Alumni Engagement

Alumni Profiles

ER Nurse immediately prepared to work thanks to RRC Polytech education

July 3, 2024

RRC Polytech Bachelor of Nursing graduate Melissa Williams had a secret behind her smile as she had her photo taken earlier this year. The photo was being used as a part of RRC Polytech’s Proud Partner billboard campaign showcasing grads across the province.

“In the billboard, you can’t tell, but I’m pregnant—I mean, like first trimester pregnant,” Williams said on a phone call. But before she begins her next adventure as a first-time parent, she shared her journey of being in school during a pandemic and how she found herself caring for the sickest of the sick in the hospital.

“I work in the resus room [resuscitation or trauma room] of the emergency department, taking care of the most acute patients. I really love doing that type of nursing,” said Williams.

Williams is familiar with people who’ve needed acute care. Both her sister and brother have almost died and have needed to have emergency services at hospitals.

“They both survived and have made full recoveries, but I understand the importance of emergency services,” she added. “I think I’ve always been interested in medicine; learning about the human body and ways to improve our health. My mom was a nurse and just such a nurturer – that helped inspire me to become a nurse.”

When asked why she was driven to work in the emergency room, she took a moment before she responded with, “I guess it’s that you’re using all of your skills, right? You really have to think critically. You have to run multiple infusions. Sometimes you’re intubating patients and putting central lines in. And it’s really interesting to see everything that we can do to save a patient.”

From Health Care Aide to ER Nurse

Williams started her career in health care after graduating from the Health Care Aide program at RRC Polytech in 2012.

“Choosing RRC Polytech [in 2012] was a positive experience and was the starting point of my post-secondary education and helped to bring me back in the future,” she said.

Williams had been working as a Health Care Aide when she decided to continue her education and took a two-year Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program, graduating in 2016, after which she was able to join the LPN to Bachelor of Nursing Pathway program at RRC Polytech, which she completed in 2022.

“RRC Polytech really does have the best reputation for the nurses that graduate here,” Williams said, “and I wanted to graduate with that same reputation.”

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RRC Polytech key to success for Indigenous banking expert and Business Administration alum

June 19, 2024

One of the things Tom Thordarson likes best about his longtime career in Indigenous banking is that he is helping his own people.

“Being First Nations myself, I’ve seen the challenges First Nations go through. Anything I can do to help others be successful, that’s my big thing for sure,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table in his West St. Paul home. Thordarson is a member of Peguis First Nation, one of the largest communities of its kind in Manitoba.

One key to his own success was his education in the two-year Business Administration diploma program at RRC Polytech. He graduated in 2005, with an entry-level position at RBC waiting for him.

Today, as a Senior Relationship Manager in Commercial Financial Services for RBC, he specializes in Indigenous Markets with clients in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He understands the First Nations experience and knows how to help people meet their financial goals.

In his role with RBC, he is part of a dedicated Indigenous Markets team with 14 staff across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, and Western Ontario.

“There are a lot of good things happening in First Nation communities right now. So, it’s good to be able to help them,” he said.

“Not all the banks have an Indigenous Markets team like ours; I think RBC was the first to establish one. I appreciate the respect RBC has for First Nations people and communities, and its commitment to truth and reconciliation,” he added.

Thordarson works out of an office in Headingley, on the Swan Lake First Nation Reserve. From there, he empowers First Nation governments and Indigenous clients to navigate a path to grow and succeed, and helps them create future opportunity and prosperity in Manitoba.

His own opportunity came when he was a young man living and working with his father in Peguis First Nation, located 190 kilometers north of Winnipeg.

“There were limited opportunities for employment in Peguis, on the reserve at the time,” he remembered. His father worked in the heating and air conditioning business. “The work in Peguis was sporadic. We’d get busy, and then there were times when we’d have no work. I wanted something more stable.”

That was when he noticed the RBC branch in Peguis had posted a casual teller position. He applied and was hired. Working with numbers always appealed to him  ­̶  math was his strongest subject in grade school.

RRC Polytech program highly recommended

When it was time for him to leave Peguis First Nation in 2003 to further his education, he knew university didn’t feel right for him. “RRC Polytech seemed like a better fit for me, with it being smaller. That drew me there,” he said.

A cousin of Thordarson’s had taken the Business Administration program at RRC Polytech before him and recommended it. “He had a lot of good things to say about the program, and the different fields you can go into after graduation,” said Thordarson, giving banking and entrepreneurship as examples.

The program taught Thordarson all the aspects of business he needed to know. “Law, accounting – which is helping me to this day, having to get financial statements from my clients and analyzing those – business communications, helping to write proposals, and so on.”

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Business Admin alum proves importance of giving back as Pride Winnipeg President

May 29, 2024

If a conversation with Barry Karlenzig does anything less than inspire, it will at least leave you questioning how many hours there are in a week.

An individual prolific in his sales career and as a volunteer, Karlenzig can make you rethink how you spend your time — and he shows no signs of slowing down. On top of a full-time Customer Programs Manager role with New Flyer, Karlenzig spends significant time volunteering with Pride Winnipeg, where he’s been the President for the last five years.

Karlenzig’s sales career, which began with a Business Administration diploma from RRC Polytech, has taken him across Canada. His first job was on a travel committee for Princess Auto, assisting with new stores being opened. From there, he worked for Sun Life, Enterprise, Sysco Food, and CWB National Leasing before joining New Flyer. Today, he works to ensure customer satisfaction with new buses and builds long-term relationships with those customers.

All these experiences started at RRC Polytech, though.

After attending high school at River East Collegiate, Karlenzig started out at university with most of his cohort. Unfortunately, after missing out on his first opportunity to get into business school, Karlenzig was left at a crossroads. On the advice of a friend already attending, he chose the Business Administration program at RRC Polytech.

“I still remember my first day, I had an amazing Business Communications instructor who walked in with a CD player and played Buckcherry – Crazy Bitch,” laughed Karlenzig. “She let the song play — lyrics, swearing, everything — and she said ‘You have ten seconds in business to introduce yourself and have someone either like you or not like you. You all are never going to forget this first 30 seconds of this class.’ Fifteen years later, I’ve never forgotten.”

The program also created some surprise experiences for Karlenzig. He was chosen out of his graduating class to be the business manager on the North American Solar Challenge team from RRC Polytech, transporting a solar car to Texas on a trip managed by students across several programs.

As business manager, Karlenzig did all the trip logistics — finding sponsors, making t-shirts, and booking hotels. He was also blogging updates from the road using a long-distance plan.

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Two-time RRC Polytech grad works her way up in finance while fostering inclusion

May 8, 2024

Fisyani Sinyama moved to Canada from Zambia in 2008, only a year after the global financial crisis. You might think the circumstances would repel someone from working in finance, but that wasn’t true for Fisyani.

“I was really interested in learning how the financial system works,” Fisyani said.

Fisyani’s husband arrived in Manitoba ahead of her and studied Computer and Information Systems Technology at RRC Polytech, landing a job with Great-West Life after graduating. Her husband inspired her, and she decided to study International Business in 2009.

Fisyani said one of the things she appreciated about International Business was the instructors, and how they accommodated, celebrated, and understood that their students were from different cultures with different customs.

“There was a lot of group work, which I was not used to. I struggled with it in the beginning, but I’m glad that I stuck with it,” said Fisyani.

“When I did my law diploma in Zambia, the work was very individual-centric. Then I came to Red River and was put in an environment where answers, ideas, opinions, and suggestions were discussed. All of a sudden, the lecturer’s answer wasn’t the end to the question…they were there to guide your thought process.”

Fisyani did a work placement during the program at the Winnipeg Airports Authority, which further helped her get a feel for Canadian workplaces.

“It prepared me in all sorts of ways…if I didn’t go to [the] College, I would have struggled in my first job for sure.”

After graduating from International Business and having her first child, Fisyani became a Customer Service Representative at Western Financial Group in 2011.

“I did well at Red River, which just lit a flame in me to go back and take more courses…I was looking for a job in investments and wealth management,” she said.

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‘Outstanding’ experience for Mechanical Engineering grad leads to rewarding role as agriculture product designer

May 3, 2024

From a high-flying co-op experience to a career in agriculture spanning more than a decade, Engineering Prototype Build Manager Glen Beamish has found his ideal landing spot.

Growing up on a grain farm near Hamiota, Manitoba, Beamish’s passion for agriculture was intrinsic from an early age.

When it was time to choose a career path after attending Hamiota Collegiate, an interest in engineering and product design led him to RRC Polytech, where he enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) program.

Jet-setting co-ops

It was two work-integrated learning experiences that affirmed Beamish was on the right path, both set in a booming Manitoba industry: aerospace.

“I had two different co-ops with aerospace companies — one with Standard Aero in their tool design department and one the following summer with Magellan in their manufacturing engineering department,” said Beamish.

“I got more exposed to engineering and figured out how the program I was taking at the College might translate to a career. Most of my experience to that point had nothing to do with engineering. In high school, we were in a small town, so we didn’t have a lot of exposure to engineers.”

Going from a small town to a tight-knit group in the MET program was another highlight of Beamish’s polytechnic experience.

“It’s the friendships, for sure,” he said. “You’re in a tight-knit class for eight hours a day trying to build your project skills, and you build some pretty good relationships with people who are all going through the same experience.”

“There was a sense of community in that program — one of my classmates was even my landlord. It was great that way. We made some great memories.”

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Passionate Hospitality and Tourism Management grad is in ‘The People Industry’ — and loves it

May 2, 2024

When Maria Jose Eguigure Torres moved from Honduras to Winnipeg in August 2022, she brought with her a budding passion for event planning, a field she had dipped her toes into back home.

Now, as an Event Coordinator for Assiniboine Park Conservancy and a proud alumna of RRC Polytech’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program, Maria is “living the dream” and has turned that passion into a career.

Maria’s journey in event coordination began in 2019 when she started her own event planning business in Honduras alongside her day job. Her move to Winnipeg a few years later was fuelled by a desire to deepen her expertise in a more structured educational environment.

“RRC Polytech’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program was perfect for me because it was hands-on, which is exactly what I needed to build on my existing skills,” said Maria.

But the transition from Honduras to Canada was significant, not only culturally but also professionally. During her co-op at Assiniboine Park Conservancy, Maria had to adapt to the challenges of organizing outdoor events in Winnipeg’s harsh winters—something she had never experienced in her tropical homeland.

“The first time I saw snow was here in Winnipeg. Learning to manage events outdoors here, like understanding why it’s important to put salt down, was completely new to me,” she said.

Despite the steep learning curve, Maria quickly made a mark in her field. She began her co-op placement at Assiniboine Park Conservancy in April 2023, and by the time she graduated from the one-year program in November 2023, she had already secured a job offer with them.

Her role involves coordinating various outdoor events across the park and zoo, from weddings in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and family movie nights at the Lyric Theatre, to large-scale events like Brew at the Zoo and Zoo Lights.

One of the most gratifying aspects of her job is the ability to create memorable experiences for others.

“At the end of an event, when I see happy faces and hear how grateful people are, it fills my heart,” said Maria. “When people say that, it’s like an affirmation that we are going the right way. It’s also a challenge for myself to be better every day and keep learning because there are always new things that you can apply.”

Her people-centric approach to event planning was influenced by her instructors at RRC Polytech. “One of my instructors always reminded us that we are in the people industry. That stuck with me because I love to talk and connect with people.”

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Seeds of inspiration blooming in Winnipeg’s Indigenous culinary scene thanks to Red Seal Chef

April 17, 2024

“I still feel like I’m in a dream,” mused Red Seal Chef and 2020 RRC Polytech Culinary Arts graduate Jennifer Ballantyne from the bright and airy Manoomin restaurant located within Long Plain First Nation’s new hotel, Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport.

Nestled in the Polo Park area on Madison Street—on Long Plain Madison Reserve in Treaty One Territory—the Wyndham Garden integrates local Indigenous culture, contemporary design, and a boutique hotel experience. Cultural features such as smudging on site, signage in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), and walls of Indigenous artwork compliment conference and event spaces, a pool area and fitness centre, and full dining to offer a tailored experience for families and organizations alike.

Watercolours in blues and greens guide patrons through the hotel’s amenities and welcoming seating areas. Kookum’s Korner shop sells local Indigenous artwork and handmade goods, while Onishkaan Café offers handcrafted beverages, lighter fare, and bannock. Manoomin, which translates to wild rice in Ojibwe, is at the heart of the atrium, inviting patrons to sit in a lush, sage green atmosphere, evoking prairie fields at the peak of summertime.

At the helm of Manoomin is Executive Chef Jennifer Ballantyne, who has been with the restaurant since its inception. From building the menu, mapping out the patron experience, and pulling together her team, she is now sharing all her hard work with the broader community. Ballantyne’s pride is palatable.

“This is the most exciting time. I truly love the idea that I was able to see something sprout. Essentially, you plant these seeds and watch them grow, investing all these beautiful ideas,” she said. “From the menu, new culinary staff, as well as RRC Polytech students, it’s just nice to see it all come together.”

“There are always hardships and bumps in the road, but to see someone be excited to be in the kitchen, and then to see someone excited to experience the food, that’s an amazing feeling. I just love it.”

It’s that buzzing energy new cooks bring into the kitchen that reminds Ballantyne of her time at RRC Polytech, where learning and experiencing new skills brought joy—and sometimes, a little competition.

“It was so exciting to be a part of the Culinary Arts program at RRC Polytech. The instructors were amazing. It was fun. All of us young, eager cooks were competing to be number one, which was great,” Ballantyne said with a laugh. “We started off pretty early in our careers with that love of cooking and the atmosphere.”

When choosing her career path, she always knew she would go into the culinary field. Ballantyne, who is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, grew up watching her aunties and grannies cook. She says it just felt organic. She also credits her mother as being an amazing and creative cook.

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Creative Communications grad lands ‘dream job’ working in animal welfare

April 12, 2024

It would be fair to say that Jessica Miller has her dream job.

On most days, one friendly dog or another keeps her company in her corner office at Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS).What Miller likes most about her role as CEO, though, is that she is doing something worthwhile.

“We help people. We help people just as much as we help animals,” she said.

Now in her third year on the job, she has always made her living through meaningful work.

Her career path began at Red River College Polytechnic, where she earned her diploma in the 2-year Creative Communications diploma program (commonly known as CreComm) in 2007.

“My interest has always been in having my work mean something. Whether it was for health care, or animals, or a non-profit, or volunteering,” she said. “I have always wanted to know that my time spent away from my family, and in my career, meant something. I never wanted to work corporately. It still doesn’t interest me.”

Before attending RRC Polytech, Miller modeled internationally as a teenager. As she aged, she wondered how to transition herself from the fashion runways to a more long-term career. Journalism struck her as a possibility, and RRC Polytech could teach her. “I had travelled the world. I thought being a reporter and being on camera would be a good transition from modeling,” she remembered.

She was deferred for one year after being accepted into the CreComm program. So, she went straight to The University of Winnipeg and started on the related bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric and Communications, which she later completed after finishing CreComm at RRC Polytech.

In her first year of CreComm, Miller quickly realized journalism wasn’t for her. Public relations, on the other hand, gave her the chance to shape and control the message, which she loved doing.

“Public relations was so ‘me’,” she said. “It was getting out there and talking to people, which I was used to doing. I loved learning how to write press releases. Creating and driving the narrative were what attracted me.”

CreComm was “intimidating”, and the coursework was “hardcore”, she remembers. The instructors often called her out on her mistakes.

“They expected the world from you, and zero mistakes. They put you to the test – in the field and in the workforce. The question was, could you execute what was asked of you?”

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Proud Digital Film and Media Alum launches filmmaking career and production company after graduation

April 10, 2024

Fawnda Neckoway had two paths in front of her in 2021: going to Vancouver Film School to study acting on a full-ride scholarship she won; or dive deeper into filmmaking and attend RRC Polytech’s Digital Film and Media Production program.

Either way, she knew she wanted to start her own production company. With her family and adapting to new changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic both top of mind, she envisioned launching her business and operating from anywhere.

Having already received a diploma from the Academy of Acting in 2008, Neckoway had worked in the film industry as both an actor and casting director. She appeared in the film We Were Children and did the casting for shows like Wolf Joe and Taken.

While in the Indigenous Women in Business program (available through SEED Winnipeg), Neckoway leaned on her experience as a casting director to help build a business plan to launch her own company. When she completed the program, she knew she needed to take things a step further, so she applied to and was accepted to both colleges. In the end, she chose RRC Polytech.

“Part of that was because of my future plans at the time. I was preparing for other life changes, and Iwanted to stay close to my family while still pursuing my professional goals,” said Neckoway. “After seeing what was available with the new Digital Film and Media Production program, I felt RRC Polytech was the right choice—up until then, we hadn’t had a film program quite like this available in Manitoba.”

Neckoway decided to stay in Winnipeg to pursue her dream and build on what she’d achieved so far in her career. She described the Digital Film and Media Production program as amazing but intense. She said she still works with people she met in the program to this day.

“It was everything I anticipated it to be—and then some,” said Neckoway. “We not only had the opportunity to gain confidence with the camera and film our own creatives, there were other areas of study that were really beneficial. It was a pretty diverse curriculum even though it was only a year.”

Neckoway said the Independent Film Project assignment was pivotal for her. Neckoway pitched her story, Kita kiskihtihtakwaw: So They Will Know. Inspired by an innocent question between a child and parent about Residential Schools, So They Will Know provides insight for parents and educators who may be having similar conversations with the children in their lives. The story resonated with her peers and was one of the five projects selected for production.

“I was fortunate enough to be one of the students selected to move forward with my film as the writer and director,” said Neckoway. “I discreetly gripped my son’s feather for comfort as I shared our story, I was nervous”. As a result, this assignment taught me the whole process of writing, pitching, and presenting ideas…it prepared me for what I’m doing now.”

Neckoway graduated in April 2022 and hit the ground running, launching her business Nikâwiy Productions the same month.

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Polytechnic Proud – and all about people for Magellan Aerospace General Manager

April 5, 2024

Technology, innovation, and global connectivity all drive success in the aerospace industry.

Ron Drepaul, Business Administration graduate and General Manager of Magellan Aerospace Winnipeg, cites an additional factor.

“Relationships are the bedrock of our business,” said Drepaul, 58. “We spend a lot of time fostering strong relationships with our customers and our suppliers. And really engaging with the people in our building.”

With a current complement of 700 employees in Winnipeg, Magellan engineers, manufactures, and services components for aerospace markets all over the world. This includes advanced products for defense and space markets, as well as complementary specialty products. Winnipeg is the largest operation for Mississauga-based Magellan, which in 2022 generated $764.6 million in revenue.

Drepaul joined the company in 1988, “pretty much right out of Red River,” taking a job on the shop floor. After a few months, he took on responsibilities in production control and material planning.

Then, a big change: Drepaul became a contract administrator. Now he was preparing long-term pricing proposals, negotiating pricing, reviewing existing contracts, explaining terms to stakeholders, analyzing risks, and maintaining contract records.

“That job was in line with my education. I was in the role for eight years. It helped me understand the business.”

Drepaul’s ascent continued. He became responsible for Magellan’s relationship with one of its major customers, General Electric Aviation.

Next, with a move into purchasing, he went from dealing with the customer to dealing with suppliers.

“It’s really a natural extension when you think about it – the supplier is another kind of customer.”

Drepaul rose in this area to become Magellan’s Director of Corporate Procurement. He became involved with strategic sourcing, agreements, and standardizing processes across a globally expanding organization.

Among his accomplishments, he led a team that established and implemented a proprietary system to build consistency in manufacturing across Magellan’s divisions.

The job took him all over the world.

“I was getting involved with our emerging market strategy. I was dealing with our own company, key suppliers, and joint ventures.”

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RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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