Two University of Northern British Columbia alumni — a senior executive at a major biotechnology company in Canada who maintains close ties with the university, along with a social worker who is a volunteer champion for cancer survivors through an active community support network — recently received 2019 UNBC Distinguished Alumni Awards for their leadership and service.
Dr. David Llewellyn, the Senior Vice President for Business Operations at STEMCELL Technologies based in Vancouver, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1997, received the Professional Excellence Award based on his outstanding professional contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of society.
Sarah White, who earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2007, and is currently working on her graduate degree in counselling, received the UNBC Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service for her significant volunteer role in founding the Northern Cancer Survivor Society, the first cancer support group of its kind in Prince George.
“As UNBC graduates, both David and Sarah have become outstanding leaders who are making valuable contributions in their professions and communities,” said UNBC President Dr. Dan Weeks, in a news release. “They are just two more examples of UNBC alumni who continue to do amazing work and are role models for both our alumni and students.”
A special awards committee selected the recipients based on nominations submitted to the UNBC Alumni Council.
“It is always a wonderful opportunity when we can recognize our alumni and showcase how they have contributed to their alma mater,” said UNBC Alumni Council President Jennifer Young. “Through their leadership and dedication to helping others, they help inspire current UNBC students and fellow alumni.”
BSc, Chemistry, 1997
Llewellyn is the Senior Vice President of Business Operations at STEMCELL Technologies, Canada’s largest biotechnology company in Canada.
Based in Vancouver, STEMCELL develops specialty cell culture media, cell isolation systems and other products that support research on cancer and many other diseases.
With STEMCELL’s mission to advance scientific research and knowledge, Llewellyn is responsible for marketing products that support the life sciences research internationally. He also oversees the company’s global pricing, and several product divisions.
Llewellyn grew up in Prince George and was part of the first graduating class of two students from UNBC’s Chemistry Department in 1997.
The mentorship he received both in the lab and the classroom not only resulted in his work being published in several scientific journals, but he was also awarded a Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada award, which he used when he enrolled at McGill University for his PhD in organic chemistry. He was so well prepared from his undergraduate experience at UNBC that he completed his doctorate degree in just four years.
He first entered the biotechnology industry at Methylgene Inc., working on small drug cancer treatments and later transitioned to the business side after earning an MBA from the University of British Columbia (UBC).
In 2010, he joined STEMCELL, working his way up the corporate ladder to his current role.
Despite his busy schedule, Llewellyn gives back to his alma mater, regularly visiting UNBC to meet with students and hire UNBC graduates. He engages students in research talks discussing various initiatives at STEMCELL and providing informative lectures on the work that his company is involved in.
“The education I received at UNBC was excellent and set the stage for my career,” he said. “I am very thankful to the university and all of the time that the professors spent on my development.”
As a social worker, White held various positions. Most recently, she was a mental health clinician in Prince George who worked with people with the most serious mental health illnesses. Her multi-disciplinary team worked with clients on an outreach basis to facilitate community, psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery.
Prior to that position, she spent time as the Outreach and Education Coordinator for The Heart of Richmond AIDS Society in Richmond, B.C. facilitating weekly support groups, providing education to high schools and the general public and providing one-on-one support for the non-profit HIV organization.
White was a support worker for the Atira Women’s Resource Society in Vancouver and a Crisis/Outreach worker for the Elizabeth Fry Society in Prince George.
White’s biggest impact was made through community service as a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and again in 2013. In 2015, she founded the Northern Cancer Survivor Society in Prince George. She co-facilitates bi-monthly support groups in Prince George and provides individual support when needed.
The organization has an active soup/care package program delivered to individuals’ homes on weekends. It also involves volunteers visiting people in hospital and doing household repairs to raising money to help people with medical expenses. Fun social events are also organized. Some of these events are specific to young adults facing cancer. She has recently volunteered with Young Adult Cancer Canada acting as a peer supporter at healing retreats for young adults from across the country affected by cancer.
With White’s experience as a social worker, her volunteer work with the Northern Cancer Survivor Society has evolved to include of end of life care when necessary, and supporting individuals and families as they make that complex transition.
The Master’s degree in counselling that White is completing at UNBC looks at grief counselling, end of life and trauma. Her graduating research project deals with people affected by cancer in Prince George and their experience in accessing resources.
Her other volunteer work includes Free Geek Vancouver, Hostelling International, Saint Vincent de Paul Drop-in Centre, International Order of Job’s Daughters and the Prema Vasam Orphanage in India, among others.
“I am honoured to be accepting this award from such as substantial university and the university I call home,” she said. “None of my work in this community would have been possible without the education I have received at UNBC over eight years. The university’s close ties to the community helped me create the necessary steps to get a peer cancer support organization and continuing to provide services to folks affected by cancer in our city.”