SFU recognizes four outstanding alumni

July 05, 2022

SFU is proud to recognize four inspiring individuals with 2022 Outstanding Alumni Awards: world-class entrepreneur and business mentor, Charles Chang; preeminent immunologist, Dr. Megan Levings; computer scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Christopher Stolte and trailblazing digital equity advocate for Indigenous peoples, Denise Williams.   

Whether they are working in the fields of business, philanthropy, scientific or technological development, these remarkable alumni are making positive impact around the world and contributing to a brighter, more equitable future for all.

Read more about these dynamic leaders within SFU’s strong alumni community.

Charles Chang, BBA ’95
President & Founder, Lyra Growth Partners Inc.
Award Category: Professional Achievement

Seasoned in both Vancouver and global business markets, SFU Beedie alumnus Charles Chang is the founder and head of Lyra Growth Partners, a venture growth equity company that helps aspiring entrepreneurs build companies with passion and purpose. He is a renowned and respected leader in the field of social entrepreneurship and innovation and his contributions to business, philanthropy, and education are helping to raise a new generation of changemakers and problem solvers.  

Charles made his name by creating and leading plant-based nutrition company Vega, which he started from his basement in 2004 and financed with his life savings, a second mortgage on his home and credit cards. By the time he sold Vega in 2015, Charles had grown the company into an iconic lifestyle brand with products in over 20,000 stores across North America.  

In 2016, he made a transformative gift to SFU to establish the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, an interdisciplinary home and academic hub where students and ideas converge to foster entrepreneurial thinking and action.  

Charles is also co-founder of PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs, a non-profit organization that helps elementary school students develop an entrepreneurial mindset.  

He resides with his family in West Vancouver, BC and is an active member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), an avid golfer, fly fisher, mountain biker and skier.

Megan Levings, BSc ’93
Professor: Department of Surgery and School of Biomedical Engineering, University of British Columbia
Award Category: Academic Achievement

Dr. Megan Levings is a world-class immunologist who has been with UBC’s Department of Surgery since 2003 when she was recruited as a Canada Research Chair in Transplantation. In 2011 she joined the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute where she now heads the Childhood Diseases Research Theme. Exemplifying academic leadership, mentorship and research excellence, Megan’s contributions to biomedical research—specifically, her work on the development and application of regulatory immune cell therapies—have been recognized internationally, putting Canada on the map in the field of human immunology.  

Megan’s scientific career started with summer research positions in a fruit fly genetics lab at Simon Fraser University. She then proceeded onto graduate training in the genetics program at UBC, studying cytokine receptors and signalling pathways. In 1999, she traveled to Milan for her postdoctoral training and was among the first groups in the world to show that a special kind of white blood cell, known as a T regulatory cell, could be used as a cellular therapy to stop harmful immune responses.

Today, Megan continues this line of research at UBC, leading a vibrant group of trainees and staff who are researching immune tolerance and how to use T regulatory cells to replace conventional immunosuppression in the context of autoimmune diseases and organ transplantation. She has won numerous awards, including the Canadian Society for Immunology Investigator Award and the YWCA Woman of Distinction, Science, Research & Technology. She is also currently chairing the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies Centers' of Excellence.

Christopher Stolte, BSc ’97
Co-founder, Tableau Software and co-founder, Stolte Family Foundation
Award Category: Professional Achievement  

Christopher Stolte creates solutions for the benefit of society by combining his acute understanding of computer graphics and information visualization with entrepreneurial acumen. He received his B.Sc. in Computer Science at SFU, and followed this with a Master’s and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2003. As a doctoral student at Stanford, he studied multidimensional data sets, researching how analytics could be made dramatically easier in order to empower many more people to work with data and make better data-driven decisions.  

That research provided the basis for Chris to co-found Tableau with Christian Chabot and Pat Hanrahan in 2003. Alongside his co-founders, he built Tableau from a small start-up to a large company whose software helps millions of people across tens of thousands of companies to more easily "see and understand data." Prior to Tableau, he also co-founded Beeline Systems, a digital mapping start-up that was acquired by Vicinity. Chris's research across his career has focused on the use of technology to support and augment human creativity and intelligence and has resulted in 15 research publications and more than 20 software patents.

Together with his wife Heidi Stolte, Chris is also co-founder of the Stolte Family Foundation, and is working to create a sustainable future where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. To that end, the foundation focuses on empowering organizations and non-profits working to build climate solutions, improve education equity and increase civic engagement.

Denise Williams, GDBA ’12, MBA ’15
Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Technology Council
Award Category: Service to the Community

Denise Williams, a member of the Cowichan Tribes, is a visionary who has made a remarkable contribution to achieving digital equity for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Leading the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) for 10 years, in a context where numerous Indigenous communities across the country have limited and/or unreliable access to technology (high speed internet, for example), Denise has brought together the goals of Indigenous sovereignty and technological advancement within a rapidly expanding, global tech and innovation economy.

 As the architect of the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC), Denise has established several key initiatives including BC’s first Indigenous Innovation Institute, first research projects done on First Nations participation in the tech and innovation sector and the first Indigenous Digital Equity Strategy, calling upon influential groups of Indigenous, government and industry leaders to better coordinate and cooperate to achieve digital equity. When the strategy completes in late 2022, BC will have for the first time a comprehensive roadmap where investment, partnership and policy reform are required to move forward, ensuring all Indigenous peoples have both access to, and leadership of, the most powerful platforms our human society has ever built.

 Giving her time and resources freely, Denise puts others first and consistently holds up and celebrates everyone around her. She is dedicated to creating and holding space for youth voices and is most often heard talking about future generations and the work we must do today for their benefit. She is proud to hold governance positions with the Urban Native Youth Association, MakeWay Foundation, Vancouver Foundation, Innovate BC and SFU Beedie School Advisory Board, to name just a few.   

We are thrilled to present the 2022 Outstanding Alumni Awards at an in-person event on Burnaby Campus on September 28, 2022. 

Save the date and join the excitement! Early bird tickets will be made available in August through the Outstanding Alumni Awards website.