Alumni Engagement

Alumni Profiles

Summer project a ‘great experience’ for RRC Polytech alum and Game Development students

December 7, 2022

Ask RRC Polytech alum Dan Blair about his experience this past summer working with Game Development students, and he’s not shy about giving a glowing review.

“I love bringing on students because I was once one of them,” said Blair, the CEO of Winnipeg-based interactive digital media studio Bit Space Development (BSD) and a graduate of the Web Development steam in RRC Polytech’s Business Information Technology program.

“I talked about this at RRC Polytech’s Directions Conference this fall, because it’s weird to me to stop and reflect—I don’t get to do that often. I’m running a fast-paced tech company, but with this project I was able to slow down and reflect that it’s surreal to bring students in and inspire those who are going through the same or similar program that I went through.”

That project brought six Game Development students—two focusing in development and four in art—to BSD this past summer through the Level UP program.

Level UP, available to all Canadian post-secondary students, gives employers the opportunity to easily find and connect with talented students. It offers students the opportunity to gain paid work experience, build work-relevant skills, and make employer connections through project work, while allowing companies like Bit Space Development to do case studies, market research, software development, and other research-based projects they might not otherwise have the resources for.

“What Level UP allowed us to do was focus on an entirely new idea,” said Blair.

“We were able to have these six students and give them full creative capacity in how we executed on the unit direction, without the need to worry about a client in the mix.”

With careful collaboration between BSD employees, including Blair himself, the six students leveraged classroom learning on Unreal and Houdini modelling to learn the cross-platform game engine Unity. They then got to work on creating a gamified learning experience using similar constraints that a client would normally give.

The experience—a safety demonstration—approached virtual reality learning from a fresh angle. In the VR scenario, learners are put in a workshop surrounded by tools. In this demonstration, though, users are presented with a loss scenario—one they’re probably not likely to forget.

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RRC Polytech Culinary Arts grad makes big screen debut

December 2, 2022

For Anna Borys, cooking and baking had always been hobbies. She never envisioned turning these talents into a culinary career.

But, flash forward to now and a quick scan of Anna’s Instagram account reveals her culinary talent and creativity standing out—from scaling-down recipes and meals to miniscule “tiny” proportions and behind-the-scenes shots of Great Tastes of Manitoba.

How did Anna create these tiny eggs? Tiny chickens, of course!

Anna’s journey to where she is now was not linear, and like many other learners who choose RRC Polytech, she came to the College with previous post-secondary and career experience.

“After moving back home to Winnipeg from Toronto and working for my family’s glass business for 10 years, I recognized that it wasn’t a great fit,” explained Anna, when chatting about the crossroads in her career.

The sudden passing of a close friend—someone who always encouraged her to pursue her culinary passions—inspired Anna to make a career change and she enrolled in RRC Polytech’s Culinary Arts program.

“At 29, I switched gears and became a student again. I wanted to pursue my talent and passion for culinary arts, but I knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant setting.”

A pivotal moment that helped guide Anna’s path occurred during her second year of Culinary Arts, when Kyle Andreasen, a Research Assistant from the Culinary Research Institute, now known as the Prairie Research Kitchen (PRK), came to speak to her and her classmates.

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Creative Communications a full circle journey for Convocation alumni speaker

October 25, 2022

The opportunity to speak at your alma mater’s Convocation is an honour coveted by many. For Sara Calnek, a graduate of the College’s Creative Communications program, that opportunity came about in an atypical way – it came from wanting to win an RRC Polytech sweater.

“I’ve always wanted one,” she says with a laugh. “You know, you’ll see alumni sweaters around all the time – but when I was just out of school, it was expensive, and I didn’t have permanent job at the time.”

The contest in question, run last fall, asked alumni entrants to say what they love about the College. Calnek’s submission was a heartfelt one – talking about how the program allowed her to diversify her now-15-year career in newsrooms and corporate settings, her gratitude for the education, and the “wide breadth of knowledge” that came with her diploma, which she earned in 2007.

Months after Calnek hit “Submit,” alumni engagement staff at the College reached out to her about an opportunity to speak at the Spring 2022 convocation – the first one planned to be in-person since the onset of the pandemic.

“So, I didn’t win the sweater, but I got one of the best experiences of my life, which was speaking to grads.”

In her speech, the Senior Multimedia Specialist at Canada Life encouraged students to be life-long learners.

“Since graduating, I’ve presented to students about how the program got me to where I am. That included all of what I talked about – making contacts, being fearless, learning to push myself and learning from those in my industry.”

Calnek also talked about the career path that brought her to her current role with Canada Life, which began somewhere familiar for Creative Communications grads – starting a job with your work placement employer. For Calnek, who graduated from what was then known as Broadcast Production, that employer was CTV Winnipeg, and her first role was videographer and editor.

In what started as weekend work “mostly chasing ambulances around,” Calnek moved up the ranks and earned a permanent role at CTV in 2007.

“I had my own gear, my own truck, and was able to do some travelling, too.”

Out-of-city gigs included covering the World Women’s Curling Championships, the Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup, and even a 24-hour trip to Disneyworld along with Make-a-Wish Foundation kids.

Calnek continued her newsroom career at CTV, then at CBC Manitoba, for eight years before government cuts left her at a career crossroads. She started to look at crossing over into corporate work and found a landing spot at Canada Life (then Great-West Life).

“Luckily, I had this great education. The thing about a Creative Communications education is it gives you so many skills, so you can make that pivot easily with the training you have.”

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“Emerging Leader” credits Creative Communications experience for kick-starting a career in law

September 28, 2022

For many people, career changes can be drastic – a sharp turn into the unknown. For Red River College Polytechnic alum Michael Badejo, though, moving from a career in communications to one in law has felt less like a swerve, and more like a straight line of experience.

“In the world of law, especially if you’re going to be a litigator, how you marshal the facts and create a narrative is central to your arguments and finding effective answers,” says Badejo, a graduate of the Creative Communications joint degree/diploma program who earned his J.D. from the University of Manitoba (UM) this past spring.

“Doing that effectively is based on getting the message across.”

Communicating a message is a central lesson of the Creative Communications program, but it’s not the only through line for Badejo’s change in career. The other is his personal commitment to the communities in which he’s learning and working.

In June, Badejo was named a recipient of the UM’s Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes “students who support the university’s educational mission by contributing to the social, cultural or economic well-being of communities on or off campus; encourage cross-cultural understanding, and demonstrate sustained leadership and initiative worthy of recognition.”

One of three recipients in the Faculty of Law, the award came after Badejo served as President of the Manitoba Law Students’ Association (MLSA) through a pandemic, working to rebuild student connections that were frayed due to distance learning and the lack of in-person camaraderie so central to the university experience.

Badejo was nominated for the Emerging Leader Award by a past president of MLSA, as well as a senior faculty member.

As MLSA President, highlights for Badejo included reinventing professional development events for the new normal, as well as signing a memorandum with the Faculty of Law to renovate student spaces. This included a first-of-its-kind agreement to build a gender-inclusive washroom in Robson Hall.

“I’ve always been a big believer in giving back,” says Badejo. “Even while I was studying at the College, our year-end project in my second year was based around working with and supporting [the Red River College Polytechnic Students’ Association].”

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RRC Polytech’s mentorship program helps student land refreshing summer job

July 29, 2022

Stars were aligning for Sehajdeep Singh in early 2020 – a Business Technology Management (BTM) student finishing up his first year, he had a summer job lined up at a credit union in a different city and was looking forward to putting what he was learning in school to the test.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic turned his plans upside down.

Due to lockdowns, Singh’s summer job fell through and he had to go back to the drawing board. Unsure if he’d be able to find a similar placement in Winnipeg, Singh began working his network.

As a member of the RRC Polytech Café, the College’s mentorship and networking platform that connects students with alumni, Singh had access to graduates from a variety of industries.

That’s how he met Dennis Cunningham, a 1991 graduate of the Creative Communications program.

“I heard about [the platform] through an email from Alumni Engagement and I liked the idea of being a mentor. I’ve been out of the College since 1991, so I’ve got a fairly decent network in the city,” said Cunningham, who works at Assiniboine Credit Union as the Manager of Environmental Sustainability.

The pair exchanged emails and Singh told Cunningham about his placement falling through.

“I said, I know a couple of people that work for either an IT company or someone that owns their own business that might be looking for somebody and I’m happy to connect you with those people,” Cunningham said. “That’s kind of how it happened. Classic Winnipeg: somebody knows somebody, and when you know them, I kind of know them, too.”

One of Cunningham’s running mates, Darryl Stewart, happened to be the right connection.

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Making their mark at Brandish

July 26, 2022

To borrow a stock market term, it’s fair to say Brandish is bullish on RRC Polytech.

Among the 35 staff at this young and growing Winnipeg branding agency – it was founded in 2015 – are 10 RRC Polytech graduates.

And they’re bringing serious skills in communication, design, and strategy to the table in helping clients shine and Brandish itself earn national recognition.

Case in point: Alexandra Martin (pictured above), a 2015 graduate of the joint communications program through The University of Winnipeg and RRC Polytech. An Advertising major, she gained experience in copywriting, project management, and business intelligence with several local agencies. A chance meeting with Brandish co-founders Lee Waltham and Derek Elliott at a conference led to her joining the agency in 2017.

“Including me, there were just four of us,” she said. “As the company grew, I started to lead the brand discipline as a whole—consulting on research, strategy, creative, or campaigns. I’ve been fortunate to hire some strong people to build a team.”

Now the Director of Brand at the agency, Martin enjoys helping clients bridge the gap between their brand and their customers.

“We love to partner with organizations ready to transform themselves,” Martin said.

“Today, telling an effective story is so essential. Strategic thinking and research come first. It takes time to get it right.”

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Globetrotting Hotel and Tourism Management grad thrives in fine wine career in New Zealand

June 10, 2022

There’s no question a Hospitality and Tourism Management diploma from RRC Polytech can take you places, as grads and practicum students alike land in workplaces as varied as mountain lodges in Banff, Alberta, to northern outposts among the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba.

For Mitch Hyndman, though, it’s hard to beat a career in as far-flung a place as New Zealand, where he’s excelled in hotel and wine tourism for much of the last 16 years.

RRC Polytech graduate Mitch Hyndman

“I’m from small-town Manitoba, just north of Brandon,” says Hyndman, who graduated from RRC Polytech in 2007. “Back when I was studying, they said you can go anywhere in the world — and my mom’s uncle was down here. I decided to go check it out.”

Today, Hyndman is working at Pernod Ricard Winemakers, the second largest alcohol and wine producer in the world. He’s the Brand Home Manager at Church Road Winery — located in picturesque Hawke’s Bay, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. Church Road offers wine tastings, winery experiences, large-scale events, and also features a restaurant, with Hyndman overseeing all of it and maintaining consistency in customer experience.

“It’s quite multi-faceted what I do,” says Hyndman. “I’m leading a team, including HR and payroll, but it’s also quality control, keeping everything up to what our standards need to be. We’re also a marketing business in some capacity, so it’s ensuring that everyone who comes through the door has the best brand experience possible.”

Before landing in the current role, which he’s held for eight years, Hyndman bounced back and forth between New Zealand and Canada — working more than half of the time at hotels, including the Delta and Fairmont in Winnipeg, and a luxury lodge back on the island. There were some challenges along the way, including coming to New Zealand’s capital for a practicum and having it fall through on arrival.

“In New Zealand, there’s lots of transient people, a lot of people that come here on a working holiday visa. I was supposed to do a practicum up in Auckland, but it fell through because I came in May — you’d think that would be a great time to come, but it’s the start of winter here — so the hours for the tourism sector were declining at that stage. There wasn’t as much happening as in the summer.”

“So the first practicum fell through, which I had lined up before I came. I had to find something else when I got here. With that, I got an exception and was able to graduate with the rest of my class.”

Hyndman says his RRC Polytech experience laid a solid foundation for the learning he’s done since, with each workplace adding to the skillset he now needs to perform in a management role.

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Creative Communications alumni find success in unexpected places

May 24, 2022

A new series on RRC Polytech’s RED Blog celebrates alumni career successes and the—sometimes wayward—journeys our alumni take post-graduation. The series features a variety of RRC Polytech programs from the viewpoints of different alumni, each with an amazing story to share.

In April, two Creative Communications graduates were highlighted: Lucasfilm lore master and Distinguished Graduate Award winner Pablo Hidalgo, and grad-turned-instructor Doug Darling, CEO of Tripwire Media Group.

Distinguished Graduate Award recipient Pablo Hidalgo

Pablo Hidalgo took what he learned in Creative Communications at RRC Polytech and combined it with his love of Star Wars to become the resident Yoda at Lucasfilm—seemingly all-knowing and the go-to guy aspiring Padawans approach to learn the history and lore of the force. When J.J. Abrams had questions during the production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hidalgo was the master with all the answers.

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Putting His Tech Training to the Test

April 25, 2022

Patryk Siedlik is the definition of a hands-on learner.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an inventor,” says Siedlik, 27. “I always wanted to build stuff and test it.”

A penchant for the practical has served this graduate of RRC Polytech’s Electronic Engineering Technology program well.

On completing the 28-month diploma program in 2018, he found work in his field with Winnipeg-based multinational bus manufacturer New Flyer.

In a role he characterizes as “a lot of fun,” Siedlik integrated, programmed, and validated aftermarket electronic systems to modernize existing bus fleets. In the process, he travelled to more North American cities than he can readily list.

Yet it was with fond memories of a final-term biomedical elective that Siedlik decided to make a change after three years with New Flyer. In 2021, he joined Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg (HSC) as a Biomedical Engineering Technologist in the hospital’s Clinical Engineering department.

Siedlik examines a piece of medical equipment at Health Sciences Centre (Photo: Shared Health)

“I work on most types of medical equipment, including infusion pumps, defibrillators, respiratory equipment, and electrosurgical units. One piece might be 30 years old, and the next is one week old.”

“The main thing is ‘can they (health care providers) trust the machines?’”

It might seem like a logical progression: a curious kid grows up to land cool tech jobs. However, Siedlik is quick to explain his career path has hardly been a straight line. After graduating from Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, he found university a disappointingly frustrating match for his learning style.

RRC Polytech is not only where Siedlik got the training to launch a career, but also where he found like-minded people who share his interests.

“My good friends – my closest friends – are from college. All of us are in the field and happy with where we are. I’m such a fan of the school.”

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Business Information Technology grads thrive at new-to-Winnipeg tech consulting firm

December 15, 2021

An innovative Canadian technology and consulting firm has brought its operations to Winnipeg, and along with it, ample opportunity for Red River College Polytechnic graduates.

Traction on Demand (ToD) announced an expansion of its offices to Winnipeg in early 2021. Since then, the certified BCorp has hired dozens of Manitobans with plans to onboard even more. As an RRC Polytech industry partner, many of these hires are Red River College Polytechnic grads.

Headquartered in Burnaby, B.C. with operations across Canada, the United States, India, New Zealand, and Australia, ToD is North America’s largest dedicated Salesforce integrator and consulting firm. May 2021 marked 15 years for the company, and they recently welcomed their 1,000th “Tractionite” to the team.

Two of these Tractionites are Red River College Polytechnic graduates Anton Stroy and Richard Schentag, who joined the company in May 2021 after graduating from the Business Information Technology program in December 2020.

In their roles as developers, Story and Schentag develop custom features for the Salesforce platform and support technology implementation and integration for clients and organizations.

ToD focuses on creating a healthy, positive work environment for its employees, an aspect that both Stroy and Schentag notice and appreciate about the job. While the company has shifted to a remote work environment, their efforts to maintain culture, collaboration, and communication have resulted in the creation of new products, like Traction Gather, a digital engagement hub where weekly internal meetings are held for all employees across the globe.

Traction strives to create a place of belonging, friendship, diversity, accountability, and equity with each other as Tractionites through justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) initiatives. It also aims to harness the power of community to celebrate the inclusion of all humans and to leverage business and relationships as a force for good.

“Traction has a very good culture—it puts people first, and I like this about the company. I was worried when I graduated, as I wanted to find a company where the culture is good, and I wanted to fit in,” said Stroy.

“They make a conscious effort to build culture and trust among the team,” agreed Schentag. “We dedicate time each month to have a one-on-one with another team member. They also want us to set career goals every year. If your team isn’t the right fit for you, you can move to a team that better aligns with your career goals. It’s a great place to excel and to learn.”

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