Alumni of Influence

Reflecting on the pandemic year

It’s been said many times that 2020 was an unprecedented year in recent history. In light of this, we asked our 2020 College of Arts and Science Alumni of Influence Award winners about their reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic and the year that was.

Anthony Bidulka
(BA’83, BEd’91, BComm’91)

“It strikes me that ever since the ability to share our lives with others was so drastically curtailed, we found ways to do it anyway, be it banging pots to support frontline workers, Zoom cocktail hours, drive-by birthday parties or singing Ukrainian Christmas carols under my mother’s second-floor balcony on a freezing cold December evening. We need each other. That will never go away. The world is a friendly place.”

Anthony Bidulka is an award-winning author of mystery, suspense and thriller novels. A great believer in community involvement, Bidulka has sat on the boards of local, national and international organizations, including Persephone Theatre, the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, AIDS Saskatoon, Crime Writers of Canada and The Word On The Street Saskatoon. In 2008, Bidulka co-founded Camp fYrefly Saskatchewan, an educational, social and personal learning retreat for sexual and gender minority youth.



Signa Daum Shanks

“When I think of some of the circumstances that seem more like a drudgery, or more alone than I wish they’d be, I always hope that I’ll hear a story, or remember a story, that is about someone else who’s having more difficult times. If we think of our grandparents or great grandparents, I’m sure they’d have events that could compete with the isolation a lot of us feel or the difficulties we are encountering. Alternatively, in other parts of the world, there are probably many locations where we would not want to be right now. So I think a daily exercise of perspective, in wondering who I could help or who would wish to be with me today, is a way to give our heads a shake and put a smile on our face, and maybe even call or do something that helps someone else feel uplifted.”

Dr. Signa Daum Shanks is a lawyer, legal scholar and historian who works to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world. A former faculty member of the University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Law, Daum Shanks is now associate professor and director of Indigenous outreach at Osgoode Hall Law School. Since 2016, she has represented a non-governmental organization at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She currently lives in Barrie, Ont., and remains a proud co-owner of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.



Tracey Jungwirth

“My greatest takeaway is the value of connections I made before this pandemic. As I navigate through the virtual world, all the previous networking and volunteering helped me confidently navigate the new normal during the pandemic. Also, membership in various organizations provided multiple opportunities to keep me learning through the online seminars.”

Tracey Jungwirth is a dedicated volunteer and the driving force behind many activities of the Ore Gangue, one of USask’s oldest student and alumni societies. Her tireless volunteer efforts have helped the society—founded in 1934—remain one of USask’s most engaged alumni groups. She has been instrumental in bringing together hundreds of alumni from across Canada for a series of Ore Gangue reunion events, most recently the highly successful 85th anniversary event held in Saskatoon in May 2019.



Russell Muzzolini
(BSc’88, MSc’92, PhD’97)

“Looking back, my greatest takeaway is that tech executives now realize it is entirely possible to work remotely for an extended period of time. A high-performing team can execute across geographies and time zones without requiring ‘butts in seats.’ I can now work from Amalfi!”

Dr. Russell Muzzolini is a software development leader who has held senior roles at numerous cutting-edge technology companies. In 1999, Muzzolini joined the online photo service Shutterfly. From 2014 to 2017, Muzzolini served as chief technology officer at Spire Global, a satellite-powered data company. In 2017, he became CTO at YourMechanic, the leading mobile car repair network in the United States. He left YourMechanic in 2018 to spend more time helping young startups as an adviser. His latest startup is Moda Market, where he is taking the reins as co-founder and CEO of the Saskatoon-based business.



Monique Simair
(BSc’04, PhD’09)

“Embrace change, seek it out, lead it. In times of uncertainty, the opportunity to create and influence becomes even greater. Change will happen no matter what; you can choose to lead the change, wait for it to happen or be surprised when it does. Choose to lead.”

Dr. Monique Simair is an industry leader in the environmental consulting sector and an adjunct professor of civil, geological and environmental engineering in USask’s College of Engineering. In 2019, Simair founded Maven Water & Environment. At her previous company, Contango Strategies, she developed the first commercial genomics services for environmental microbiology communities. Profit magazine named Simair one of Canada’s future entrepreneurial leaders in 2011. She was added to the W100 list of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs in 2015 by Profit and Chatelaine.



Ronald Steer
(BA’63, PhD’68, DSc’95)

“I wish it were more generally appreciated what an impressive feat scientists have accomplished in developing several highly effective COVID-19 vaccines within just a few months. Prior long-term investments in biochemical/biomedical research are again paying huge societal dividends. The same will prove to be true of investments in climate science—biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, physics, engineering—if politicians globally have the good sense to listen and act accordingly.”

Dr. Ronald Steer is an internationally renowned researcher of the interactions between light and matter. At USask, Steer secured the original grant to establish the Saskatchewan Structural Sciences Centre, which has invigorated multidisciplinary research across campus. In 1995, he received the university’s Master Teacher Award. Steer has also served as president of the Canadian Society for Chemistry, as a member of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), as chair of NSERC’s Chemistry Grants Selection Committee, as North American editor of the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology and as organizing chair for several major chemistry conferences.



Adrian Stimson

“As Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, don’t panic! It is the best advice for all of humanity, and especially in these pandemic times when everything seems so uncertain. Uncertainty definitely causes fear, and fear leads to all sorts of ills. For me, overcoming my initial fear and panic was the biggest takeaway—reminding myself to use all the wellness tools that I have gathered over the years, to take a big breath and know in this very moment, in this place, that I am OK. Also, a little humour never hurts. Thank you, Mr. Adams.”

A member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta, Adrian Stimson is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and curator whose celebrated work has had a significant impact on the visual arts in Canada and beyond. As a participant in the Canadian Forces Artists Program, Stimson was sent to Afghanistan in 2010. Two exhibitions resulting from that trip later toured across Canada. In 2018, Stimson was presented with a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He was also the recipient of the REVEAL Indigenous Arts Award from the Hnatyshyn Foundation in 2017, the Blackfoot Visual Arts Award in 2009, the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003.




Adam Pottle

“Seize the moment as hard as you can. Seek creativity and beauty in each moment. Don’t wait to pursue the things you love. Don’t put off your projects. Don’t delay sharing your feelings with your beloved. The world is too fragile, and life is too . . . short to spend it in misery.”

Dr. Adam Pottle is an award-winning novelist, poet and playwright whose work explores the fiery beauty of Deafness and disability. While working on his PhD dissertation, he wrote and published three books. Each was nominated for several awards, with his novel, Mantis Dreams, winning a 2014 Saskatchewan Book Award, and his novella, The Bus, winning the 2015 Ken Klonsky Prize. In 2016, Pottle’s first play, Ultrasound, was produced by Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. Pottle’s second play, 2019’s The Black Drum, is the world’s first all-Deaf musical. His activism has prompted literary festivals and arts spaces across Canada to incorporate access into their organizational mandates.


The Alumni of Influence Awards recognize and celebrate outstanding alumni whose remarkable achievements and contributions are having an impact on their fields, their community and the university. Learn more on the College of Arts and Science alumni website.

Share this story