Four University of Guelph representatives were recognized Thursday night at the 20th annual Women of Distinction Awards event.

The awards from the YMCA-WYCA Guelph honour women who are inspirational leaders.

This year’s U of G award recipients were student services manager Cara Wehkamp, chemistry professor Kathryn Preuss and recent graduate Naythrah Thevathasan. Integrative biology professor Teresa Crease received a lifetime achievement award.

This year, 36 women were nominated for achievements in 10 categories.

Wehkamp, manager of the Office of Intercultural Affairs in Student Life, received the Education and Training award from U of G president Franco Vaccarino for strengthening aboriginal learning opportunities.

The award also recognizes her efforts to integrate aboriginal and western science.

“Education has enriched my life; my journey was winding and rocky and at times very uncertain,” she said.

“I found my stride in Guelph thanks to educators. These individuals instilled in me a respect for the Earth, a belief that the solution is out there and a desire to advocate for change. I recognize and respect the honour with a renewed commitment to the work that remains.”

Preuss, holder of a Canada Research Chair, received her award in the Science and Research category. She studies nanotechnology and molecular magnetism.

She said she was grateful to be part of a welcoming and supportive community, and thanked her husband and two children.

“There are not many women in my field, especially at the higher levels of academia, so the greatest contribution women can make is just being present,” said Preuss.

“Many young female science students do not believe that they can have a family and meet their career goals, so I try to be an example and show them that it is possible.”

Thevathasan was honoured in the Young Women (20-24) category for her accomplishments at U of G and in the community.

Named a 3M National Student Fellow while at U of G, she has volunteered at Guelph General Hospital, coached Special Olympics athletes, raised more than $20,000 in aid relief for Haiti and travelled overseas on humanitarian trips.

“We all have a story that includes trials, triumphs, joys and hardships,” she said.

“Today I represent so many women who strive to make our community better. I want to give my thanks to my parents; if it wasn’t for your story, I wouldn’t have mine. I also want to give thanks to God; in Him, I live and move and have my being.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Crease, who was recently appointed as associate dean of graduate studies at U of G. She studies how loss of sexual reproduction affects population genetics and evolution of clonal organisms.

“I really did not see this coming, but I’m very humbled to receive this award and be onstage with these outstanding women,” she said.

“I have to thank my husband, along with my nominators. I also have to say that my department and college have always been very supportive of women in our field.”

In addition to Wehkamp, Preuss, Thevathasan and Crease, U of G athletics centre instructor Jaye Graham won in the category of Health, Wellness and Recreation.

Graham has taught aquafit classes at U of G for 25 years and helped develop a special aqua and water therapy program for people with health issues such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Other U of G nominees for this year’s awards were Melanie Lang,director of the Centre for Business and Social Entrepreneurship; Profs. Helen Hambly Odame and Karen Landman, both of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development; Premila Sathasivam, manager of the human anatomy program; and human kinetics student Adrianna Olsewski.