2017 Alumni Award recipients

Western Alumni is thrilled to celebrate the incredible achievements of this year's distinguished recipients of the 2017 Alumni Awards of Merit. Kevin Vuong, BMOS’11, Natalie Bastow, BEd’91, and Jim Knowles, BA’72, BSc’74, MBA’77, each received their award at the 43nd Annual Alumni Awards Dinner during Homecoming on October 20, 2017.

Also honoured during the dinner were the 2017 inductees to the Western Mustangs Sports Hall of Fame and the Don Wright Faculty of Music Wall of Fame. (see photos below)

Profiles of the the 2017 Alumni Award of Merit recipients:

Dr. Ivan Smith Award:
Jim Knowles, BA’72, BSc’74, MBA’77

Jim Knowles’ contributions to Western extend beyond his standing as a proud graduate. He is a tireless, humble, dedicated volunteer for his alma mater – one who prepares diligently, takes his role seriously and is always looking to positively impact the university, its students, alumni and the community.

Knowles’ dedication to Western is evident through his long-term commitment to Foundation Western and his affiliation with the university’s central administration and various committees.

First appointed in 2008, Knowles is currently a member of Western’s Board of Governors where he chairs the Audit Committee, is a long-standing member of the Investment Committee and an ex-officio member of both the Property/Finance and Senior Policy/Operations committees. He is also a member of the university Senate. 

Knowles’ understanding of what constitutes sound governance is the hallmark of his leadership. Through his understanding of financial issues and challenges faced by universities, he advocates for prudent financial management with reliable judgement and crystal clear vision. He brings a deft combination of wisdom, insight and collegiality to all his interactions as a local business executive and prominent member of the community.

Knowles is Vice-President of Finance at Blackburn Radio Inc., a broadcasting company with 13 radio stations serving southwestern and midwestern Ontario.

Since 1994, he has served as treasurer of the Walter J. Blackburn Foundation, an organization that supports charities in London and southwestern Ontario focused on education, health, welfare, environment and the arts. Since 2004, he has also been a member of the investment committee of Jesse’s Journey, a charity dedicated to supporting research for a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Most recently, he joined the board of Westminster College Foundation, an organization that supports education, health and/or spiritual care initiatives.

Knowles is married to Maria, HBA’77, and they have two daughters, Stephanie and Sarah, both Western alumnae. In his leisure time, he plays hockey, baseball and golf.

Community Service Award:
Natalie Bastow, BEd’91

By the time she was 11-years-old, Natalie Bastow, BEd’91, decided she was going to be a teacher. After graduating with a Bachelor of Music, majoring in instrumental music and voice, with a minor in history and geography, Bastow received a Bachelor of Education from Western in 1991.

Her passion for both music and teaching made a significant impact on students, teachers and the community within the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Bastow led a number of school bands, participating in festivals and competitions throughout the province. In addition to conducting various choirs, she even dedicated time and practice to play flute for the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra.

It was during her time as an educator and musician that Bastow learned the value of assembling and inspiring people to commit to a common goal. With her students, parents and community members, she created and cultivated a volunteer program to identify and channel the talents of volunteers for the benefit of others. This ability to understand challenges and offer various approaches to overcome them would serve as the foundation for the second chapter of her life.

After her spouse accepted a job in Singapore, Bastow traveled to Cambodia and, witnessing the widespread poverty, was inspired to volunteer with the charity, Caring for Cambodia, which is committed to ensuring a high-quality education for thousands of children.

Over the course of a decade, Bastow has served in progressively accountable roles within the charity, from Chair of the Education Committee, Volunteer Coordinator, President of Asia Pacific and Japan to her current role as Chief Operating Officer, ensuring a dedicated global network of volunteers accomplish the goal of changing lives through education.

What began as a love of education while at Western, has grown into the search for the good in every challenge. Thanks to her efforts, Caring for Cambodia students are no longer trapped in the cycle of poverty where the possibility of becoming a tour guide is the pinnacle of success. Now they aspire to careers in medicine, engineering, education and business.

Young Alumni Award:
Kevin Vuong, BMOS’11

Kevin Vuong, BMOS’11, a social entrepreneur and military officer, is building a healthier, safer and more prosperous Canada that leaves no one behind. Named one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, he has already collected more accolades and awards than most Canadians twice his age.

Son of refugee parents who escaped to Canada from the Vietnam War, Vuong was a high-risk youth whose life path could have easily led to a very different future. Instead, he became the first in his family to graduate from university. “I was lucky to have people in my life who provided me with an opportunity do more, to be better. They didn’t have to – but they did. This is why I am driven to support those who face barriers to education and employment. Because I was in their shoes not too long ago, I know how it feels when it seems like the odds are stacked against you.”

Today, Vuong leads the Agency for Public + Social Innovation, which acts as a hub of social innovation at the University of Toronto. He helps bring together people and resources to transform perceptions on what is possible and contribute to social change.

Just this year, he was named among The Queen’s Young Leaders for Canada in recognition of his service and impact advancing social enterprise. Vuong increasingly finds himself working within public health, advising ventures at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, as well as serving as the Co-Principal Innovator for a social initiative at the Institute for Global Health Equity & Innovation. Vuong also serves his country as a reservist and Intelligence Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship YORK.

Generous with his time as a speaker and mentor for Western students, his portfolio of companies includes RollUP Solutions, an enterprise founded and led by current students. This business upcycles mobility devices and sells them at a significant discount, which creates training for vulnerable workers.