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Haas Foundation Legacy Award sparks new future for CNC Machinist student

July 14, 2021

Intrigued by the prospect of using computers to do a job he was trained to do by hand, Brian Carmona enrolled in Red River College’s CNC Machinist program to learn the computer numeral code that instructs the high-precision welders, cutters and other tools used in advanced automated manufacturing.

Now, two years later, he’s the recipient of the 2021 Gene Haas Foundation Legacy Award, given each year to a student in the CNC Machinist or CNC Machining & Advanced Technology program.

The recognition, he says, “has changed my life.”

“I’ve always loved the process of turning materials into useful things,” says Carmona, who began his manufacturing career right out of high school, working as a plasma operator for a company that built trucks for agriculture.

Before long, it became clear to him that trading the cutter for code would open up new career prospects in an industry shifting rapidly towards automation.

However, when Carmona wasn’t learning CNC in class, he was working long hours to make ends meet. Receiving the Gene Haas Foundation Legacy Award, which covered the cost of his tuition, program fees, books and supplies, removed the financial burden and let him focus on his training.

Now he has his sights set on becoming a Red Seal Machinist or Red Seal Industrial Mechanic/Millwright after completing RRC’s CNC Machining & Advanced Technology program – an opportunity, he says, that would have been impossible without the award.

Carmona is one of 17 RRC students honoured this year by awards and bursaries funded by the Gene Haas Foundation and presented in partnership with Thomas Skinner & Son. The Gene Haas Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Haas Automation, the largest machine tool manufacturer in the western world. Thomas Skinner & Son is the Haas Automation distributor for Western Canada.

Awards like these are vital to drawing students to programs aimed at filling critical workforce gaps, says Mark Blackner, Chair of RRC’s Electrical, Mechanical and Manufacturing programs.

“As a manufacturing hub, Manitoba is home to big industry players hungry for employees trained in advanced skills and technology. We’re grateful for this partnership because it ensures our students, equipment and facilities stay at the cutting edge, so we can support the manufacturing industry as it continues to grow and change.”

The manufacturing industry spans a wide range of sectors, adds Blackner, including transportation, medical technology, and agriculture – continuously adding to the need for highly specialized skills in computer-aided drafting, design, manufacturing, 3D printing, and mechatronics.

RRC’s partnership with Haas and Thomas Skinner began in 2008, when the College approached the two companies about acquiring CNC machines to help students catch up to the technology.

Since then, the partnership has grown to include scholarship and bursary support, and a $500,000 investment in the Haas Innovation Lab at the College’s Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, where manufacturing industry partners work with RRC experts and students on applied research projects. Thanks in part to this investment, the College now has one of the largest and most advanced manufacturing training programs in the country.

Paul Krainer, president of Thomas Skinner & Son, says he and his father, who owned the company before him, both saw the value of investing in education after they began supplying machines to local high schools.

“By forging deep relationships with schools and polytechnics like Red River College, we have a direct hand in training the future of our business. Technological advancement and disruption mean that training programs can’t lag behind. They must always stay one step ahead – and that takes ongoing investment.”

That belief was shared by Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation, whose generous financial support drives the partnership forward.

Krainer says the results of the partnership and others like it are already bearing fruit across the industry.

“We’re seeing more and better-trained people pursuing careers in precision manufacturing – and a stronger workforce making our country’s industry more globally competitive.”

Strong roots, mutual growth

June 30, 2021

With strong roots in Manitoba soil, a commitment to community, and a workforce brimming with Red River College talent, Wawanesa Mutual Insurance has grown over the past 125 years into one of Canada’s largest mutual insurance companies – and a generous RRC partner and supporter.

Since 2009, the company has made significant donations to a number of College programs, awards and capital projects aimed at helping RRC students excel in business, management, and information technology.

That includes a recent $50,000 gift in support of the College’s 100,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Innovation Centre in downtown Winnipeg.

“Looking after one another is the essence of who we are at Wawanesa,” says Selena Hinds, Vice President of Culture, Community and Communications at Wawanesa Insurance. “That’s why Wawanesa is proud to support Red River College, its students, and the new Innovation Centre. Together with RRC, we share a commitment to making our community a better place to live and learn, and we know students and all of Winnipeg’s downtown will benefit from the new Centre and surrounding greenspace.”

Eighteen per cent of Wawanesa employees say they attended RRC, and more than 240 indicate an RRC connection on their education profile.

“We’re proud to have a partner and supporter who understands first-hand the value of supporting our students and grads,” says Kirk Johnson, Dean, School of Business & Applied Arts and Dean, School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts, Red River College. “Wawanesa has hired many talented RRC graduates over the years. I’m excited to continue working with Wawanesa as our Innovation Centre opens up new opportunities for our students in Information Technology, Business, the Creative Arts, and more.”

Support for the Innovation Centre Project is directed to the Elgin Avenue Plaza (shown above), a greenspace and pedestrian plaza located between Princess Street and Adelaide Street. The new outdoor space will include seating areas, recreational space, and power outlets for food trucks, entertainment and vendors. Students and community members can use the space to study, eat lunch, or host events such as concerts or maker markets. The greenspace is located across from the new Market Lands, a creative hub, housing and market space that will attract more people to live, work and play in the growing neighbourhood.

In addition, the company has provided a $10,000 annual donation to support RRC students since 2009. This year, eight Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Awards will be distributed to individuals in the Business Administration, Business Information Technology, and Business Technology Management programs, providing opportunities for students to achieve success in their education and into their careers.

Wawanesa is also a sponsor of RRC’s Girls Exploring IT technology camp program and previous capital campaigns at the College. “As a member of the community, we know how important it is to ensure accessible education,” says Hinds. “As an employer, we see great value in the education and training RRC provides.”

That passion for community support extends far and wide. Last year, Wawanesa increased its community giving by $1.8 million in response to COVID-19 – bringing the company’s total community giving in 2020 to $5.3 million.

Wawanesa takes its name from the small Manitoba town where it was founded 125 years ago by a group of farmers determined to keep insurance premiums down. Since then, the original “Wawanesa Insurance” has grown into one of the largest mutual insurance company in Canada, with growing operations in the United States. Its North American corporate headquarters remain here in Winnipeg, at True North Square – where, in the years ahead, its Manitoba roots will grow even stronger.


Grads give back through new annual award

March 1, 2021

As Distinguished Graduates of RRC we felt it was important to support our alma mater on an ongoing basis. Stu also felt that, as a member of the Board of Governors, it was important to show his support for the College by contributing monetarily.

Throughout our careers we advised RRC on their IT programs, and we thought it was important to continue supporting those programs in other ways in our retirement.  When we thought about ways of giving to the College we went back to when we first attended, right out of high school, way back in 1977. We remembered how difficult it was from a financial perspective when you go right from high school to college and all you had for money was what you’d been able to save from part time jobs. It’s even more difficult when you’re paying your own way.

We decided we wanted to support a student, in particular one that is coming straight from high school who would have less opportunity to save money towards their college education. As well, we preferred to support a female student as there is a definite lack of women in the IT profession.

In supporting a student financially it is our hope that it can relieve some their financial burden to allow them to concentrate more on their studies in a very challenging program.  We hope that the successful applicants will benefit from the Business Information Technology program in the same ways that we did. We hope they build a good solid foundation of technical and soft skills that they can take to their prospective employer to start their lifelong journey of learning and growth. The difficult part of working in IT, which is also the most rewarding, is that the field is always changing and you must be a continuous learner in order to achieve real success.

We truly hope by providing this annual award that we are in some small way setting someone on a path to a challenging, rewarding, and successful career in IT.  We are excited to embark on this new stage of giving to RRC.

Stu and Heather Charles
Business Information Technology (1979 and 1981)

Bockstael Gives Back For The Future Of Skilled Trades In Manitoba

July 1, 2020

John BockstaelWhen John Bockstael made the decision to donate to Red River College’s Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, he knew he would be providing an opportunity for generations of Manitobans to receive high-quality education and training.

“It’s not basement learning,” says Bockstael, the President and CEO of Bockstael Construction Ltd. “The College’s programs are hands-on right from the beginning and highly practical. There’s a direct correlation between the classroom process and what’s done on a work site.”

Bockstael was the first donor to the 104,000 square-foot facility, which opened its doors to students in Fall 2018. The building acts as a celebration of the trades and technologies, and allows the College to train an additional 1,000 students every year.

“The skilled trades need talent. It takes knowledgeable people — you have to have a good head on your shoulders,” he says. “Anybody who gets into construction now is getting into it at a time where we’re becoming more and more advanced in our technologies and processes. You still have to pound a nail and drill a hole as part of the job — but what we need is highly skilled, quick thinking people.”

Bockstael Construction has been in operation since 1912, and has built and renovated many prominent buildings in Manitoba, including the VIA Rail Winnipeg Union Station, the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre, and the newest, the Richardson Innovation Centre. In 2009, Bockstael completed construction on RRC’s Jan den Oudsten Vehicle Technology and Research Centre (formerly the Heavy Equipment and Transportation Centre), one of the first education centres in Manitoba to receive LEED® Silver certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

It’s rewarding for Bockstael to be able to give back, knowing that his future employees will be trained in the STTC. He says that in an ever-changing industry, RRC has been very responsive in advancing the needs of businesses, and has adapted its programs to be able to train new skilled workers, while providing re-skilling for workers who are in the middle of their careers.

“At the time we committed to our pledge, we were experiencing a real shortage of skilled trades workers,” he says. “In a way I was fulfilling a business need. Your business thrives and is driven by the workforce that you hire.”

Bockstael says that although construction has adapted to include more technology, the satisfaction of a job well done remains at the core for skilled workers. “There’s so much independence that individual tradespeople can derive for themselves. People can look back when a project is done and say ‘I was a part of that’ — there’s a lot of pride in their work,” he says. “That’s something tangible at the end of the day that seems to resonate with everyone from engineers to labourers.”

The Bockstael Construction Labs are located at the east end of the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, and are used by hundreds of students every day.

We are grateful to John Bockstael and Bockstael Construction Ltd. for their contribution to the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we had to postpone the celebration honouring Bockstael Construction Ltd. — and all donors to the STTC — originally planned for April 15, 2020. We will reschedule this event when it is safe to celebrate together.

Giving Back Strengthens Connection to College at Dillon Consulting Limited

June 18, 2020

Staff from Dillon Consulting’s Winnipeg office take part in a recent Earth Day community clean up.

For employees at Dillon Consulting Limited, a desire to enrich the student experience at Red River College (RRC) led to a recent donation to College’s general fund.

There are 12 RRC graduates who currently work at Dillon’s Winnipeg office, all of which have maintained a close connection to the College by participating in student information sessions, classroom presentations, projects with partner organizations and sitting on advisory committees.

“We have strong ties to the College, so donating seemed like a good way to give back to an educational facility that many of us attended,” said Tina Sontag, Associate at Dillon Consulting Limited.

Sontag graduated from the Civil Engineering Technology program in 2014, after a successful career in hairstyling, and was hired at Dillon shortly after.

“I like working with people and numbers – problem solving,” she said. “The education I got from RRC was a springboard into the consulting field. I’m very happy where I am.”

The donation was made possible through the Environment & Community Investment Fund, which is part of the organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. Since 2005, Dillon has provided more than $300,000 in scholarships across Canada, including contributions to Indspire bursaries for indigenous learners.

Sontag said donations and volunteerism bring the staff at Dillon together and creates a positive work environment.

“Our staff are quite engaged in our communities, and we make our decisions on which organizations to support based on staff buy-in,” she said. “There is the desire to make an impact in our staff, and it’s important that we are able to match their enthusiasm and connect with our communities.”

Dillon staff have volunteered their time at Winnipeg Harvest, Bike Week Winnipeg, Wrench and organizations that help Winnipeg’s underserved communities.

Sontag said she is proud to be able to support students at RRC and looks forward to meeting the next generation of skilled workers.

Other pillars of Dillon’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative include a commitment to its workplaces, the environment and the marketplace. Learn more by visiting

Class of ’84 grad donation gives boost to RRC’s Directions Conference

February 6, 2020

Ron Margolis, Margolis Capital, and Tony Balaz, Kensington HomesIt’s a donation 35 years in the making.

Red River College grads Ron Margolis and Tony Balaz have gifted nearly $1,000 to RRC’s annual Directions Conference with money from a group project they helped complete in their graduating year – 1984.

[Editor’s Note: 1984 was the year the World Wide Web and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg were born, Steve Jobs launched a boxy little number called the Macintosh PC, and Bill Gates shared the cover of Time magazine with a floppy disk. Historical records indicate that 1984 was also the epoch of the cassette tape, pager, answering machine, and peak Murder, She Wrote.]

At that time, Margolis (shown, above) and Balaz (below) were studying Business Administration and working on a huge final project with a team of over a dozen other students. The group raised funds to pay for the layout and printing costs needed to produce their group’s business plan, only to find out, just before the plan was due, that the printing company couldn’t produce the accounting tables and wouldn’t be able to complete the job.

“Cut to a dozen of us hammering away on typewriters around the clock, trying to get this thing into some kind of presentable form when we should have been prepping our oral presentation instead,” Margolis recalls.

[Editor’s Note: 1984 was also before word processing and layout software were basic human rights.]

“The final result wasn’t pretty, but we ended up with something we could hand in.”

The money to cover the printing costs sat in the account in case it was still needed, and was then forgotten – until Margolis discovered the bank statement book in a pile of papers just over a year ago.

The discovery prompted Margolis, now president of Margolis Capital Group Inc., a commercial mortgage firm, to reach out to Balaz, another member of the group still living in Winnipeg. (Balaz is vice-president of Kensington Homes.)

“It made sense to both of us to donate it back to the College on behalf of our group, Seminar 13.”

They earmarked their donation for this year’s Directions Conference, which connects RRC Business and Applied Arts students with industry and business leaders through a series of speakers, information sessions, and a roundtable networking event. Obby Khan, local restaurateur and former Blue Bomber, will share his story of family, football and entrepreneurship at the conference’s keynote address on Thu., Feb. 6, inspiring the next generation of professionals and leaders.

“We love how this donation gives a group of our grads the opportunity to bring their Red River College experience full circle,” says RRC Alumni Engagement Officer Katrina Sklepowich. “We couldn’t be more grateful to this awesome group of people for boosting the impact of potentially career-shaping networking events like Directions for our students.”

Thinking of making a gift to Red River College? Donate now!

Culture of Giving at West End Radiators

August 1, 2019

A whiteboard in the meeting room at West End Radiators (WER) outlines the company’s core values; Integrity, Quality Service, Fun, Innovation and Teamwork. According to Wayne Feeleus, Owner and General Manager of WER, the employees who come to work each day embody these values. While they are happy to be there doing their job, they are even happier to contribute to something greater than themselves.

“It’s not just about coming to work everyday to make money, it’s about doing something more,” he said. “We want to be in the community and make a positive difference.”

One of the ways WER makes a difference is by incorporating a line item on their monthly financial report that is allocated to charity. Staff decide together each month where to donate the $1,000, and for the month of February they decided on Red River College.

“We have our first-ever co-op student from Red River’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program this summer and we couldn’t be happier with him,” Feeleus said. “We’re already trying to see if he can come back. This is the beginning of a new relationship for us, and we wanted to donate to thank Red River in their efforts for training the workforce of the future.”

Donations like this help students at RRC achieve success in their chosen careers by providing hands-on learning opportunities in state-of-the-art facilities. Recently, donations like this one helped the College to elevate the training experience for students in its skilled trades programs. The new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre is 104,000 square-foot complex outfitted with cutting-edge equipment and technologies that help students stay ahead of the curve.

“We’re a growing company,” said Feeleus. “We’re always looking for people and if the majority of students and grads at RRC are as impressive as our current co-op student, then that’s a place we’re going to look for new hires.”

Founded in 1960, and family-owned and operated since 1980; West End Radiators is a leader in the industrial radiator business. Over the years, it has grown from what was a ‘small mom and pop shop’ to being Manitoba’s only on-site radiator manufacturer and top of the market in industrial cooling system needs for clients in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Western Ontario.

Feeleus believes that the more you give, the more you get back – both financially, and in the goodness of life. It’s something that he teaches to his employees and that he hopes they pass along to their families.

“Our goal is to teach others to give,” he said. “If I give, I can only do what I can do.  If I teach 25 others to give and they teach their kids and spouses now we have something that can really make a difference.  We want to create a legacy not just a one-time donation.  This world needs more good people with giving hearts.”

Join West End Radiators in helping RRC students become the next generation of leaders in Manitoba’s skilled workforce.

Donate now