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Take a bow: BRAVO Awards honour staff members’ leadership and contributions

September 16, 2014


From left: Nancy Alexander with BRAVO Award winners Rebecca Girard, Alex Hay, Michael Watson and Hal Hokanson.

In the day-to-day work here at Red River College, there is evidence everywhere of dedication to our values of learning, respect, inclusiveness, integrity, healthy environment and community contribution.

Our staff members make these values come alive – through our programs, and their services and actions every day. We have many great leaders in our midst – irrespective of role or position – who are models to those around them, who motivate us all, and who make each day a great day to come to work!

One of the ways we celebrate and acknowledge these individuals is through the College’s annual BRAVO Awards. This summer, we celebrated our BRAVO winners with a three-course meal at Jane’s Restaurant and a short presentation from Nancy Alexander, Vice President Human Resources and Sustainability, after which they were presented with their awards and a $75 RED card each.

When you next see these outstanding RRC staff members, give them a pat on the back! Scroll down for award info including winner photos and full biographies; in the meantime, our sincere congratulations go out to:

  • Hal Hokanson, Instructor, Piping Trades (Hidden Hero Award, Faculty)
  • Alex Hay, Automotive Store Keeper (Hidden Hero Award, Non-Faculty)
  • Michael Watson, Chair, Construction Trades (Leadership at all Levels, Faculty)
  • Joanne Gonda, Office Manager, Winkler Campus (Leadership at all Levels, Non-Faculty)
  • Rebecca Girard, Night Supervisor, Building Services (Safety Champion Award)


JCF_0836RHis official title is Automotive Store Keeper but Alex Hay’s work spans a much broader area. Alex is on the front line between the public and RRC’s Automotive Department. He arranges for the public and fellow College employees to have vehicles serviced (yes, he’s that guy!), he orders and manages specialty tools in the automotive area, and handles all regular and specialty supplies. He is the go-between for customers of the automotive shops, the students and the instructors. A rock in the department, he is usually the first one in and the last to leave.

Alex has an open-door policy, and always takes the time to educate others informally on the job. He often works with students for whom English is an additional language to explain automotive terminology, safety procedures, and care of tools. Ask him yourself, and you’ll find that he is highly passionate about helping all of his students understand the transportation industry.

Alex’s commitment to supporting faculty in his department has contributed to his legacy. He has been an instrumental part of the development of Faculty Days (for vehicle service) and follow-up repairs. And, he often helps out instructors in the shop, despite his busy schedule – he’s available, knowledgeable and reliable.

Alex says that he’s known for his “sense of humour and occasional crustiness”, but talk to anyone who works with him and you’ll find that this is part of why he is so highly valued.

Alex’s work ethic and genuineness is known among all who get to know him at the College. He also promotes and models inclusiveness to all students and staff. He treats others with respect and in turn, is well respected. Alex, we are lucky to have had you with us for the past 29 years – and we honour you!


JCF_0826RWhen you’re a student, you can only hope to have an instructor like Hal Hokanson. He is that kind of educator – the kind who brings the classroom alive. An RRC plumbing instructor for the past seven years, Hal’s signature style is bringing exciting instructional technique to his students.

The Piping Trades department feels that Hal has elevated the standard of plumbing instruction – and he does it by developing teaching strategies to make very difficult learning concepts more accessible to learners. Whether through role play, games, group work, pair work or watching one of the videos in the extensive learning library – which Hal has produced himself – his students are excited to learn the trade from him each and every day.

Hal is an extremely hard worker who extensively dedicates his time to his family and his teaching. People who know him will tell you just how passionate he is about his trade – both in and out of the classroom. One colleague said, “I have yet to see Hal waver on his work or his actions. His accountability is solid”.

Hal will be the first to tell you about the importance he places on the camaraderie between himself and his colleagues – he’s well-known for the investment he puts into his professional and personal relationships. For example, when a new staff member arrives to the department, they will undoubtedly be greeted by Hal and taken for a tour of the College to meet other staff and get settled. And outside of work, Hal says his passion is “being able to provide my family not just with the things that make them have a wonderful life, but being able to be a part of that life. What gets me up in the morning is the pride associated with being the man my wife deserves.”

Hal says he is not particularly fond of the word “can’t” when it comes to getting things done at the College and perhaps this is part of his secret to exceptional teaching. He values the academic freedom associated with faculty positions, and says it is one of the best parts about being an employee at RRC. We’re so proud of the impact that you make on your students and colleagues, Hal.


Joanne Gonda began her career at RRC 27 years ago. In that span of time, she has worked as an Administrative Secretary, a Regional Campus Representative on Colleague Implementation, an Acting Campus Manager and an Office Manager/Regional Campus Representative. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Joanne has made a tremendous impact on our College campuses.

A key example of her legacy is the impact she’s made on the growth of the Winkler Campus. Joining that campus just two months after it opened, Joanne recalls how she was able to help it grow “from a store-front operation, where evening classes were held in local schools and a Health Care Aid program was held in a Church basement, to a facility that now has three computer labs, several classrooms, a lunch room for students and staff, and instructor and administrative offices.” Joanne is passionate about the importance of providing students from other parts of Manitoba with the opportunity to obtain post-secondary education, without the need to relocate to a larger centre like Winnipeg.

People who know Joanne describe her as a personable, approachable, calm and patient colleague with exceptional interpersonal skills. She is fearless about taking on new challenges, models high standards for customer service, contributes meaningfully to numerous College committees, and consistently demonstrates continuous learning and a dedication to process improvement. She also has an uncanny knack for remembering things – a highly valued trait!

What matters most to Joanne are her grandchildren, children, gardening and golfing, although not necessarily in that order. In all aspects of her life, Joanne is known as the “glue that holds it all together”. Joanne, you are a true example of exemplary leadership qualities – and we celebrate you!


JCF_0830RWhen you ask people at RRC what Michael Watson’s gift is, they’ll tell you he’s exceptional at fostering teams and supporting talent. People want to work for him: he’s approachable, he’s friendly, and he’s a mentor to many of his colleagues. Today, Michael is the well-respected Chair of Construction Trades, but his story with RRC begins as a student, having earned his Red Seal Journeyperson Ticket in Cabinetmaking.

He says that at that time, “I could only aspire to be a part of this respected organization.” Yet, after a decade of employment here – first teaching, then coordinating, and now Chairing an area with 22 trades, over 60 instructors and 2500 students per year – he says very bluntly, “I can’t wait to get to work in the morning”.

Michael’s commitment to lifelong learning is part of the secret to his enthusiasm and enjoyment of his work. Over the last decade, he’s completed a certificate in adult education, a Bachelor of Science in Technical Education, and a Master’s degree in Adult and Post-Secondary Education. Michael feels this learning path has provided him with the knowledge and skills to drive Trades Education forward in Manitoba, as well as the ability to see himself in his students; he carries a core belief that students have potential to do amazing things – including things they might not have even thought of.

Michael has always engaged enthusiastically with instructors on curriculum, project and process improvements, and has brought leadership acumen to these efforts. For example, he spearheaded the successful BUILD Carpentry program for Aboriginal apprentices, which produced strong success rates for learners by looking for innovative ways to understand – and respond to – student needs. He welcomed the challenge of starting new apprenticeship training including the Construction Craft Worker and the Heat and Frost trade. He is an innovator and champion for his profession.

Friends and family describe Michael as a loyal, hardworking and humorous person, who can be relied on to help and support… especially if it involves a hands-on building project! Your efforts in building your department and your profession are recognized, Michael. Bravo.


JCF_0844RGrowth and learning has led to success – and a record of championing safety – for Rebecca Girard, a Building Services staffer since 2000.

Rebecca’s positions have progressed from Housekeeping to Assistant Supervisor to Acting Day Supervisor, to her current role as the Building Services Night Supervisor. In that time, she has developed a reputation for promoting a “Safety First” culture every day.

Always careful to embed safety into everything her team does, Rebecca conducts regular staff meetings to listen to ideas and address College-wide safety concerns on a timely basis. She speaks with staff about AEDs in the College, and has communicated the locations of all AEDs with staff across all campuses. She ensures that Material Safety Data Sheets are accurate and updated, and she’s committed to ensuring that staff wear their personal safety equipment when required. When training staff, she ensures that Health and Safety issues are always highlighted!

In addition to her daily focus on health and safety within her team’s everyday work, Rebecca has also offered her skills to the College on such subjects as supervising essentials, safety, conflict management, leadership and first aid.

Rebecca is a giving person who admittedly even “shares all my time off!” Her parents, son, daughter, boyfriend and exotic pets are important to her, as is the smell of a good cup of coffee in the morning. We recognize and celebrate your hard work at RRC, and your commitment to keeping people safe! Thank you, Rebecca, for everything you do.