On May 31, the Dalhousie community celebrated its inaugural Aurum Awards and recognized four alumni for outstanding achievements in innovation, community engagement, leadership and their contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of society.
The Aurum Awards honour the innovators and visionaries who are making a difference in their communities and around the world. And the first recipients are doing just that. Sura Hadad (DDS’03), Anirudh Koul (BCS’07), Megan Leslie (LLB’94) and Heather McNeill’s (LLB’94) contributions through their work and volunteerism have a far-reaching impact, touching the lives of many people. Whether it’s providing free oral care to Syrian refugees as Dr. Hadad has done, or Koul’s revolutionary smartphone app that is making the world more accessible for blind and low-vision people, or both Leslie and McNeill’s passion for public service, this year’s recipients are an inspiring group.
“We celebrate our alumni not only because we are incredibly proud of their accomplishments, but it’s also important to share their stories and highlight the impact they are making. Through the development of new ideas, sharing of knowledge and their commitment to giving back, they are truly impacting
our world,” says Sheila Blair-Reid, associate vice-president, Alumni and External Engagement.
Building on the outstanding achievements and legacy of past Dalhousie Alumni Award recipients, the Aurum (Latin for gold) Awards symbolize the strength and wisdom of Dalhousie’s alumni community and capture the “black & gold” spirit of the university.
The recipients of the 2019 Aurum Awards shared some insight into their passions, motivation and the one thing closest to their heart.
Dr. Sura Hadad (DDS’03)
A dentist who helped build a girls’ college in Kenya, established a scholarship for Dalhousie dental students, and provided free oral care to Syrian refugees, Dr. Sura Hadad knows how to make people smile.
What gets her going each day: Knowing that I’ll help somebody out of pain or make someone smile again. That’s what I enjoy.
Best part of what she does: The satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped somebody, whether they are in pain or need, and that I helped relieve their distress.
Her favourite part of the day: The evening, when I can look back on what I’ve done and know I did not waste a single moment, and that I took time to help someone to the best of my ability.
One job she wishes she had tried: Being a pilot, so I can fly everywhere and not only see the world, but also see who else needs my help.
One thing closest to her heart: My mom. She worked so hard for us to get where we are. When I see her smiling, and I can do something that she wants, that’s incredible, because there were days when we didn’t even have a dollar in our house.
Anirudh Koul (BCS’07)
Inspired by his grandfather, this tech savvy visionary is drawing on the potential of artificial intelligence to develop and advance groundbreaking apps that are enhancing accessibility and ability for people.
Best advice he’s ever received: There’s an African proverb that says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ That’s the reality of most successful projects I’ve done. When you have a diverse team, you have more people contributing ideas, and bringing their talents to bear, so you can achieve much more than you ever could solo.
The best part of what he does: Hearing things like “life changing” or “first time in my life” from the people who use the technology I’ve worked on.
One talent he rarely gets to use: Juggling. I took a course on it in university, but I’m not sure I could do it now. It’s been a few years since I tried.
His happy place: Long-distance cycling. I used to be very sedentary, and it was exciting when I got to the point where I could go 200 miles. It gives me time to recharge, and to plan what’s next.
One thing closest to his heart: In the blind community, 60 per cent of university students traditionally did not graduate. I’m happy to say that, with AIRA, we’re able to reduce the dropout rate to 6 per cent.
Megan Leslie (LLB’04)
From representing Halifax in Canada’s Parliament to her role as president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Megan Leslie continues to make great strides in advancing social, environmental, and economic justice.
What gets her going everyday: Right now, the people I work with. Our wildlife and our planet are in trouble, and it can be really overwhelming at times, but I know that everybody I work with is united by the desire to do something about it. I’m always excited to see what they are working on.
The best part of what she does: Inspiring people to see the world a little differently and to think that they can have a hand in shaping it.
What makes an idea worth pursuing: I always ask myself, “If I start this, how will it help me achieve environmental, social, and economic justice in my community and my country?”That is what motivates me.
If she had one extra hour day, she would spend it: Bike riding, skiing, paddling—I love being outdoors. It shouldn’t feel like being in a different world, because it is our world, but it is an escape from the day-to-day world. And the meditative aspect of the activities I like to do is very therapeutic to me.
The one thing closest to her heart: When I brought the voices of transgender community to the floor of the House of Commons. We were debating a bill on extending the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the best of my knowledge there were no transgender people in the house at the time. I felt their perspectives were missing, so I am proud that I got to stand up twice and read those voices into the record. It was a powerful thing to do.
Heather McNeill (LLB’94)
After a 20-year career providing legal aid to those in need, this dynamic lawyer is applying her skills to help develop the first-ever governance model for Mi’kmaq child welfare in Nova Scotia.
Best advice she ever received: I remember wanting to be a nurse and I didn’t have much education, so I didn’t think I could do it. There was a nurse I knew who told me I could be anything I wanted to be so long as I believed in myself, and she was right.
Lesson she learned the hard way: That I can’t be perfect. I kind of strive to be perfect at everything, even if I can’t always be, and I have to accept that.
The best part of what she does: Knowing I can use my knowledge and skills to help change someone’s life for the better.
Her favourite part of the day: The end of the day. It’s an opportunity to power down and renew myself by doing the things I need to do, like spending time with my family.
The one closest to her heart: If I had to pick a person, it would be my daughter, Shana. My whole life changed when I had her. Everything I did was for her. But I’d also have to pick the one cause that is dearest to me, and that’s Dalhousie Legal Aid. I loved working there. It was like family to me, and they always supported me in the community work I did. So did the law school. They gave me so many opportunities to go out and make a difference, and that meant the world to me.
Read more: For full stories about each of the recipients, visit alumni.dal.ca