known internationally for tours in South Korea, Europe and the U.K. Wilson is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker.
Ashif Mawji, entrepreneur and philanthropist
Ashif Mawji (Computer Systems Technology ’92) is among Edmonton’s highest profile serial entrepreneurs. Soon after graduating from NAIT, he established Upside Software, specializing in web-based contract management. In 2012, it was sold in a multi-million deal. Today, Mawji focuses his time and investments in startups with not just promising financials but a strong social focus. He and his family are also noted philanthropists, evident in the 2017 donation that founded NAIT’s Mawji Centre for New Venture and Student Entrepreneurship.
Learn about the purpose and impact of the Mawji Centre
Jorgia Moore, community builder
In addition to her work as a fund developer at a local nonprofit, Jorgia Moore (Bachelor of Business Administration '21) has helped spearhead initiatives to support Ukrainian newcomers, such as cofounding the Free Store to provide clothing and essentials, and Ukraine's Kitchen, where new arrivals prepare food for sale. The efforts follow on Moore's support in establishing "Fix for Hope," a drive-in that raised funds for charities early in the pandemic.
Marni Panas, inclusion leader and human rights advocate
Marni Panas (Computer Systems Technology '02, Management '91) has dedicated much of her time and energy to ensuring inclusion for all people. She does that daily in her role as a diversity and inclusion leader at Alberta Health Services. But as a trans woman, Panas also played a key role in the work that made Gender Expression and Gender Identity protected grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act in 2015.
Lean more about Marni Panas, named a NAIT Distinguished Alumni in 2022
Tyler Smith, mental health advocate
In April 2018, the Humboldt Broncos, and family and friends, endured the shocking tragedy of a bus accident that took the lives of 16 players and staff. Forward Tyler Smith (Radio and Television – TV '20) was there.
He’s still healing but he’s sharing that journey, talking it about, showing his vulnerability through a line of clothing branded with the words "Not Alone," and encouraging others to talk about their own journeys – making him one of the greatest champions of mental health in Alberta sports.
Read about Tyler Smith's ongoing journey to healing
Kelly Wolfert, Alberta film industry advocate
Kelly Wolfert (Radio and Television Arts '93) has 30 years of experience in myriad facets of storytelling within Alberta's film industry. He has covered topics originating from several continents and within genres ranging from long and short documentary films to commercials and brand campaigns.
"He is an award-winning producer, writer, cinematographer and director," wrote MLA Nicole Goehring, who presented the medal to Wolfert. "His efforts have ensured that Alberta stories are told through film by Albertans in front of and behind the camera."
Banner image by Lynn Streeter Photography