Meet the 2020 Recipients

Dr. Stefanie Ruel

2020 Distinguished Alumni

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the accomplishments of an AU graduate who brings honour and prestige to the University. The recipient of this award is selected based on evidence of outstanding contributions to any field of human endeavor, or extraordinary contributions to his or her community.

Stefanie had a distinguished career at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), taking on increasing responsibility with various space-based missions. She led multiple mission teams conducting life science research on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, but she still couldn’t break the glass ceiling.

Thinking upgraded qualifications would help break that barrier she registered in the Master of Business Administration program at AU—but during the course of that program she realized she was being discriminated against. She left the CSA, completed a Doctor of Business Administration with AU, and published her work looking at discrimination in the Canadian space industry in a book, STEM-Professional Women’s Exclusion in the Canadian Space Industry.

She continues her research on gender and diversity in various STEM fields in her role as a lecturer with the Open University based in Milton Keynes, U.K.

Deanna Sykes

2020 Volunteer Service

The Volunteer Service Award recognizes an AU graduate who has demonstrated a spirit of volunteerism and community service through active, unpaid involvement in and contributions to his or her community.

Deanna has an impressive list of professional and volunteer accomplishments. She has two graduate degrees and a resume of philanthropic work that spans the globe, including Haiti, Israel, Guatemala, and Cambodia. This would be impressive across the span of a 40-year career and is all the more impressive for the fact she has been a nurse for less than half that time.

Inspired by a physician she worked with who had done not-for-profit work in Israel, she found a way to help, travelling to the country once or twice per year to help do humanitarian work in an area often subject to rocket attacks.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she got a team of Canadians together to help, and in her time there she met a man who had started an orphanage with his wife. That man wanted to build a school in the community, so she worked to launch the Foundation for Rebuilding Lives, of which she is still the president. The foundation helped raise the money to build a school that now serves 300 students.

Lianne McLean

2020 Rising Star

The Rising Star Award recognizes an AU graduate who has demonstrated leadership and significant contributions to an area of expertise early in his or her career. The recipient will have shown significant success at an early age or in a new industry.

Ten years ago, Lianne McLean was working full-time as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) while completing the Post-LPN Bachelor of Nursing program online through Athabasca University (AU). She took a job as a critical care nurse, was quickly promoted to manager of that unit, and continued her studies in the master of nursing program at the University of Alberta while working full time.

Today, she is the Program Manager of Rare Diseases and Blood Disorders at the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, Ont.—working at the Toronto General Hospital, which was recently recognized in a global ranking as the number four hospital in the world.

During her time in Toronto, McLean has had the opportunity to lead innovative quality improvement projects, such as a Peer to Peer Patient Support program for patients undergoing bariatric surgery. She has also supported the development of the GoodHope Ehlers-Danlos Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to serve patients living with this debilitating condition.

Debra Dell

2020 Future Alumni

The Future Alumni Award recognizes the leadership, service and potential of a current AU student who has completed a minimum of 15 course credits at AU. The recipient of this award will have demonstrated academic excellence and substantial contributions to his or her community or career while balancing the demands of student life.

Debra’s early educational experiences were not entirely positive, as there was a lot of trauma in her childhood and addictions issues within her family. But some encouraging words from a Grade 7 teacher helped give her the confidence to pursue a psychology degree, and she then worked in addictions and mental health.

Throughout her career she completed a master of arts in counselling psychology, and after she began taking on more teaching roles with her work, a master of education as well. After finishing that degree she wanted to keep learning, and enrolled in AU’s Doctor of Education in Distance Education program.

She said she hopes her degree will help her work to continue providing educational opportunities for the addictions counsellors and youth she works with in residential treatment centres—supporting marginalized youth by showing them the transformative power education can have in their lives.

Nominations for the 2021 Alumni Awards will open in January 2021.