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Alumni Engagement

Alumni Profiles

Power kegs: Brewing up a healthy business

September 17, 2018

When life hands them lemons, some people make lemonade. Red River College grad Michelle Leclair makes lemon-ginger kombucha, along with pomegranate limeade and seasonal flavours like apple-spice.

The founder of Wolseley Kombucha, Leclair, 34, has a history as a do-it-yourself problem-solver. Her can-do attitude led her to RRC twice over the last 12 years, first to launch a career as a Medical Radiologic Technology grad in 2008 and again when the taxing physical requirements of her work as an X-ray technologist prompted a career switch.

An MRI technologist at Pan Am Clinic since she graduated from the MRI and Spectroscopy program in 2016, she started making kombucha — a fizzy, fermented probiotic tea-based drink — for personal use in 2015, in response to extensive food sensitivities.

“Pretty much everything that I ate would make me feel sick,” she says.

Traditional medicine didn’t provide answers so she took the bull by the horns, identifying trigger foods and adopting a diet that incorporates several fermented foods. Starting out with a recipe passed along from her partner Rob Strachan’s mother, Leclair took a trial-and-error approach to come up with her ideal brew in the summer of 2016.

Within days, friends were asking for a sample, and today, Wolseley Kombucha is sold on tap at Boon Burger and Circle Kitchen, in reusable bottles at Generation Green and in single-serving sizes at Yoga Public, her go-to yoga studio.

It’s also available for purchase at farmers’ and craft markets — customers can buy refillable bottles or bring their own to fill from a kegerator for $10 per litre. Read More →

Putting down roots: Now settled in Winnipeg, Student Refugee Program grad sets sights on the rest of Canada

August 21, 2018

Since completing Red River College’s Applied Accounting program last spring, Wasim Alkabani has not slowed down.

The 33-year-old — one of the first students to be brought to RRC under sponsorship by the Student Refugee Program — graduated in May 2017, and has since been working full-time as a finance coordinator for Loblaw Companies Limited, Canada’s largest food distribution network, which includes Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and Shoppers Drug Mart.

“Getting my first job here is something I’m proud of,” Alkabani says. “It’s a good experience. I used to work as a finance coordinator back home (in Syria and Lebanon). I’m learning new stuff every day.”

Alkabani also works part-time as a sales associate at Best Buy, a job that has helped him to connect with new friends while earning some extra pocket cash to explore the country. In recent months, he’s been exploring as much of Canada as he can, visiting Banff for a ski trip, as well as Calgary and Edmonton, and than back to Banff to experience the park’s summer beauty and attractions. Next on his list, he’s hoping to head to Toronto, and then even further West to visit Vancouver.

“I want to see as much of the country as I can,” he says. “I have a lot of fun exploring new places.” Read More →

Cause and effects: Digital Media grad making movie magic as VFX supervisor for local film scene

July 26, 2018

‘Was that real, or computerized?’

These days, it’s getting harder for movie-goers to tell the difference. CGI, VR and visual effects are spreading across the big screens like (digitally altered) wildfire — meaning Red River College alum Andrew Degryse chose the right film career path at the right time.

Degryse, a 2007 Digital Media Technology (now Digital Media Design) graduate, specializes in making things look like they’re happening when they’re really not. In other words, he’s a visual effects supervisor.

Smoke, fire, blood, water — you name it, Degryse has faked it. When a director needed it to look like there was cold breath coming from an actor’s mouth because it wasn’t cold enough that day (in Winnipeg, believe it or not), Degryse made it happen.

When Keanu Reeves shot an airport scene on the local set of Siberia (in theatres this summer), Degryse added a computer-generated jet. And when the recently shot horror reboot The Grudge (in theatres next year) was before cameras this summer, he was responsible for supervising many of the sure-to-be gory scenes.

“Basically my job is making sure that we shoot things properly on set and we capture camera data so that the visual effects can be successful once the film goes into post-production,” Degryse says. “If we need to put tracking marks on a shot, or if there’s green screen, we have to capture it in a way that ensures it’s something the effects artist can successfully use.”

If it sounds complex, that’s because it is. Visual FX supervisors have to be extremely meticulous, work well with others, and be exceptional at time management — skills that few Digital Media grads leave RRC without attaining.

“It’s the Red River way,” laughs Degryse, who describes his educational experience as “intense” and not unlike life on a film set, where he might have as little as 10 minutes to coordinate a crucial, FX-laden scene. “My motto with anything I do is that nothing’s ever perfect, you just run out of time,” he says.

Read More →

Motor masters: Father-and-son Automotive grads expand family business into Winnipeg

July 10, 2018

He doesn’t quite have engine oil flowing through his veins, but Hi-Tech Automotive service manager Matthew Silva does have a blood-bond with the business. So much so that he likes to joke that his start date is the same as the one on his birth certificate.

“Everybody asks, ‘How long have you been working in a shop?’ and since I’m 28, I say, ‘Well, 28 years and they kinda look at me funny,” he says.

Matthew’s dad, Mario Silva, has been in the auto repair business since he graduated in 1989 from Red River College’s Apprentice Motor Vehicle Mechanic program (now Automotive Technician) with his Red Seal certification. For the past 24 years, he’s owned and operated Hi-Tech Automotive in Thompson, where Matthew, a 2017 graduate of the same RRC program, spent a lot of quality time as a child playing in the fenced compound out back.

“The compound was almost a little circle and I had a little snowmobile and I would ride for hours and hours. [My dad] never really had to get a babysitter because he’d just bring me to work and I would do my own thing in the back and check on what my Dad and the guys were doing – seeing and learning” Matthew says.

“From such a young age, I saw first-hand my dad’s work ethic and the fact that he is always willing to do what it takes to get it done the right way, no matter what.”

Always a good student, Matthew says his high school teachers encouraged him to go to university rather than take up a trade, but he found that jobs were scarce in his preferred field — designing snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles — and that he would have had to move away from home and family to pursue those interests.

“If I’d have known then what I know now, I would have gone to Red River College immediately,” Matthew says. “The hands-on and the actual applicable knowledge that the instructors had was amazing to me. I found tremendous respect for every single instructor I had there. They’ve definitely been there, done that — you ask them a question, they’ve come across it.”  Read More →

Programmed to succeed: Information Technology a family affair for trio of RRC grads

June 13, 2018

Talking to computers wasn’t a completely foreign concept when Stu and Heather Charles entered Red River College’s Computer Analyst Programmer (CAP) program in 1977.

Almost everyone was familiar with the phrase, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

The CAP program, now Business Information Technology (BIT), had debuted in 1968, the same year 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced the HAL 9000 computer. But when Stu and Heather first met at RRC a decade later, programming languages like COBOL and Assembler were still mystifying to most people.

“Going to school, when people asked, ‘What do you do?’ we had to think of a term to use,” Heather says. “You couldn’t say, ‘Oh we code in Assembler and we use Hexadecimal.’ It was, ‘We write computer programs.’ What’s that? ‘It’s how you talk to a computer.’ ”

Flash forward four decades and the Charles family is still ahead of the computer literacy curve, particularly since Stu and Heather’s daughter Nyssa Charles, 29, graduated in 2012 from BIT with a major in application development.

“We actually have dinner conversations between the three of us that are fairly technical,” Heather says. “So if you were a layperson beside us you probably still wouldn’t understand necessarily what we’re talking about.”

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since CAP students wrote programs on punch cards that are considered vintage today. Stu, a 1979 grad, recalls that one assignment was infamous for how frequently students dropped their stacks of meticulously ordered cards.

The evolution was already well underway in 1980. When Heather, a 1981 grad, returned to RRC after taking a year off to explore other career options, the punch card system had been replaced with brand-new Hewlett Packard computer terminals.

“That was my first step into the new world … all the labs had the modern HP computers and we did all the development on those. So I saw that change even in that year.” Read More →

Building a history: Carpentry grad lays foundation for career in home construction

May 16, 2018

When it comes to achieving career satisfaction, you could say Red River College grad Charissa Bruce really nailed it.

At 26, Bruce is a construction site superintendent for Qualico’s StreetSide Developments. A Red Seal carpenter, she started out as a labourer in 2011, after graduating from RRC’s five-month Carpentry pre-employment program. Over the next five years, she worked her way through four apprenticeship levels, periodically returning to RRC for technical training after gaining the required hours of on-the-job experience.

“I think it’s a great program,” says Bruce. “The way the apprenticeship program is run is better than spending four years in school with no practical experience whatsoever.”

Bruce didn’t have to wear out a lot of shoe leather to land her first job at StreetSide, although she did log plenty of roadwork.

“I rode around on my bicycle and at any type of construction site, I would hand out my resume,” she recalls.

“I lived in St. James so I started there, but one day I specifically remember I said, ‘OK you know what, I’m going to bike to the south,’ to the new home area because Bridgwater was just starting up at that point. So I biked all the way out there and stopped in at a StreetSide site.”

Bruce dropped off her resume at a handful of home construction sites in Bridgwater Forest, and StreetSide called her back to work on its townhome condominium project at 15 Bridgeland Dr.

She says Qualico has supported both her career and personal growth over the years, but success wasn’t handed to her. First, she was handed a broom and put on clean-up duty.

“I was always very curious so I’d quickly finish my sweeping or picking up garbage and then I’d go find a trade, any trade I could find, and just ask them what they were doing, how were they doing it and eventually some of them started letting me base closets and stuff like that.” Read More →

Instrumentation grad named highest-achieving new journeyperson

May 10, 2018

A Red River College grad is making industry waves, having been named the highest-achieving new journeyperson in the field of Instrumentation and Control Technician.

Justin Gaudry, who graduated from RRC’s Instrumentation and Control Engineering Technology program in 2014, was deemed best in his trade last month based on a range of criteria, including on-the-job performance, classroom accomplishments, certification exam results and recognition from employers.

Now an employee of Lakeside Process Controls, where he’s worked since January 2015, Gaudry was formally recognized for his achievements at an April 19 ceremony hosted by Apprenticeship Manitoba and the Apprenticeship and Certification Board.

“It’s exciting to know that industry leaders are appreciating what I’m doing,” says Gaudry (shown above), who first entered RRC’s Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) program so he could learn to repair his guitar amps.

A longtime axe-slinger — whose most memorable on-stage moment was being chosen to accompany TV’s Bubbles at a Trailer Park Boys Live show in 2008 — Gaudry says he had little knowledge of Instrumentation as a second-year option when he enrolled.

“But after the first year of EET, Instrumentation made the most sense,” he explains. “There were perks — you get to travel and make good money. There’s also a certain element of mystery to it, because not many people know what Instrumentation is.” Read More →

Extremely proud and incredibly close: Construction Management grad builds new career on campus

April 6, 2018

Most Red River College grads want to go far. Almost three years after earning a Bachelor of Technology in RRC’s Construction Management degree program, Josh Wells has barely gone beyond the parking lot.

Not that his career has stalled. Now a project superintendent, 24-year-old Wells got off to a running start, locking down a job with Akman Construction in 2015, working on RRC’s new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre (STTC) at the southeast corner of the Notre Dame Campus.

“I got the opportunity to work with Ken Harasym, who is regarded as the best superintendent in the Prairies — for sure in the city — so that was obviously an attractive offer,” Wells says.

“The company itself is highly, highly regarded in the city and I just thought it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t work for this company.”

Recently, Wells began running his own job site as project superintendent on RRC’s new MotiveLab, a 3,000-square-foot research facility for heavy vehicles.

Wells credits his father John Wells, who is president of Crosier Kilgour & Partners consulting structural engineers, for helping him get his foot in the door at Akman, and for stoking his interest in construction in the first place.

“It kind of started with Take Our Kids to Work Day in Grade 9. I got to see what my dad did for a living,” he says.

“We spent the first half of the day in the office and then the second half of the day we went out and visited job sites, and the part that stuck with me was the job-site aspect of it — being outside, being on the job site and actually constructing the building.”

His high school guidance counsellor at Westwood Collegiate sealed the deal by pointing him to the RRC program.

“She said, ‘You can get this degree at Red River College for construction management.’ It’s not a certificate; it’s not a diploma; it’s an actual degree, and that was really attractive to me.”  Read More →

Hero worship: Graphic Design grad honours departed Can-rock icon

March 14, 2018

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie’s death affected so many Canadians in so many ways.

Fans placed wreaths, politicians gave teary tributes, and radio stations devoted endless airtime to the Hip’s decades-spanning discography.

On Oct. 17, 2017 — the day Downie peacefully passed after a battle with brain cancer — local artist and Red River College grad Adria Warren found comfort in picking up a paintbrush.

“He’s such a Canadian staple and the voice of Canada, some would say,” says Warren, a 2015 graduate of RRC’s Graphic Design program.

“I just feel like it really affected people. And when we found out he had cancer, I had actually just been touched by it pretty hard. I’d had loved ones who’d passed away, and one of my girlfriends is currently battling (cancer). So I just wanted to express this and make a difference with my art.”

Adria Warren's artLittle did Warren know the work she would create — a piece called Courage, featuring Downie’s now-iconic feathered hat — would eventually be presented to one of those aforementioned politicians.

“I found that out and I’m still in shock,” Warren says, of learning RRC President Paul Vogt gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a framed print of Courage last month. Trudeau was a good friend (and fan) of Downie’s, so the College thought Warren’s painting would be a meaningful way to showcase the talent of their grads.

While Warren has yet to receive a response from the PM’s office, she can take great satisfaction in the fact that Courage has raised more than $3,000 for CancerCare Manitoba. All of the proceeds for the painting have gone directly to the charity. Read More →

The right stuff: Passion for learning drives aerospace career

March 2, 2018

Nick Bevilacqua was still a few months shy of his 18th birthday when he landed a job at Boeing Canada Winnipeg in the summer of 1986. It was supposed to be temporary stop between Tec-Voc High School and college, but he soon had a better plan — one that involved a long-haul career connection.

“I was taking a part-time engineering class while I was working at Boeing, so I thought, ‘I’ll work another year and then go to college after I quit,’” he says. “Then I found out Boeing provides financial support for education and they really promote lifelong learning, and so I decided, ‘OK, I’ll just keep working here and go to school.’”

Currently Boeing’s director of business operations and government relations, Bevilacqua was among the first cohort of students who worked in the local aerospace industry while attending RRC’s Mechanical Engineering program (Aerospace option) full-time, starting in 1992. By 1996, he had completed the program, along with others required for certification with CTTAM, the Certified Technician & Technologist Association of Manitoba.

He was in the right place, at the right time. But it took some of that other right stuff to succeed — drive, determination and perseverance. During the academic year, he went to work from 6 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., and then went directly to RRC’s Notre Dame Campus.

“I’d start class at 3 p.m. and we’d go till 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock at night every day for four years,” he says. “I am so grateful for that choice that I made, even though at the time it didn’t look like there was light at the end of the tunnel.” Read More →