Giving back builds family legacy

Russel Orcutt (BSc ’94) credits his parents and the University of Lethbridge for helping him succeed in life. As a way to give back, Orcutt made a donation to create the Orcutt Family Lounge within the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry in Science Commons.

Members of the Orcutt family recently gathered at the newly minted Orcutt Family Lounge in Science Commons. From left to right are Lisa Orcutt, Russel's wife, Russel Orcutt, Dana Orcutt, Russel's mother, Megan Curtis, Russel's sister, and her husband, Tony Curtis.

 “I’ve always felt pretty fortunate to have had a great upbringing,” says Orcutt. “My parents, Darrel and Dana, encouraged me to go to school and get a post-secondary education so I chose the University of Lethbridge with their support. I had a good experience there and throughout the years afterwards, I kept in touch with certain people who were a highlight for me, like Dr. Andy Hakin (vice-president academic and provost), who was instrumental to my success in school. The whole process of going to university helped set me up for life.”

Orcutt grew up on a farm east of Coaldale. His father worked as a seismologist, then owned and operated an Esso/Engro dealership in Picture Butte before taking over and acquiring the family farm. Orcutt thought he would follow a similar path and enrolled at the U of L with the idea of becoming a geophysicist.

“I got the hang of chemistry, math and stats but when it came to the physics side, I struggled. I struggled with physics to the point where I thought it wasn’t going to work out,” says Orcutt. “I’d met Andy by then and, with his teaching and leadership style and encouragement from my parents, I realigned my objectives and went on to complete my degree, finishing much stronger than I started.”

Jobs were hard to find in the early ‘90s so Orcutt joined some friends for a three-month backpacking trip to Australia. When he returned to Canada, he got serious about looking for work and joined a job-finding club.

“I must have sent out over 100 resumes and received 100 thanks-but-no-thanks letters in return,” he says. “I still have that binder as a reminder of how hard it can be. Later in ’94 I got a job with a company in Medicine Hat. That was the beginning of my career.”

Orcutt worked for a series of environmental companies before he and four colleagues co-founded Summit in 2005, a privately held environmental consulting and service company based in Calgary. When he learned about the new Science Commons building, he saw a chance to give back to the institution that helped set him — and others — up for success.

“When this opportunity came up, I discussed it with my wife, Lisa, and we decided it would be pretty cool to donate and give back to the people and the institution that helped me create a foundation from which to develop my future on,” he says. “Canada has outstanding scientists and the new Science Commons will help train the next generation. I want to see more U of L graduates and professors on the world stage because we’re some of the best.”

His father passed away earlier this year from a hard-fought battle with cancer but Russel figures he’d be proud of the decision to name the Orcutt Family Lounge.

“It saddens me that he’s not able to be a part of this,” he says. “We’re a pretty humble family but, at the end of the day, I thought it was a good thing. My dad was always a big supporter so I think he’d be pleased.”