Alumni Engagement

Alumni Profiles

Part-time program launches exciting next phase of career for three-time grad

August 16, 2023

Three-time RRC Polytech graduate Colin Szewaga, C.E.T. (Shuh-vah-gah) will tell you that learning never stops.

And with that mindset, neither do the career opportunities.

“To look at where I was 36 months ago, compared to where I’m headed, my career-growth potential has skyrocketed,” said Szewaga, who completed the Project Management certificate program in 2021.

Szewaga grew up in Winnipeg’s Garden Grove neighbourhood and graduated from the automotive discipline at Technical Vocational (Tec Voc) High School in the city’s West End.

Having a strong mechanical aptitude, he entered RRC Polytech’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer program in the early 2000s. With a downturn in the aviation industry limiting job prospects during the program, a second Red River stream drew Szewaga’s interest.

“I had a dream to design homes in 3D and virtually walk clients through them,” he said, describing his decision to enroll in Civil Engineering Technology. Choosing Architectural/Engineering Technology as his specialization, he gained practical skills integrating knowledge of architecture, engineering, and building construction.

The program included an applied technical project during his final year.

“I did a cost-benefit analysis of three distinct levels of insulation of an identical home by upgrading the insulation levels, and then looking at the energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions. Later I designed my own home in St. Vital with upgraded insulation levels, which quantified my thesis.”

The program—and that final project—opened doors for Szewaga. There was contract work for the provincial government, looking at energy- and water-usage efficiency in the building and plumbing codes. Later he worked for a glazing contractor on the first two towers at True North Square, having a chance to help transform Winnipeg’s skyline and learn critical project management skills.

“There’s a sense of satisfaction seeing these two buildings come out of the ground and knowing you had a small part in it.”

As he was finishing his involvement with this development, Szewaga felt the need to upgrade his skills once more.

“I wanted to stay competitive with my peers and with younger workers coming up. My driver was to become more marketable. I was investing in myself.”

The part-time Project Management certificate program—round three for Szewaga at RRC Polytech—proved ideal.

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Vic of All Trades

August 3, 2023

At just 32 years old, Vic Savino is the Director of Communications for the Treaty One Nations.

It’s a dynamic role, one that allows him to serve community members from the seven First Nations in Treaty No.1 territory and dive into projects like the development of the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve. Such a prominent director position at age 32 is certainly not the standard. But then, Savino’s life has been anything but.

A proud graduate of RRC Polytech’s Business Administration program (class of 2016), Savino joined the team at Treaty One Nations in July 2022. Prior to that, he was a digital content programmer for SkipTheDishes, a communications officer with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, an owner of a successful hot dog cart business, a freelance journalist, and an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Savino balances his professional endeavours with fatherhood—a delicate juggling act that he chronicled in The Projector in September 2015. His inspiring life journey has attracted the attention of national outlets, including CBC.

“Learning how the business world works.”

Savino credits RRC Polytech’s Business Administration program with many of the skills he uses daily in his current director role—including public speaking, effective networking, and learning to work within tight deadlines. One instructor in particular, Murray Moman, had a tremendous impact on his early career development.

“He always encouraged us to do a little extra,” said Savino. “He would encourage us to not just do the course work, but to look at everything.”

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Ceiling tiles and memories

May 24, 2023

It’s 2003 and the Design and Construction Technology graduating class have decided it’s time to leave their mark at the College. Did they carve their names in a tree? No. Did they sign a wall they weren’t supposed to? No. Did they create an elaborate time capsule that had multiple locks and keys? No (thankfully). Instead, this class decided to take a ceiling tile from their classroom in A4-12 and sign their names and attach a class photo to commemorate their hard work and dedication to be found one day in the future.

Fast forward 20 years to 2023 where Design and Construction Technology is now called Architectural/Engineering Technology and the classroom in A4-12 is being demolished to make space for the newly announced Interdisciplinary Health Sciences and Community Services Simulation Centre (SIM Centre).

“I walked up there Monday afternoon to check to see how they were making out, and leaning against the wall was this tile. I saw “2003” and well, that was my graduation year. As I looked closer, sure enough, I had signed the tile and saw a picture of our whole class,” said Curtis Jones, Senior Project Manager, Environmental Stewardship & Campus Renewal and 2003 graduate of Design and Construction Technology.

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Dishing up success in Manitoba’s Interlake

April 25, 2023

Anyone who has been to Fisher River Cree Nation knows Loretta Lynn’s dishes up the best slice of homemade pineapple cheesecake in Manitoba’s Interlake.

Culinary Arts graduate Loretta Lynn Cochrane was born and raised in Fisher River (Koostatak, MB), located approximately 193 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Her namesake restaurant in the community is celebrating 28 years in business in 2023.

“We are best known in the area for our homemade pineapple and strawberry cheesecakes and pies: strawberry-rhubarb, lemon, cream pies, and strawberry shortcake,” said Cochrane, who earned certificates in Commercial Cooking at Red River College Polytechnic in 1987 and 1988. “We pick the rhubarb locally, as well as berries like saskatoons for our pies,” she added.

Everything on the menu at Loretta Lynn’s Restaurant and Catering is homemade. From burgers and fries to fresh-baked bread and garlic toast, to a rotating selection of Soups of the Day, including cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, borscht, beef barley, and cream of potato.

“Another specialty, I would say, is our liver and onions. I get a lot of requests for that dish,” said Cochrane, on the phone from her restaurant kitchen. “The community and surrounding areas have always supported Loretta Lynn’s; we serve a need. I have to say, I feel like people appreciate the business being in the community.”

Cochrane switched to take-out orders only at the start of the pandemic, staying open for business but closing her dining room that seats about 28 guests. She has yet to re-open it. Aside from her bustling take-out business, she also provides catering services in Fisher River and communities across the Interlake.

“I’m hoping to have more staff soon, but it seems to be hard right now. You train new people, and they tend to leave. I usually have four to six staff on hand,” she said. “We’re a small establishment. I need one answering the phone and taking care of the customers, with three in the back, and sometimes more depending on what we’re doing.”

“Mind you, I have a lady who has been with me for 24 years, my server Janice Mowat. That’s pretty remarkable for being in the restaurant field because there’s such a high turnover.”

Cochrane also gets a lot of help from her husband and adult son. “Like me, he grew up in the restaurant business,” she said.

Her mother was in the cooking and catering field and taught home economics at the Fisher River school. “I grew up around cooking, but I didn’t realize until later that I was going to do it as my livelihood.”

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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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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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