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Alumni Profiles

Life hacks for success in IT include essential skills learned at RRC for Computer Analyst/Programmer grad

May 25, 2021

Almost immediately after graduating from Red River College’s Computer Analyst/Programmer diploma program in 1998, Gillian Bresch-Giesbrecht accepted a job as a programmer with Richardson International.

Now, more than 20 years later, she’s still there.

It’s not a common career trajectory by today’s standards (only 30 per cent of people stay in any one job for over four years, according to a Workopolis report) but it is an impressive one. Today, Bresch-Giesbrecht works as a Senior Project Manager, where she is part of a fast-growing department of approximately 80 other IT professionals within the company.

And when it comes to the experience of working, growing, and succeeding with the same company throughout her entire career, she only has one thing to say: opportunity is aplenty.

“I have been from Vancouver, all the way to Sorel-Tracy. I’ve been almost all across Canada, and had an opportunity to visit many people across the country. It is a great industry to be in: there is demand, room to grow, and you can make some decent money compared to other industries,” she says.

“You’re able to choose the type of career path you want. It might be quite technical, with lots of coding or building, or maybe you’re somebody who doesn’t necessarily want to hang out at your desk. You can go out and talk to people and help them find solutions to improve their systems.”

When Bresch-Giesbrecht began studying at Red River College in 1996, the Internet was still a relatively new concept for most. She was halfway through her first year of an arts degree at the University of Manitoba when she says she decided to switch over to a more technical program with plenty of career prospects.

Her father, Geoff Bresch, was an instructor in the Computer Analyst/Programmer (CAP) diploma program in the 1980s at Red River College, and later in his career became an instructor in the Business Information Technology program. He suggested she apply to CAP at RRC.

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Hustle and heart key to success for Carpentry grad

May 11, 2021

Joe Froese’s career is all about the hustle.

From his first day as an apprenticeship student, Froese made sure nobody ever outworked him. Now, at 27, as a journeyman carpenter he co-owns two businesses with his father, George – the man who instilled in him a strong work ethic.

In 2002, the elder Froese founded Access Framing Inc. (@accessframinginc) in the family’s home community of Grunthal, in southeastern Manitoba. The company puts up wood frames for residential and commercial buildings. George is also known in the area as a pastor at Bothwell Christian Fellowship, in New Bothwell.

Joe joined his father at Access Framing as an apprentice carpenter in 2012, and he bought into the company two years later. After completing high school at that time, he transitioned into the Carpentry program at Red River College and graduated in 2017.

There’s value in the program for students who want to take the incentive and further themselves, says Froese, adding his own education at the College helped him to hone his problem-solving skills. “I think Red River College put me far ahead of where I would have been, if I had just worked hard in the trade and ‘worked my way up,’ kind of deal. It definitely helped me get ahead,” he says.

In 2019, with backing from his father, Froese started a second company, Access Building Ent. (@accessbuildingent), to work on start-to-finish new home builds and general contracting.

“I had an opportunity that presented itself to me,” he says. “I had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to do start-to-finish home builds. A buddy of mine had a house that needed repair, and he could not afford to fix it up. So, I bought the house and the land from him. I tore the house down, subdivided the land, and we built a few new homes.”

Froese describes carpentry as “a hard, physical, demanding career path,” and he says a person’s attitude plays a big role in their success.

“My instructors at Red River College were helpful; especially if you showed an interest in carpentry, which I did,” he says. “I wanted to become the best at it that I could be when I started, and they helped me to achieve that.”

Froese still works closely with George. Not every day working with his father is perfect, he admits. “Some days, we just don’t get along,” he laughs. “But for the most part, we get along and have a good relationship that way.”

His advice to students who want to break into the framing and construction business is to pay attention, learn how to use the tools, and understand the basics first. “Once you are in the trade, hopefully you will apprentice with a crew that will teach you, and not just expect you to know everything. Listen to what they tell you and grasp the concepts. Then they will start giving you more responsibilities. You can work your way up quickly, actually, if you show that initiative.”

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From college halls to city walls: graphic design grad creating art and connecting communities one mural at a time

April 26, 2021

If you’ve spent any time walking, biking, or driving around Winnipeg, chances are you’ve seen Jordan Stranger’s work.

Large-scale murals in his colourful, pop art style grace the walls of The Forks Market, FortWhyte Alive, and Winnipeg’s North End. He has designed logos for Festival Du Voyageur, held exhibitions at aceart inc and Graffiti Art Gallery, painted the Niakwa Trail Bridge, and hosted half a dozen workshops throughout the city.

As an artist, Stranger has played a large role in creating accessible public art and showcasing culture in Winnipeg. And to him, it’s purely a community act.

“Public art is extremely important. To have that colour, culture, and vibrancy when you walk down your street, it makes your day. Once I’m done a mural piece, it’s not mine anymore. It’s for the people, for whoever needs to see it. It’s expression. We need to be able to share our deepest feelings and truest emotions through art, words, audio, music, and voice. That’s why art is so valuable, because it allows us to connect as people.”

Art has always been a part of Stranger’s life. His father, Wayne Stranger, is an accomplished bronze sculptor and studied fine art at the University of Manitoba. He remembers his grandparents, uncles, and aunts all with creative endeavours of their own.  

“I was exposed to art a lot,” said Stranger. “I was always drawing and sketching my favourite Dragon Ball Z characters, Pokémon, and cars from photo books. I was also always building things—I love using my hands to make stuff. That comes from my dad.”

In high school, Stranger took an interest in apparel design and screen-printing courses, but it wasn’t until he attended Red River College’s graphic design program in 2010 that he was first exposed to the industry.

The program’s learning curve was steep, said Stranger, especially when it came to technology. He had never used a MacBook before attending the program (in fact, on the first day, he wasn’t entirely sure how to turn it on). Alongside the training in technology, techniques and philosophy of graphic design, Stranger found the program’s supplementary lessons on marketing, public speaking, and exposure to the interview process incredibly useful.

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RRC buildings present full circle experience for Masonry grad and industry trailblazer

April 12, 2021

Bricklayer Nina Widmer is no stranger to forging her own path, having gone from quick study to trades leader in the past six years.

Widmer’s fingerprints are, quite literally, on some of Manitoba’s most remarkable masonry restoration projects. With Alpha Masonry Ltd., where she’s worked with her father — German-born master craftsman, Alfred — since the age of 17, Widmer has been a part of historical restoration projects such as the University of Winnipeg’s Wesley Hall and the A.A. Heaps Building (Bank of Nova Scotia).

Recent highlights for Widmer also include an interior restoration of the ornamental ceiling in the Millennium Centre — one of the city’s finest gala venues. Another project, just outside the city, was the restoration of the perimeter defense walls and gun ports at Lower Fort Garry, one of the province’s most popular spots for taking a stroll back through time.

“It was an amazing project. It taught me a lot of old-school techniques of slaking lime and all that fun stuff — that was a really neat project to be a part of.”

Passion for the trade comes through immediately when talking to Widmer, and she credits a childhood spent with her father on different restoration projects for falling in love with all things masonry.

“Watching him replicate ornamental masonry units that were deteriorating, and reinstalling the new unit that he had made — that seamless recreation of the facade was not only intriguing but also mind-blowing at that age,” said Widmer.

“Now that I’ve learned his craft by working alongside him, restoration projects are always my favourite because I get to put my skills to the test and see if I can replicate and restore as well as he can.”

The passion came with hard work, too, as Widmer blazed her own trail in Red River College’s Masonry apprenticeship program; graduating in 2014, she is Manitoba’s first female Red Seal Mason. In 2017, she was awarded Apprenticeship Manitoba’s Journeyperson of the Year – Urban after being nominated by her trade peers.

Widmer chalks these accomplishments up to self-belief and dedication to the craft, which was certainly part of her RRC experience.

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Building the Happy Medium

March 18, 2021

Jason Vitt co-founded Selkirk-based Mezzo Homes in 2016 to focus on providing affordable, yet high-quality, smaller-scale housing.

“We named our company Mezzo because it means ‘middle’ or ‘medium’, and that’s just what our Mezzo home is.”

After first exploring concepts as small as 200 to 300 square feet, Vitt and company came up with what is now their main model – a 764-square-foot home on a 48 by 60 foot lot, complete with generous storage space and amenities, such as in-floor heating and a deck, for $230,000.

“At the end of day, the home has to work for its environment,” Vitt said. “We live in Manitoba, we have four seasons, and homeowners need some space to store things.”

The Mezzo is making its mark as “tiny home” champions throughout North America and around the world continue to spark an architectural and social movement in response to growing concerns related to home affordability and environmental sustainability.

Vitt experienced the demand in Manitoba’s Interlake firsthand in spring 2018, when Mezzo Homes staged their first-ever Open House in Selkirk.

“We didn’t know what to expect. We planned to go from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a Saturday. I got there early, and we started taking people through at 9 a.m. We lost count when we went over 500 people. Three people signed up to buy that day.”

Who wants a Mezzo? It seems the answer is “all kinds of people”

“We thought it would be seniors, retirees, and possibly first-time home buyers,” he said “Then we sold a home to a 40-year-old man living on his own. Some buyers are commuters to Winnipeg, others live and work in the Interlake. We realized there weren’t limits to who might be a customer.”

Mezzo Homes recently sold its 16th home in a Selkirk development. A second Mezzo development is underway in Gimli, with plans for 27 homes.

With his wife Amanda providing interior design services, Vitt says the duo keep in touch with Mezzo homeowners.

“That’s where we get great feedback. They’ve become our friends, really.”

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Patient-care courses continue to inspire Medical Radiologic Technology grad in decades-long career

March 8, 2021

It was always Hesam (Sam) Aminian’s plan to work in human health.

Back in Tehran, Iran, he studied dentistry at the National University of Iran (now Shahid Beheshti University), until shortly after the Iranian Revolution when he and his brother fled to Canada as refugees, first arriving in Toronto in July 1984.

Soon after settling in Manitoba, Aminian graduated from Red River College’s Medical Radiologic Diagnostic Technology program in 1990, and two years later, from the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program, which at the time was being taught at Health Sciences Centre (HSC). He continued his studies in ultrasound and was certified in Pediatric Echocardiography in 1993.

Aminian has since gone on to achieve an impressive near-30-year career with HSC’s Department of Pediatric Cardiology.

“[When I arrived in Canada], I thought about starting all over again from scratch in dentistry, but by then my wife and I were married, and I decided to take a shorter route to creating a career for myself,” Aminian explains.

“I looked around and one of the things that stood out to me was the Medical Radiologic program at Red River College. It was one of the main reasons we moved to Winnipeg —so I could apply and attend the course.”

The College was already a well-recognized institution in Canada by then, and the high employment rates of its graduates helped solidify Aminian’s decision to attend the program.

Throughout the program, he studied both the theoretical and practical components of the industry and completed his clinical work experience at Misericordia Health Centre (then General Hospital), where he found the training both rigorous and rewarding.

“It really was a tough program, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t wish for anything less than that. The instructors at both the College and the hospital were some of the toughest instructors I’ve come across. But through that, I found myself learning so much. The level of expectations was high, and thankfully I managed to meet them.”

Now, nearly three decades into the job, Aminian points to one particular program area that has helped him most. 

“What I will carry for the rest of my career are the patient-care courses that we took in the program. We learned how to interact with patients and people when they’re not at their best physically or emotionally. It stands out for me as something that carries over to anything I do.”

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Hospitality and Tourism grad builds comfort-food career from backbone of RRC training

March 8, 2021

It doesn’t matter whether you’re dining out, cooking at home or ordering delivery — comfort food has a way of creating conversation and bringing people together.

That’s the mantra of Laneil Smith, co-owner of Marion Street Eatery (393 Marion St.) and manager of the Marion Hotel, who, alongside her team, has been serving up the stick-to-your-bones dishes loved by Manitobans since taking over the famed location in 2014.

“We try to make everything on the menu something that people can relate to, or they can bring out a story within their table and their dining experience,” says Smith. “Whether it’s a meatloaf, a chicken pot pie or a chili, I think people within our province have grown up with those foods and they all have a story.”

While it’s true these foods have a special place at the dinner table, Marion Street Eatery has elevated the dishes from their homely roots and become a star of the St. Boniface dining scene. Whether it’s mac and cheese sweetened with honey mustard pretzels, or a spicy chicken wrap with chili lime peanuts and sriracha, there’s enough twists to keep mouths watering and bring locals back for more.

“Our motto is ‘simple food made good,’ and we really strive for that,” says Smith. “I grew up in a home where we ate a lot of meat and potatoes — home-cooked and hearty comforts that were fairly basic, but good food. Sometimes what people are looking for is for us to take something very simple, juice that up with flavour, and make that simple product good.

“So we took some basic comfort foods — foods that you would typically have at your dining room table or your grandma’s dining room table — and knocked it up a couple notches.”

Smith’s family has owned the Marion Hotel for more than 40 years and she had her eyes on the restaurant well before taking over the space seven years ago. (Before that, it had been leased to the owners of a Polish restaurant.) Smith credits her piqued interest with a love of the space — a cozy corner of the hotel’s footprint — as well as a love of food and the relationships that come through that shared experience.

“I was certainly drawn to restaurants,” she says. “I loved the diversity of the different types of foods that you can play around with, I love being able to give people an experience through food. I think so many people connect through food and drink. I think of relationships I’ve created through my past and usually they revolve around the dinner table in some form.”

She also credits her experience at Red River College — where she graduated from the Hospitality and Tourism Management program in 2006 — with turning that passion into a backbone of fundamental skills, as well as the tool belt needed to lead in a high-pressure environment like a restaurant.

“There’s a foundation that’s learned through the College. When I was in school, it was partly about creating skills, but it also built my strength and confidence to improve and excel within the industry. You see that students have that foundation now, that base and the eagerness of wanting to learn more.”

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Creative Communications grad coaches Manitoba’s businesses in diversity and inclusion

February 8, 2021

Sheila North says tapping into her natural talents has been the key to a successful decades-long career in communications and governance.

“I always tell students, ‘Keep in focus the natural abilities you have. Those are hints and clues of the things you’ll be good at that will utilize those gifts.’”

For North, those talents include creative writing and storytelling.

A 2006 graduate of Red River College’s Creative Communications program, North spent the first nine years of her career in television working as an award-winning journalist and correspondent for CBC and CTV, where she reported on issues including missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) and residential school survivors. She also worked as Chief Communications Officer at the Assembly for Manitoba Chiefs.

It was then that her career trajectory changed.

In September 2015, North was elected as the first female Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). Although becoming a leader wasn’t her original plan, she felt called by her community to step up and take on the role.

She also quickly realized the skills she’d acquired as both a College student and journalist — researching, presenting, media relations, writing and analyzing — were instrumental in her role as Grand Chief.

“I did interviews almost daily as Grand Chief. I had to be able to assess questions coming in and be prepared with the best information on hand to make the most informed comments. That sometimes meant quickly reading, analyzing and understanding documents and budgets,” says North.

“I value my education and work experience because it boded well for what I have to do. Juggling different personalities at once is also something I learned. I had to be accommodating and respectful at all times.”

Following three years in MKO leadership, North spent a year helping to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and knowledge into programming at the University College of the North’s new Centre for Indigenous Community Development. There, she worked on a team to create a proposal that responded to the needs of First Nations with a perspective from the north.

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Civil Engineering grad holds deep RRC roots through support and certification

February 8, 2021

If anyone knows the power of an industry relationship, it’s Robert Okabe.

As CEO of the Certified Technicians and Technologists Association of Manitoba (CTTAM), Okabe leads an organization that certifies aspiring engineering and applied science technicians and technologists, while connecting them to important resources — and to each other.

It’s a role he’s been in since 2015, and one that keeps him close to his Red River College roots.

“Most of our members are graduates of the College,” says Okabe. “So I find it a really good experience for me to interact with future graduates or current students and hopefully, in some way, be able to mentor them and make it easier for them post-graduation.”

A Civil Engineering Technology grad from 1983, Okabe recognized early on in his academic life that he wanted to work in the engineering industry. By changing the path he’d initially embarked on and choosing RRC, he helped project his younger self to where he is now.

“I went to university and took the first year of sciences and found myself at a crossroads: is it about the degrees you pick up or the skills that you develop? I was thinking that the Bachelor of Science didn’t prepare me for working out there in industry, so I made the change to go to Red River College. I could see that there was a niche that I knew I could fulfill.”

After graduation, Okabe went to work at the City of Winnipeg, where he was a supervisor of public operations for 31 years.

In 2015, he joined CTTAM — an organization that’s been around for 55 years and has worked in sidestep with RRC for much of that time. Back in the mid-1960s, when the College was still the Manitoba Institute of Technology, it was the first school in the province to graduate technologists.

Both Okabe and CTTAM have generously supported the College throughout the decades. Okabe participates in all nine of the school’s Engineering Technology Advisory Committees — which provide direction and curriculum support from those working on the ground — and in 2008, established the Robert Okabe Achievement Award for Civil Engineering Technology.

His reasoning for the support is simple, as he recognizes how important that helping hand can be in propelling students from the world of academia into a lifelong career.

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Career path leads through Red River College and back again

February 8, 2021

Like many young Canadians in the early 2000s, Jaime Manness went west. After a stint working in an oil-field camp in Northern B.C., she came home to Manitoba.

Red River College has figured in her career path ever since.

“My sister was in the Health Care Aide program and that occupation appealed to me as well,” she says. “But as soon as I completed the program, I wanted to go further in health care.”

Admission to the College’s (then four-year) Bachelor of Nursing program required Manness to upgrade her high school credits. She’s grateful the College offered a 10-month preparatory course to do just that.

After graduating from RRC with a Nursing degree in 2009, Manness began her career as an Emergency nurse at Health Sciences Centre. Though Emergency is an intensely stressful area for a newly minted nurse, Manness says the program prepares grads to succeed.

“The program concentrates on practical knowledge,” she says. “It builds up students to feel comfortable asking questions.”

“After four years of structured learning, you’re equipped with a cautious, calm confidence. You know your limitations but also how to ask for help and find support.”

Manness counts several of her classmates as friends to this day, adding that College faculty and graduates form a valuable support network throughout a career.

In 2018, Manness returned to Red River College as a part-time instructor, adding an extra dimension to her nursing skill set.

“I had enjoyed mentoring a couple of students in Emergency years earlier but still never imagined coming back as an instructor. A friend thought I’d be a good teacher. It’s nice to develop a different area of my professional practice.”

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