In recognition of the women who have chosen to lead as students and as alumnae at Brescia University College since its inception in 1919, the first 12 Alumnae Trailblazers were revealed on September 14, 2009 at the launch of a year of 90th-anniversary celebrations and a bold new brand of Canada’s premier women’s university.
Brescia alumnae are women who choose to lead. Here are just a few women making a difference. If you know a notable Brescia alumna, or if you would like to be included on our list, please email a brief biography and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Kay Kelly (’57) and Nora Newton (’57)
Mary Kay Kelly (’57) and Nora Newton (’57) received the Carmelle Murphy Alumnae of Award of Distinction. The award was established in 2001 in honour of Carmelle Murphy (’51) in recognition of her dedicated service to Brescia. This award recognizes the accomplishments of Brescia graduates who have: shown achievement in their chosen field; contributed to the development of others; contributed to their community; demonstrated outstanding characteristics; and acted as a role model for others.
This is the first time that the award has been shared between two alumnae. Fellow member of the Class of 1957, Margaret Murray Nicholson, describes the two women as, “wonderful examples of alumnae in action and both have been part of the process that enables institutions to evolve and maintain their relevance.” Mary Kay Kelly accepted the award at the Homecoming Luncheon on behalf of both recipients and said, “My love for Brescia runs very deep. In trying to examine my intense attachment to this place, I came to understand that this was the first place that I could truly be the person I was meant to be. Brescia touched my soul. I will forever be grateful for what Brescia gave to me and I am truly honoured that she has found Nora and me worthy of this honour.”
Ashley Conyngham (’04)
Ashley Conyngham (’04) was recognized for her numerous accomplishments when she received the Sister Mary Lou McKenzie Young Alumnae Award of Merit, an award that was renamed in 2011 after Sister May Lou McKenzie in honour of her dedication to Brescia and its students.
Shortly after graduation, Ashley began working for former MPP, Chris Bentley on a part-time basis. Bentley notes, “It was inspiring to see Ashley improve those around her through this unique combination of almost simultaneous teaching and learning.” For that reason, she quickly rose to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position in which she held for close to seven years.
For the last two years, Ashley has held the role of Director of Communications and Marketing at the London Economic Development Corporation, where she uses key relationships and skills acquired throughout her time in local politics, proving that lessons learned help to build successful careers. Her service leadership roles include sitting as a Trustee on the Board of Trustees at Brescia, and as a Director on the Board of the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex.
Ann Hawkins (’63)
Ann Hawkins is the 2013 recipient of the Carmelle Murphey Award of Distinction. After completing her BA, Ann earned her MSc (HRC) and then a certificate in the advanced Program in Organizational Development and Human Resource Management at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Since that time she has worked with public, private and not-for-profit organizations as Vice-President of Human Resources and as a consultant for Organizational Effectiveness. Her broad client base ranges from government to financial services, telecommunications to technology. Ann has done studies in nursing homes across Ontario, introduced organizational structure in clinical labs in BC and worked on team building and the redesign of outpatient clinics in urban teaching hospitals. She has also served as director of Human Resources at Wellesley Hospital.
At the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, she has played a pivotal role in the Leading Strategic Change Program and has taught Human Resource Management at the University of International Business and Economics in China, as well as Human Resources to senior officials of the Indian Railways Corporation and the Cayman Islands.
Ann’s service to others and interests covers an extremely broad spectrum. She has served as Chair of the Brescia Foundation, on the Advisory Committee of the Dorothy M. Wylie Nursing Leadership Institute, as President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, as Governor of the YMCA of Metropolitan Toronto, as President of Opportunity for Advancement, and as Director of the Boulevard Club and Outward Bound.
Leenat Jilani (’13)
Leenat Jilani is the 2013 recipient of the Sister Mary Lou McKenzie Young Alumnae Award of Merit. After taking part in Brescia’s Scholar’s Electives program, Leenat went on to graduate with a double major honours degree in Political Science and Social Justice and Peace Studies.
While at Brescia, Leenat became a member of Junior Team Canada through Global Vision, for which she currently acts as a liaison, representing Canada at the Junior Team Canada Trade Mission, National Youth Ambassador Caucuses, Asia–Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) Summits, and the G20 Summit in Mexico.
Through her work, she has established relationships with a number of political leaders and has met Prime Minister Stephen Harper as part of a Global Vision showcase of the Junior Team Canada Ambassadors’ work on behalf of the London Youth Advisory Council.
She has also travelled to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore speaking about the positive impact that Brescia has had on her as a female leader and will soon be heading to Bali for the APEC Summit.
Susan Horvath (’77)
Susan Horvath is the 2012 recipient of the Carmelle Murphey Award of Distinction. Committed to making a difference in the lives of Canadians through the active engagement of donors in realizing the power of their philanthropy, she was honoured for her inspirational role in stimulating philanthropy and engaging donors in Canada with the prestigious Queen Elizabeth ll Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
As the Vice President, Leadership Philanthropy, Canadian Cancer Society, Susan works with donors who support cancer research, prevention, and support programs for patients and families. For the past 22 years Susan has inspired donor support for medical research as the President of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation in Toronto and as the Vice President External at Robarts Research Institute in London, for education as the Director of Alumni and Development at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), and community support as the Campaign Director, United Way of London & Middlesex. Susan’s 22 years of fundraising experience was preceded by 10 years on faculty at Brescia.
Accredited with the Certified Fund Raising Executive designation in 1995, Susan received the SIRIUS Award for Fund Raising Excellence from the London & Region Fund Raising Executives in 1997, and in 2002 the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education honoured Susan for her leadership. Susan’s commitment to philanthropy is exemplified in her current volunteer role as the President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for the Greater Toronto Chapter, the largest chapter in the world of this international organization.
Lin Yuan, (MSc. ’10) (BSc. ’08)
Lin Yuan is the recipient of the 2012 Sister Mary Lou McKenzie Young Alumnae Award of Merit.
After successfully completing her BSc. degree in 2008, Lin was admitted into the MSc. in Foods and Nutrition program and became a Registered Dietitian in 2010. Before officially graduating from the program, she accepted a job offer by the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC), where she continues to work, developing and delivering effective group education sessions on nutrition and healthy lifestyle to clients in both urban and Reserve settings
As a student, Lin was heavily involved with student organizations, including as a Peer Guide in International Peer Connection Program and an Off-Campus Peer Advisor.
She has continued her involvement at the Professional level, holding positions for the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP), including serving as President for the London Professional Branch.
Jennifer Broxterman (’09)
Jennifer Broxterman was the recipient of the 2011 Sister Mary Lou McKenzie Young Alumnae Award of Merit.
After graduating from Brescia in 2009, Jennifer went on to complete her dietetic internship at London Health Sciences Centre, and is currently completing her Masters of Science in Foods & Nutrition at Brescia working with individuals from London, Ontario recently diagnosed prediabetes.
Her desire to empower others to reach their health and nutrition goals led to the creation of NutritionRx, a professional nutrition consulting practice that strives to provide clients with the knowledge, skills, and individualized solutions they require to look, feel, and perform their very best.
Jaimie Hemsworth (’09)
Jaimie Hemsworth was the first Brescia student to win a Morgan Medal from the Dietitians of Canada for her work on groundbreaking research in the development of probiotic yogurt for HIV patients. Jaimie is currently studying for her PhD at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England.
In September 2009, Jaimie was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Noelle (Stedelbauer) Martin (’04)
After graduating with an Honours BSc in Foods and Nutrition from Brescia, Noelle completed a comprehensive dietetic internship at London Health Sciences Centre and went on to complete her MSc in Foods and Nutrition at Brescia in 2009.
During her university career, Noelle was recognized nationally as a leader within the dietetic community through receiving the National Nestle Gold Plate Award and the Canadian Home Economics Association Sally Henry Leadership Award in 2003 and is currently founder and president of RD Services.
Noelle also enjoys teaching at Brescia and is past president of the Canadian Association of Food Service Professionals (London Branch). Noelle is Chair with the Hope’s Garden Board.
Noelle was awarded the Young Alumnae Award of Merit at Homecoming 2010.
Dr. Colleen Gobert (’00)
After graduating with an Honours BSc in Foods and Nutrition from Brescia, Colleen earned a MSc from the University of Manitoba in 2002 and completed a dietetic practicum to fulfill registration requirements to become a registered dietitian. She then worked as a clinical dietitian in a variety of settings before returning to academics to pursue a PhD in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. Throughout her years of academics, Colleen received many awards for her academic successes. Since earning her PhD, Colleen has joined Brescia’s Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences as Assistant Professor.
Colleen was awarded the Young Alumnae Award of Merit at Homecoming 2009.
Tahirih Naylor-Thimm (’00)
Tahirih Naylor-Thimm is the first recipient of the newly created Alumnae Award of Merit for recent graduates.
Since delivering the valedictory address at Baccalaureate 2000, Tahirih has earned a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. After being called to the bar she has put her legal training to work for the Baha’i community. In 2006 she accepted a role at the United Nations in New York City where she leads the strategic planning and implementation of the Baha’i International Community’s involvement in work on the issues of human rights, social development and sustainability.
Crona (Hassenstein) Airgid (’96)
Crona Airgid was one of four Brescia students who demonstrated their leadership abilities by becoming the first students to oversee the residence as Residence Assistants in 1994–95, replacing the Sisters who had held this responsibility for many years. RA’s take the lead in building a vibrant community.
In September 2009, Crona was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Michelle (Krech) Burrell (’96)
Michelle Burrell was one of four Brescia students who demonstrated their leadership abilities by becoming the first students to oversee the residence as Residence Assistants in 1994–95, replacing the Sisters who had held this responsibility for many years. RA’s take the lead in building a vibrant community.
In September 2009, Michelle was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Janet (Van Damme) Denkers (’96)
Janet Denkers was one of four Brescia students who demonstrated their leadership abilities by becoming the first students to oversee the residence as Residence Assistants in 1994–95, replacing the Sisters who had held this responsibility for many years. RA’s take the lead in building a vibrant community.
In September 2009, Janet was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Claudette (Turnbull) Zijlstra (’96)
Claudette Zijlstra was one of four Brescia students who demonstrated their leadership abilities by becoming the first students to oversee the residence as Residence Assistants in 1994–95, replacing the Sisters who had held this responsibility for many years. RA’s take the lead in building a vibrant community.
In September 2009, Claudette was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Heather Reier (’96)
When Heather Reier graduated from Brescia University College in ’96, she went into the world with the ability to think strategically, an unstoppable determination to succeed and a love of Brescia and the lifelong friends she made at Canada’s women’s university.
Reier’s intrinsic gifts and those honed at Brescia have contributed to her success as the president and founder of Cake Beauty – the company she started in her kitchen in 2003, which today produces a popular bath and body product line, including Satin Sugar, for which Cake earned an innovation award from Chatelaine magazine in 2008.
Christine Fraser (’92)
Christine Fraser is a Registered Dietitian in London, ON, Fraser works in the acquired brain injury rehabilitation and spinal cord injury and stroke rehabilitation departments at Parkwood Hospital.
Shannon Bryant (’90)
Upon completion of her degree in philosophy, Bryant traveled to Dublin, Ireland. She cashed in her return ticket to Canada and started working and singing in a restaurant-piano bar there. She says that experience gave her the courage to pursue a singing career when she returned home.
After achieving some success in Canada, which included performing in several festivals in Ontario and with the London Symphony Orchestra in the popular “Jeans and Classics” show, Bryant left for San Francisco with no leads, but with tremendous faith.
Bryant’s risks have yielded many rewards. She enjoys performing, recording and teaches singing. Her recent work is a self-produced original CD, named “Oceano”. To learn more about Bryant and her music, visit her web site at www.shannonbryant.com.
Wilma de Rond (’81)
As a member of Brescia’s Students’ Council, Wilma de Rond initiated the off-campus faculty/student pot luck dinner that is an annual Brescia event to this day. As an educator, in 2007 Wilma became the first female Director of the London and District Catholic School Board.
In September 2009, Wilma was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Margaret (O’Grady) Wickware (’76)
Margaret Wickware attracted wide attention when she became Western’s first female Students’ Council President in 1975. In 1997, as guest speaker at Baccalaureate, Margaret described how her involvement in student politics led to a career in bank administration at a time when few women were considered for management positions.
In September 2009, Margaret was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Dr. Margaret Chan (’73)
Dr. Margaret Chan is Director-General Elect of WHO, appointed by the World Health Assembly on 9 November 2006.
Before being appointed Director-General Elect, Dr Chan was WHO Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases and Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza.
Prior to joining WHO, she was Director of Health in Hong Kong. During her nine-year tenure as director, Dr. Chan confronted the first human outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 and successfully defeated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong in 2003. She also launched new services to prevent disease and promote better health.
Charmaine Gardner (’72)
A successful business entrepreneur, Charmaine Gardner is the managing director of Carasco and Son Limited, on her island home of St. Lucia in the West Indies. Over the years, she has served as president of the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, and of the Regional Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce. She has also been both the Deputy President and Acting President of the St. Lucia Senate. Currently Mrs. Gardner is the chair of the Cave Hill School of Business of the University of the West Indies. She serves as the President and chair of the board of the First National Bank St. Lucia Ltd. She has served on many boards organizations and institutions, in both the public and private sector, and continues her voluntary work especially in the areas of education, women’s affairs and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church.
She has received many honours in Saint Lucia, and the wider Caribbean, and was most recently conferred with the degree Doctor of Laws (LLD) honoris causa from the University of West Indies in October 2006.
Marlene Wyatt (’71)
Since graduating, Marlene has worked as a dietitian in several hospitals before becoming the Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Services at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. She earned a Master of Arts in Public Administration at Carleton University and has since become the Director of Professional Affairs of Dietitians of Canada (DC), our national association of dietitians. In this key leadership role, Marlene directs numerous important professional orientations for DC and Canadian dietitians and dietetic trainees. She is a sought-after speaker who made an inspiring and modest speech when she received the Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction at Homecoming 2009.
Dr. Stephanie Atkinson (’68)
Dr. Atkinson, the 2011 Carmelle Murphey Award of Distinction recipient, is Professor and Associate Chair (Research) in the Department of Pediatrics, and Associate Member in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and Special Professional Staff member in McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Following her B.A. in Nutrition, Dr. Atkinson worked as a Pediatric Dietitian at the Hospital for Sick Children prior to completing a Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and a post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric endocrinology.
Over her career as a nutrition-clinician scientist she has conducted extensive clinical research on the impact of nutrition and disease on growth, bone and body composition and health outcomes in infants and children. Current research focuses on developmental programming including the determinants of maternal health in pregnancy and the fetal and neonatal determinants of obesity, diabetes, and risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in children through a prospective, longitudinal birth cohort study. In related work, Dr. Atkinson co-leads the Canadian Birth Cohort Research Network initiative through the Maternal, Infant, Child and Youth Research Network (MICYRN).
Franca (Creati) Fortner (’68)
Franca Fortner (pictured with her family) touched the hearts and minds of thousands of students in both the public and Catholic School Boards throughout her distinguished career as a French teacher. During most of her career, Franca was an associate teacher mentoring many student teachers in the classroom and far beyond their practicum. She was a proud ambassador of Brescia, an active member of the Alumnae Association and a dedicated volunteer to many local organizations.
Dr. Marlene (Smith) MacLeish (’68)
Dr. Marlene MacLeish currently works as Professor of Medical Education at Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta Georgia. She is also team leader of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) National Space Biomedical Research Institute Education and Public Out Reach Program.
Marlene gave the address at the 2009 Baccalaureate at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London.
In September 2009, Marlene was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary. In October 2010, Marlene was honoured with an Honorary Degree from The University of Western Ontario.
Patricia (Griffin) Charles (’58)
The recipient of the 2007 Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction was Patricia Charles. Pat completed her BA in General Arts at Brescia and earned a Masters in Education from the University of Toronto in Adult Education in 1978.
In 1959, she moved to St. Lucia with her husband, Ferrel “Bam” Charles, where she fell in love with her new island home and became deeply involved in development work, particularly in the non-governmental organization sector.
Through her teaching and volunteer work in St. Lucia, Pat epitomizes Brescia’s mission to educate women who change the world.
Dr. Catherine Cole-Beuglet (’58)
Dr. Catherine Cole-Beuglet was a specialist in radiology and was internationally renowned for her outstanding research in the development of common diagnostic procedures and biopsy techniques for breast ultrasounds. Click here to read a tribute to her life and work published in the US Radiology Journal.
Dr. Elsa Marziali (’56)
Dr. Elsa Marziali is the only Canadian researcher involved in evaluating an internet-video conferencing intervention program for caregivers of persons with chronic disabilities. Her research projects have earned her national and international acclaim.
Joan (Barry) Francolini (’55)
Joan Francolini was the 2010 recipient of the Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction. She has sat as director on numerous boards including the YMCA, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Tillsonburg Public Library Board, Thames Valley District Health Council, United Way of London and Middlesex, London Regional Art Gallery, London Community Foundation and Robarts Research Institute.
Joan has shown outstanding and unique leadership in her role as Chairperson of the boards of Foundation Western, St. Joseph’s Health Care London, Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital and just recently completed her term as Chair of Brescia University College Foundation.
In 2005, Joan was awarded the Order of Ontario and in 2009 was honoured as one of YMCA’s 2009 Women of Excellence honourees in the Lifetime Achievement category.
Nadia (Bala) Martin (’55)
Nadia Martin has had a distinguished career as a teacher, in the financial sector, and has been dedicated to the community through her many volunteer positions.
Carmelle Murphy (’50)
Ever a loyal member of Brescia’s Alumnae Association, Carmelle Murphy worked closely with the members and with Sister Margaret Hanley. In 1988, Carmelle became Director of the Alumnae Association – the first person who was not an Ursuline Sister to hold that office.
In September 2009, Carmelle was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Dr. Beryl (Nurse) Ivey (’47)
It is with a sense of pride and sadness that the 2008 Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction is awarded posthumously to Dr. Beryl Ivey, one of Canada’s foremost philanthropists, who passed away on Christmas Day, 2007. Together with her husband, Richard, she donated more than $100 million to charities across Canada. In 2007, she was awarded the Order of Canada for her volunteer and philanthropic activities.
Having received a scholarship to attend Brescia in ’43, Dr. Ivey frequently mentioned her gratitude to Mother St. James who ensured that she would be able to continue her studies.
The Beryl Ivey library is a daily reminder of her generosity and kindness.
Dr. Geraldine Montag (’47)
Dr. Geraldine Montag was the first graduate of Brescia’s Home Economics program to earn a PhD. At Iowa State University, her second alma mater, Geraldine became a Professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department where she served as Chair for two years.
In September 2009, Geraldine was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
C. Rosalina Saez (’35)
From her founding, one of Brescia’s goals has been to provide a culture receptive to and supportive of international students. Rosalina Saez was the first international woman student to graduate from a Canadian university.
In September 2009, Rosalina was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.
Mother St. Michael – Winifred Guinan (’32)
Mother St. Michael Guinan was the first Sister hired by the Ontario government as an executive officer of research. She was also the first female to be given a Canada Council grant for her studies.
Mother St. Michael taught a variety of courses at Brescia, including Economics, English, Philosophy, Political Science, and Psychology between 1938 and 1978. During this time, she also completed a PhD in Psychology and Philosophy at Laval University and post-doctoral studies at Harvard, Notre Dame, University of Toronto, and University of Ottawa.
Mother St. Michael was honoured with a scholarship in her name and received the Carmelle Murphy Alumna Award of Distinction at her Diamond Jubilee in 1992. Western honoured her by giving her an Honorary LLD in 1973.
Christine Dawson (’23)
While a student of Brescia’s first class, Christine Dawson had many chats with Mother St. Anne who was envisioning an organization to maintain the bond between the College and her alumnae. Through Christine’s continuing efforts after graduation, the Alumnae Association was established in 1927.
In September 2009, Christine was one of 12 women recognized as an Alumna Trailblazer in celebration of Brescia’s 90th anniversary.