Onwards and upwards

U of A alumni make their mark on the world

Since establishing its foundations in 1908, the University of Alberta has welcomed students from all over the world. The institution's more than 240 000 alumni have gone on to makes impacts in a variety of industries, but there is a growing list of individuals whose career paths have taken them to international recognition, whether it be in politics, literature or pop culture. The following, in no particular order, is a select list of some of the University of Alberta's most recognizable alumni.

Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada (Class of '60; BA; '73, MA): At the beginning of his academic career at the University of Alberta, from which he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Charles Joseph “Joe” Clark took an interest in journalism, working for The Gateway and eventually taking over as editor-in-chief. During his time in Edmonton, he spent a summer working for the Edmonton Journal and strongly considered a career in the field after working with The Canadian Press in Toronto.

However, his career path altered after he enrolled at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS where he had the intention of attending law school. Instead, Clark's focus shifted more towards the Dalhousie Student Union, Dalhousie Gazette and politics of the Progressive Conservative party than his school work. He tried his hand at first-year law studies at the University of British Columbia, where he became increasingly active in student politics before taking on full-time employment with the PC party. Clark went on to become the 16th—and youngest—prime minister of Canada, sworn in on June 4, 1979 at age 39. While in office, Clark's achievements included working on the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 1988 and the constitutional renewal process that would lead to the creation of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. The Clark government introduced Bill C-15, also known as the Freedom of Information Act. Clark was defeated in the 1980 election, but continued to remain involved in Canadian politics before retiring in 1993. Today, he remains active on an international level, assisting in bringing democratic elections to countries in Africa and South America.

Paul Gross, actor (Class of '97; BFA, drama): Originally hailing from Calgary, Gross relocated to Edmonton to pursue acting at the U of A. While he left during his third year of studies, he eventually went back to earn the half-credit he was missing to obtain his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Gross got his start in stage productions, with credits including mainstays like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and more recently, the 2011 run of Noël Coward's Private Lives opposite Kim Cattrall. Gross's foray into film began in 1985 with the feature Turning to Stone. His best-known credit is for the role of Constable Benton Fraser in the TV series Due South, which he was the executive producer of during its final season in 1999. Since the end of Due South, Gross's work has continued, with roles in the 2008 war film Passchendaele, which he also wrote and directed, and the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.

Todd Cherniawsky, production designer (Class of '93; BFA, art and design): The art and design grad, whose academic achievements also include an honours diploma in architectural technology from NAIT and an MFA in Production Design at the American Film Institute, has had his name roll through the credits of some of Hollywood's biggest productions. He has also earned some of the film industry's most noted accolades, including being part of the team to take home the Academy Award for art direction in 2010 and 2011. Cherniawsky has lent his talents in production design to the Canadian indie-horror hit Ginger Snaps along with its three follow-ups, while his work in set design, digital modelling and illustration has been featured in major features such as Armageddon, Planet of the Apes, Hulk, The Polar Express, The Chronicles of Riddick and Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events. In recent years, his eye for art direction, set design and digital model-making has been put to use in War of the Worlds, Monster House, Beowulf, Ocean's Thirteen, Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Zero Dark Thirty. He currently runs Asylum Design Works, with upcoming titles including supervising art director for Oz: The Great & Powerful (2013) and motorcycle art director for Oblivion (2013).

Jay Ingram, author, broadcaster and former host of the the Discovery Channel's Daily Planet (Class of '67; BSc, microbiology): Jay Ingram's professional life has been all about science. Upon graduating from the University of Alberta, Ingram continued his studies at the University of Toronto, earning his master's degree in microbiology, later earning honorary degrees from five different Canadian universities. Ingram began his broadcasting career in 1979 with the CBC's Quirks and Quarks radio show, a program dedicated to research and discoveries in science. From there, he moved to the science of language with CBC's The Talk Show in 1993. A year later, Ingram made the switch from radio to television, joining the Discovery Channel and becoming the host of Daily Planet, a program he assisted in developing. In 2011, Ingram announced his retirement, but continues to make guest appearances on the show.

As an author, Ingram has worked as an editor for Owl magazine, Equinox magazine and the Toronto Star. Ingram also has several bestselling book titles to his credit including Talk, Talk, Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech, The Science of Everyday Life and The Burning House: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Brain, a title that won Ingram the 1995 Canadian Science Writers' Book Award.

Even though Ingram has retired from his hosting duties with Daily Planet, he remains active in the scientific community, having launched the podcast Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind in 2006. His efforts in the field were formally recognized in 2009 when he was made a Member of the Order of Canada, an honour for “his contributions towards making complex science accessible to the public as a broadcaster, public speaker and author, and for his leadership of future generations of science journalists.”

Natasha Staniszewski, anchor for TSN's SportsCentre (Class of '00, BComm): The born-and-raised Edmontonian can now be spotted hosting TSN's Sportscentre, with her interest in sports stemming back to high school prowess in basketball and volleyball, along with supporting her brother at his hockey games. However, her original intent was not a career in sports journalism. Stanizewski attended the University of Alberta to pursue a degree in business. While she graduated from the program, she decided at age 26 to pursue a career as a sports broadcaster, turning to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's broadcasting program. After earning her diploma, Staniszewski began her new career at CTV Yorkton, working as a news reporter before moving on to CTV Prince Albert to take a position as a sports reporter. She continued moving up to larger markets, taking over as sports anchor and reporter for CTV Saskatoon before taking a position at CTV Edmonton in 2009, anchoring its nightly and weekend sportscasts. Her big break with TSN came after covering the 2010 Grey Cup.

Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuk and Augustine Yip, co-founders of BioWare (Class of '94; BSc, medicine): The trio met while attending medical school at the University of Alberta, where they had dabbled in computer programming for use in their studies. At the time, video games were a source of recreation, which eventually turned into a career with the launch of BioWare in 1995. The team created their first game by pooling financial resources and produced Shattered Steel, which was submitted to 10 publishers—seven came back with offers, with the three budding game developers signing with Interplay Entertainment. From Shattered Steel, the founders wanted to release a role-playing game, which resulted in Baldur's Gate, a game that underwent a three-year development cycle, all while the trio continued practicing medicine. As Baldur's Gate neared completion, Muzyka and Zeschuk left medicine to focus solely on the company.

Over the next couple of years, the founders navigated their ups and downs, including the bankruptcy of Interplay Entertainment, at which point BioWare began to work with Infogames—later renamed Atari—a partnership that led to the development of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. In 2005, BioWare teamed up with Pandemic Studios, a partnership purchased by Electronic Arts in 2007. However, BioWare retained its own branding. BioWare has created some of the world's most acclaimed game titles, including the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. In addition to its flagship studio in Edmonton, BioWare has locations in Austin, Montréal, Ireland and San Francisco.

Muzyka and Zeschuk have since retired from the gaming industry, with Muzyka moving on to invest and mentor in the fields of technology, new media, as well as medical and social entrepreneurs, while Zeschuk has delved into the world of craft beer and now hosts The Beer Diaries.

Dan Riskin, biologist and current co-host of the Discovery Channel's Daily Planet (Class of '97; BSc, zoology): At the beginning of his academic career, Riskin was debating between acting and physics. Ultimately, science proved the victor during his first year at the University of Alberta following a zoology class with tick endocrinologist Reuben Kaufman. His scientific education continued with a master's degree in biology from York University and a PhD in zoology from Cornell University, along with post-doctoral studies at Boston University and Brown University. These days, Riskin is known as an award-winning bat biologist, an interest that was sparked after reading the book Just Bats by Brock Fenton as a teenager, which prompted him to contact the author himself and landed Riskin a spot in his lab as a master's student.

In the midst of his PhD, Riskin was interviewed by the Discovery Channel for his work with vampire bats. He now hosts Daily Planet along with Ziya Tong. Riskin is also known for his work on the television program Monsters Inside Me, which focuses on parasites, and is in the midst of working on a book called Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, set to be released in the spring of 2014.

Joel Cohen, writer and executive producer of The Simpsons (Class of '88; BSc, biology): After considering pre-med briefly, but realizing his talents lay elsewhere, Cohen turned to biology and zoology courses. Upon graduating, Cohen continued his studies, earning an MBA from York University. He then landed a job at a small film company and began dabbling in writing. After taking a job in Los Angeles selling ads for Turner Broadcasting, Cohen decided to pursue a career in writing. His brother had already begun establishing himself in LA, writing for television shows. He introduced Cohen to Kathy Griffin, and Cohen began writing for Griffin's act, as she too, was working to establish her name in the entertainment industry. Griffin ended up starring in the sitcom Suddenly Susan, and Cohen was taken on as a writer. This ended up being his break, as one of his bosses put Cohen's name in with The Simpsons. Since then, he's gone on to write numerous hit episodes for the series, as well as for Saturday Night Live.

Lorne Cardinal, actor (Class of '93; BFA, drama): Cardinal holds the distinction of becoming the first aboriginal student to obtain a bachelor of fine arts in drama when he graduated in 1993. Since completing his studies at the University of Alberta, he has built a career in theatre, television and film, often best known for his role of Davis Quinton on the TV series Corner Gas. Among his diverse range of work, Cardinal's acting credits include portraying Tecumsah in Canada: A People's History, North of 60, Blackfly, Relic Hunter, Moccasin Flats and Arctic Air. Cardinal leant his voice talents to the APTN stop-motion animated series Wapos Bay: The Series.

William Ormond Mitchell, writer and broadcaster (Class of '43; BA, education): W O Mitchell, as he's better known, was an author of numerous novels, short stories and plays, his most recognized work being the novel Who Has Seen The Wind, published in 1947. Mitchell began his career teaching high school in 1942 and three of his short stories were published during that time. Following the publication of Who Has Seen The Wind, he relocated to Toronto to work as a fiction editor for Maclean's magazine. Mitchell also created the weekly radio series, Jake and the Kid for CBC, which later earned him the Stephen Leacock Award. During his lucrative career, Mitchell also served as a professor and writer-in-residence at several Canadian institutions and served as director of the Banff Centre's writing division.

Daryl Katz, entrepreneur and owner of the Edmonton Oilers (Class of '85; BA, law): The born-and-raised Edmontonian founded the Katz Group in 1990, which oversees Rexall Drugstores, Herbies/Payless, Pharma Plus Drugmarts, IDA, Guardian and Medicine Shoppe. Katz, a former lawyer, is now the owner of the Edmonton Oilers and owns four other sports franchises through Rexall Sports, the sports division of the Katz Group, which also has naming rights to Rexall Place. As of March 2011, Katz had an estimated net worth of $2 billion, making him the 16th wealthiest Canadian and 595th wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

George Stanley, historian, author, teacher, public servant (Class of '29; BA): A bachelor's degree at the University of Alberta was just the beginning for George Stanley, who is responsible for designing the current Canadian flag. Upon graduation, he attended Keble College at University of Oxford in 1929 as the Rhodes Scholar from Alberta, where he earned a BA, MA, MLitt and DPhil. While at Oxford, Stanley penned his acclaimed book, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions, which spurred what would become his life-long work focused on Louis Riel.

In 1936, Stanley returned home to Canada and became a history professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. He soon joined the Canadian Army, serving as a historian at Canadian Army Headquarters in London, England. Following the Second World War, Stanley returned to teaching, this time at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), where he served for 20 years, during which time he became Dean of Arts. He returned to Mount Allison University in 1969 and became director of the Canadian Studies program—the first of its kind at the time. Stanley was awarded numerous accolades for his work, including being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1976, eventually being promoted to Companion in 1994.

Anne Wheeler, film and television director, producer and writer (Class of '67; BSc, mathematics): Spending two years travelling abroad inspired this mathematics grad to trade in formulas and a career as a computer programmer for storytelling. Upon returning to Canada, this born-and-raised Edmontonian formed a film collective with a group of old friends before making her first feature film in 1981 called War Story, an ode to her father Ben during his time working as a doctor in a POW camp during the Second World War. The four-time Genie Award nominee for Best Achievement in Direction, Officer of the Order of Canada (1995) and 2012 recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubliee Medal is also credited for directing episodes of Cold Squad, Da Vinci's Inquest, The Guard, This is Wonderland, Cracked, Arctic Air and Bomb Girls.

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