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Teacher alumni honoured

September 24, 2019 Special to the ATA News

The University of Alberta honoured five teacher alumni at a ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the Alumni Association’s highest honour. It recognizes the outstanding lifetime accomplishments of alumni who have earned national or international regard or have had significant local impact as a result of their outstanding professional achievements and service to society.

Mona Nashman, ’79 BEd

The first year that Edmonton Islamic Academy principal Mona Nashman invited the neighbourhood to a school holiday luncheon, only 11 invitations were accepted. Undeterred, she asked those guests to return next year — and to bring a friend. This is how Nashman, an ambassador for cultural acceptance and religious understanding, is helping students counter Islamophobia, one person at a time.

Almost half of Nashman’s 40-year career was spent in the Arab country of Oman where she was head of ABA (formerly the American-British Academy), an International Baccalaureate school. Nashman, who has Muslim heritage, became known as a child-centred educator whose school celebrated collaboration and diversity. Its students conducted projects to help others in the world, such as fundraising for a playground for Syrian refugees and building a library in Tanzania.

In 2001, she started an annual symposium, which continues today, bringing together student leaders from around the world to explore real-life problems. In 2014, she returned to Edmonton and took the principal’s position with the Edmonton Islamic Academy. Nashman was honoured at one of the highest levels when Queen Elizabeth made her a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2016.

As for that annual holiday luncheon, within a few years, the Edmonton Islamic Academy’s holiday tradition was expecting to break bread with more than 200 new friends and neighbours.


Alumni Honour Award

The Alumni Honour Award recognizes the significant achievements and contributions over a number of years by University of Alberta alumni to their profession and their community.

Charlene Bearhead, ’85 BEd

Charlene Bearhead was honoured for her contributions to truth and reconciliation education. Her work includes teacher professional development, advocacy with education ministries and the design of innovative curricula, events and school resources. She has given teachers, students and education leaders a better understanding of Canada’s colonial history and Indigenous knowledge.

Bearhead has an intuitive skill for designing methods to explain concepts that are deemed new, difficult to teach or controversial. She was education lead for both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. From kindergarten classrooms to university auditoriums, Bearhead has inspired thousands of students and teachers and continues to shape the Canadian conversation around our shared history.


Sports Wall of Fame

The Sports Wall of Fame honours athletes and builders who have made significant contributions to University of Alberta athletic programs.

Sean Chursinoff, ’91 BEd

The Golden Bears basketball team of the early 1980s was respected in the west but a non-entity on the national scene. Then Sean Chursinoff joined the team in 1985. Within a year, and for the first time in the team’s history, the Bears were ranked number one in Canada, a fact that legendary coach Don Horwood credits to Chursinoff’s drive and determination to accept nothing but the best from himself and his teammates.

During five years with the Bears, Chursinoff was captain twice and received numerous accolades, including CIAU First Team All-Canadian and Canada West’s player of the year in 1990. Now a special needs teacher in Calgary, Chursinoff has launched exemplary school golf and basketball programs, run summer basketball camps and coached community soccer, hockey and baseball.


Jane Cox Kolodnicki, ’91 BEd

Jane Cox Kolodnicki gave track and field a try when a junior high coach saw potential in the former gymnast’s speed and explosive power. Her accomplishments as a Panda prove it was a leap in the right direction. While attending Campus Saint-Jean from 1989 to 1991, Kolodnicki was among Canada’s most dominant student-athletes in women’s long jump and sprints, winning nine medals in three events, including two national titles. Her 1990 jump of 6.14 metres set a national long jump record that held for nine years — and still hasn’t been bested by another Panda. Kolodnicki is now a teacher and track team coach at a Calgary high school, in addition to serving as a sprints and jumps coach for university athletes.


Alumni Award of Excellence

The Alumni Award of Excellence recognizes an outstanding contribution to community.

Winnie Yeung, ’04 BEd

Once upon a time, teacher Winnie Yeung had a student who knew only a few English words but had a desire to tell a big story: how his family fled from Iraq to Syria and then, as violence followed them, from Syria to Canada. Known for her willingness to invest in her students, Yeung spent countless hours with Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and his family — interviewing, using Google Translate, researching and writing. The result is Homes: A Refugee Story, which chronicles al Rabeeah’s remarkable life and is lauded as a remarkable Canadian refugee story. The experience made Yeung a trusted confidante, first-time investigator and, ultimately, a first-time author. Homes won the 2019 Writers’ Guild of Alberta award for non-fiction and was shortlisted for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Awards. ❚