This year marks the 18th anniversary of the University of Regina’s flagship alumni award program – The Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards. The awards were established to celebrate the accomplishments of University of Regina alumni who have realized outstanding achievement in their field. Meet this year’s deserving recipients.

Valerie Creighton BFA’89 — 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award
Kathie Cameron BScHons’76 — 2022 Distinguished Professional Award
Melissa Coomber-Bendsten — 2022 Humanitarian and Community Service Award
Molly Thomas BAJ’10 2022 Young Alumni Award
Ann Bishop BA’96 — 2022 Dr. Robert and Norma Ferguson Outstanding Service Award
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How big did you dare to dream when you first started your own business?

When I was starting H&B having big goals was important even though I didn't know exactly how I was going to achieve them yet. Having a big dream to build a business with impact at the heart stretched and challenged me, and eventually the team around me at H&B, and cemented us together to chase something exciting and scary at the same time. Pursuit of a bold dream became the fuel required to drive and navigated the journey of growing a national jewelry brand from Regina.

In what ways did your U of R experience prepare you to run your own business?

The U of R is where I forged so many early relationships that supported me along the journey and it's where I learned the fundamentals of teamwork and the results you can drive through strong collaboration. Academically, university was challenging for me as I do not learn easily through conventional methods so it taught me to persevere even when it was hard. This was a tremendously preparatory for a life of entrepreneurship.  A University like the UofR has such strength in community and relationship building, that has been a cornerstone of H&B and my personal success in business, and it taught me the importance of building a network and giving back to the community.

Tell us about Hillberg & Berk's philanthropic philosophy.

Our philanthropic philosophy is simple: how we get there is as important as our impact. We are currently on the B Corporation certification path, and this is a philosophy we apply throughout our business, including both what we do, and how we do it.  I feel a tremendous privilege and responsibility to steward the conscientious growth and direction of Hillberg & Berk.  The business has always had a strong connection to the community through organizations that focus on the elevation of all women, and I am incredibly proud of how our approach to being a purpose lead business has deepened our connections with the community, our impact, and our business success over the last 15 years. In addition to using our platform to elevate women, we have contributed over $10M in product and cash donations to hundreds of organizations nationally since our inception. Since 2018, H&B has contributed over 20% of annual profit to partner organizations focused on supporting women. I am especially proud of creating the H&B Entrance Award, an endowed scholarship fund through the U of R for women pursuing business administration, which will benefit young women in perpetuity. We also created an annual entrance scholarship for young women graduates from Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina pursuing post-secondary education. Both awards have supported over 15 students so far, and we are proud to continue giving back to women achieving their dreams through education.

What would you say to young women who are considering an entrepreneurial endeavor but are hesitant to take the leap?

I love the quote from Goethe about the universe moving to support a bold idea once you commit and begin. I have always felt that there has been a lot of the universe conspiring towards supporting my journey, but it has also taken courage and commitment along the way. Whether you feel it's the universe, or your direct actions, there is definitely a mindset of optimism, and clarity and conviction about pursuing something bigger than yourself, fueled by confidence from within. You don't have to know where you are going or how you will get there in life but you must take the first step. If you do that, make peace with the worst-case outcome, and commit to a lifelong journey of learning, unlearning and growth you will end up in places beyond your wildest dreams. Be brave, the world needs your big ideas!

You were very open about sharing your cancer diagnosis and your recovery journey. Why?

As a woman who has positioned my life's work around the elevation of other women I felt compelled to share what I had learned through my journey candidly to help educate other women and to promote self-advocacy in each of our health journeys. After going through the terrible situation of having cancer, I asked myself what good could come out of it to benefit others. I used the trauma I had experienced to propel some good. I am now a passionate advocate of and the Co-chair of Women Leading Philanthropy, a membership lead group of women in Saskatchewan that fund innovative health care initiatives in the province in hope of transforming care for people here. To date this group has funded $600,000 which represents six projects that are the result of women in the medical field dreaming big and committing to impact for other women, and has helped to leverage additional funding, advocacy and changes to standard of care. I am proud to have supported this group in successfully advocating for getting changes to the provincial guidelines for the sampling and testing of PAP tests in Saskatchewan from old technology to new liquid-based cytology testing.

What has been the biggest impact of your cancer journey on you?

It was a forced opportunity to step back and reassess my life and priorities. As a result of that reflection our family decided to make a move to BC to live closer to family and, if I'm being totally honest, to enjoy a year-round garden and greenery. I would also say that the most important relationships in my life are stronger today and it allowed me to develop a deeper level of clarity and conviction around my personal values and how I live my life.

Why should we all support causes that empower women?

Perhaps I will focus this answer on the opportunity around supporting women-led businesses in Canada. While this is not a charitable cause, it is in my opinion an incredible economic opportunity for our country. Only 17% of small and medium sized businesses in Canada are owned by women, and over 90% of women owned businesses in Canada never scale beyond $1M in annual revenue. Studies show that by advancing gender equality and women's participation in the economy, Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP.* Research also demonstrates that companies led by women give back more to communities in which they live and work. It has been great to see the increased consumer awareness and focus on support for local, women owned businesses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am hopeful this trend continues as it not only poses a tremendous economic opportunity and but allows for more innovation, manufacturing, creating and services to start and grow right here in Canada.

What were your thoughts upon learning you were receiving an Honorary Degree from the University of Regina?

I feel deeply humbled and honored to have been chosen to receive this. Saskatchewan and Regina are foundational elements of my personal journey, and the spark of my life's work in Hillberg & Berk. The University represents so much of what makes this city and province special, and I am so honoured by how the community has rallied around my big dreams, and how the UofR has chosen me for this honour.

For you: How does it feel to be bestowed this honor at the same time
your step-son is graduating from the U of R?

It was so unexpected and incredibly exciting! I certainly thought of Caleb a lot as I have been reflecting on what I'd like to share with the convocating class, and what might resonate most with these young minds. I have watched him work his way diligently through his degree against many obstacles such as a pivot to remote learning and the isolation from friends and community throughout most of his educational experience. It is a tremendous honour to be sharing this special day with him and so many other inspiring future leaders.


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