June 9, 2021

Class of 2021: Emergency management expert and child-health advocate receive Order of the University of Calgary

Honour recognizes record of exemplary and distinguished service to the university
Robert Maber and Saifa Koonar
Robert Maber (L) and Saifa Koonar

A director who helped guide the university through troubled waters and a leading child-health advocate will be inducted into the Order of the University of Calgary during the June 2021 convocation ceremony. 

Robert Maber and two-time UCalgary alumna Saifa Koonar, BComm’92, MBA’02, will receive the honour during tomorrow’s virtual ceremony hosted by Chancellor Deborah Yedlin and President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley. 

The Order of the University of Calgary honours those with a continual record of exemplary and distinguished service to the university. This award is available to all current or past members of the campus community.   

Meet our recipients 

Robert (Bob) Maber 

Critical problem-solver and emergency management expert 

Bob Maber’s 14 years of service to the University of Calgary have been marked by resilience and excellence in the face of crisis. As UCalgary’s director of emergency management, Maber has consistently been a positive advocate for the university, and a relationship-builder in the wider community.  

In his role, he has led the university’s emergency response through several major incidents, beginning in 2013 when Calgary experienced a one-in-100-year flood that devastated city infrastructure and homes. His leadership was instrumental in co-ordinating a crisis-management response that included a shutdown of the entire campus, the mobilization of 1,000 volunteers, and the intake of 1,800 evacuees from Calgary and High River and 200 RCMP members over a period of seven weeks. 

In 2016, he once again managed a large-scale emergency situation when Fort McMurray was evacuated due to wildfires. On very short notice, Maber organized the housing of 1,486 people who were displaced by the fires. 

Last year, UCalgary faced perhaps its biggest-ever challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. In a climate of uncertainty, at the outset of the crisis, Maber assembled a task force of experts to address the many needs of the community. His creativity and willingness to adapt and develop new emergency protocols helped to protect everyone on campus. 

His influence was seen in all aspects of the university’s COVID-19 response, from the creation of a campus safety guide and the return of students and faculty from abroad, to supporting procedures for ill staff and students.  

This expertise made Maber a valuable partner to the Calgary Emergency Management Agency and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health as they have shared data during the pandemic. He has guided the community through a year of change and uncertainty with comprehensive, evidence-based decision-making, keeping the community informed and safe. 

Maber has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the UCalgary community and his leadership, adaptably and critical-thinking skills make him an invaluable member of the UCalgary team and a deserving recipient of the Order of the University of Calgary. 

Saifa Koonar, BComm’92, MBA’02 

Leader, fundraiser and advocate for child health  

As president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Saifa Koonar helped elevate it to a position of influence among similar foundations in Canada and North America.  

Koonar played a key role on the team that spearheaded construction of the new Alberta Children’s Hospital — the first freestanding paediatric facility to be built in Canada in 20 years. She also helped inspire our community to invest in the creation of Rotary Flames House — Alberta’s first paediatric hospice — and Calgary’s first Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, which is set to open next year.  

While helping to ensure families have the best in care for their physical and mental health, Koonar has also shown tremendous commitment to furthering innovation and research. Through partnerships with Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary, Koonar was part of establishing the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the Centre for Geonomics and Informatics, the new Cancer Research Lab, the Integrated Concussion Research Program, the Owerko Centre, and the Vi Riddell Children’s Pain and Rehabilitation Centre.   

The strong partnership between the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and UCalgary has led to several internationally recognized research initiatives in the areas of geonomics, cancer and brain health. Thanks to the generosity of our community, the foundation has committed more than $188 million to child health research in the last 10 years alone.  

Koonar is also a two-time UCalgary alumna, having earned her Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business Administration degrees here. Her exemplary leadership skills and business acumen have contributed to her ability to foster opportunities and build lasting connections in the community, ensuring brighter futures for all.  

Her dedication to the betterment of health outcomes for our community has impacted thousands of sick and injured children and their families. The clear impact of her contributions has established her as a distinguished UCalgary alumna, a respected leader and a deserving recipient of the Order of the University of Calgary. 

Watch the ceremony virtually on June 10, 2021. And to read more about the awards or nominate someone you know, visit the Chancellor and Senate website.