Alumni Profiles

Inventing hope: Distinguished alum’s breakthrough helps doctors target brain tumours

March 3, 2017 • Written by

Dr. Mark Torchia

Thirty years ago, Dr. Mark Torchia started tinkering with an idea that had life-saving potential — a tool that could destroy inoperable brain tumours.

The seed was planted during a conversation with neurosurgeon Dr. Michael West at St. Boniface Hospital. A short time earlier, West had used a minimally invasive procedure to access a brain tumour and collect a sample for biopsy. To Torchia, it seemed logical to expand on that idea to deliver a killing blow to the target tissue.

“Taking the idea and turning it into something viable is where the challenge arises,” he explains. “It was one of those situations where the idea was there, but the core technology that was going to be required to really bring the idea to fruition didn’t exist.”

A 1995 recipient of Red River College’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Torchia and engineer Richard Tyc eventually met the challenge, developing the NeuroBlate System at the St-Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre and in 1999, founding Monteris Medical Inc. to take it to market.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a visual guide, the complex system lets neurosurgeons insert a laser probe into the brain and destroy tumours without damaging surrounding tissue.

Approved for use in the U.S. in 2009, the system was first used in Canada in 2015. It’s now available in some 45 hospitals in the U.S. and in three Canadian hospitals — in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Torchia says it’s only a matter of time before it’s available in Winnipeg.

The invention earned Torchia and Tyc a $100,000 Principal Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation in 2015, and one of six inaugural Governor General’s Innovation Awards in 2016. Read More →

Garage brand: Power Equipment Technician grad restores the little engines that could

December 19, 2016 • Written by

Chantele Lavack, outside La petite machine

Chantale Lavack knows how to fix your lawnmower. In fact, she knows how to fix a lot of the tools in your garage – from chainsaws to pressure washers, tillers and leaf blowers.

Even more importantly, the Red River College grad (Outdoor Power Equipment Technician, 2009) knows her gender has no impact on her success in the small engine repair business – and she wants other women to know that, as well.

“I hope my experience encourages more women to get into [the field],” says Lavack, who operates her own repair shop, La petite machine, out of her St. Boniface garage.

“The door’s not going to be closed on you right away, and if it is, then good riddance — you don’t really need those people, anyhow.”

Lavack recently talked to us about how her RRC education is “like gold,” how she sees her business evolving, and why other women shouldn’t hesitate to join a male-dominated industry.

RRC: Were you interested in fixing things as a kid?

Lavack: I wasn’t. It’s kind of strange. I only learned later in life that I had a liking for repairing things and wanting to get my hands dirty. It’s not like I was 10 years old with my head under a hood with my dad or anything like that. My dad was a funeral director.

What drew you to small engine repair?

It was those Orange County Chopper shows! I just thought it was really neat to see these guys in a garage, creating all of this cool stuff and putting it together and seeing it work. I had been working in an office at CN Rail and didn’t find it to be all that satisfactory. You just don’t get to see the results of your work. But when you have something that’s broken, you fix it, and away you go. Read More →

Landscape Technician grad thrives in growth industry

December 14, 2016 • Written by

Chad Labbe, Shelmerdine Garden Centre

Red River College grad Chad Labbe just wanted to earn a little green when he went to work at Shelmerdine Garden Centre for the first time. It was the spring of 1990, and he was 14 years old when his mom suggested it would be a cool after-school job.

“You’ll like it,” he recalls her saying. “And I remember the first year I absolutely hated it. I was never coming back after the first year. They always made me water and sweep; I hated watering because you’d just get soaked and then you had to bike home after a long day of watering and you’re cold.”

When the job ended that June, Labbe thought he’d hung up his hose for the last time. But when spring rolled around again, he couldn’t resist the lure of a payday. Twenty-six years later, the 2000 Landscape Technician grad has taken root as Shelmerdine’s vice-president and co-owner.

“This business grows on you,” he says, no pun intended. “When you plant a crop and look back one week, two weeks, a month, six months later … the rewards are just right in front of you; the fruits of your labour, if you will.” (Pun intended that time.)

It took a while for Labbe to recognize that he has a green thumb, but he’s since come to realize he’s a natural-born gardener. His knack for greenhouse work came to light five years into his budding career, after he entered RRC’s four-year Landscape Technician apprenticeship program.

Read More →

Highway Star: Municipal Engineering Technology program paved career path for RRC grad

November 23, 2016 • Written by

Jillene Rodgers

Rising with the sun and working until dusk isn’t for everyone, but it’s right up Jillene Rodgers’ alley.

Since graduating from Red River College’s three-year Municipal Engineering Technology program last May, Rodgers, 23, has been spending quality time on a highway construction site in Portage la Prairie.

Putting in 14- and 16-hour days at her new job with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, Rodgers inspects asphalt and grades, and generally ensures contractors adhere to the highway department’s project plans, regulations, and guidelines.

“We do not actually do any of the physical labour, we just make sure the contractor does what we ask,” she says. “We want to make sure the contractor is following our rules and regulations, while staying within the budget.”

The best part of the job? Getting her fill of fresh air in the great outdoors and spending her days around big machinery.  Read More →

From hardship to mentorship: Community Development grad helps high school students find their way

November 2, 2016 • Written by

Othello Wesee, Wayfinders program, Seven Oaks School Division

Othello Wesee has struggled to get to where he is today, and he’s devoted his life to helping kids so they don’t have to do the same.

Growing up in a refugee camp in Liberia, Wesee saw his fair share of violence, struggled to find clean drinking water and faced a serious lack of opportunity – even though he tried to make the best of things at all times.

“I coached soccer teams in grade school back home,” he says, adding he has always been one to improve his community.

The good news is Wesee was able to immigrate to Canada in 2004. The bad news? His wife, Vivian, then pregnant with their son Othello Jr., was not. During his first few years in Winnipeg, Wesee worked to save enough money to sponsor them – just one of the hardships the young family faced during their seven-year battle with immigration services. He also worked to make his new downtown neighbourhood a brighter place by organizing soccer teams for newcomer and inner city kids in Central Park.

Wesee knew he would need an educational boost to further his community-minded career, and found a perfect fit in Red River College’s Community Development/Community Economic Development program. He was able to quickly obtain the skills he required while taking the one-year program, all while working weekends to support his family in Liberia. He graduated in 2010, and also went on to earn his Health Care Aide certification at RRC. Read More →

Graphic Design grad’s star burns bright

October 19, 2016 • Written by

Amanda Buhse, coal and Canary Candle CompanyAccidental entrepreneur Amanda Buhse found herself burning the candle at both ends after co-founding one of Winnipeg’s hottest startups two years ago.

When the 2006 Graphic Design – Advanced grad and her best friend Tom Jansen created their Coal and Canary Candle Company brand, they expected to sell a few hand-poured soy-and-vegetable wax candles to friends and family. A few months later, they were scrambling to fill Oscar and Grammy Awards swag bags and meet demand from their first retail clients.

“Coal and Canary kind of started as a hobby, just as an extra creative outlet and an excuse to hang out with my best friend Tom,” says Buhse.

“He had gotten into candle-making a couple of years prior and got really good at it and asked me if I wanted to join up, because I had the marketing and the graphic design backgrounds, so I could do the branding and the website and packaging and all that.”

Buhse, 31, was working full-time as senior web designer for fashion retailer Ricki’s and Jansen, 26, was in nursing school when they started making candles in Buhse’s kitchen. Before long, they were moonlighting in a rented 150-square-foot studio where they could make 24 candles each night. Next thing they knew, the business had taken on a life of its own.  Read More →

From social work to sourdough: RRC grad builds bakery business from scratch

October 6, 2016 • Written by

Suzanne Gessler, Pennyloaf Bakery

Landing a job out of university was never a problem for Suzanne Gessler. Landing a job she truly enjoyed? Well, that was another story.

It wasn’t until the “lifelong student” graduated from Red River College’s Professional Baking and Patisserie program in 2014 that she was able to create her own personal recipe for success: The Pennyloaf Bakery.

Gessler opened the Corydon Avenue shop specializing in authentic sourdough-style breads in October 2015, a year after she graduated from RRC. It’s a far cry from her former jobs as a city planner, social worker and social policy writer – all government gigs that were well-paid and stable with regular hours and lengthy vacations.

In other words: They were everything owning your own bakery is not.

But that’s OK with Gessler, who’s learned that rolling the dough itself is a better fit for her than rolling it in under somebody else’s watch.

“My dad got sick and passed away, and I got burned out to no end,” says Gessler of the moment she felt she needed to switch career paths, after 13 challenging years working to improve the homeless population’s housing conditions.

“After so many years of trying to do whatever I could to help out on poverty issues in the city, I’d kind of had it. I’d seen so many rounds of government funding come through and not a lot of change. Maybe there was some change, but I was too mired in it.” Read More →

RRC grad leads the charge on battery-electric bus project

September 15, 2016 • Written by

Paul Cantin, New Flyer Industries

Paul Cantin doesn’t want to set the world on fire — quite the opposite, in fact. His work on New Flyer Industries’ battery-electric buses could help put the brakes on global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout North America.

A 2004 graduate of RRC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, Cantin is a project leader in the New Product Development department at New Flyer, the continent’s leading manufacturer of transit buses, including increasingly lean-and-clean natural gas, hybrid and electric options.

The 35-year-old father of two says with 70,000 transit buses currently in operation in North America, converting the majority to more sustainable propulsion systems would have significant environmental implications for future generations.

“From our little corner of Winnipeg, we can make a fairly large impact on North American air quality,” says Cantin, whose team has collaborated on electric bus and charging systems with RRC’s Electric Vehicle and Technology Education Centre since 2011. More recently, his department began a new project with the College’s Transportation and Heavy Apprenticeship Trades program.

In April, Cantin was named to CBC Manitoba’s 2016 Future 40 list of “leaders and change-makers,” an honour that drew welcome attention to the home-grown expertise and ingenuity that’s driving the projects.

“Having these incubators of innovation being highlighted and shown to the general public is really valuable because it helps to inspire and show some of our youth … you don’t have to leave Winnipeg to make an impact,” he says.

“It’s really cool that we are able to acquire the knowledge [through] a post-secondary education here in Winnipeg — and to gain the experience, and be able to have a real tangible impact in North America.” Read More →

Machine Shop grad seals the deal: invents and markets mold-free bathroom product

September 2, 2016 • Written by

Don Fletcher

Don Fletcher will be the first to tell you he’s a workaholic. What else would you call someone who’s juggled several jobs at once for the past 45 years?

Thankfully, hard work pays off. And the Red River College grad is finally reaping the benefits – in a big way.

A builder and creator all his life, Fletcher’s latest invention, Nice Trim Fit, is taking the bathroom renovation world by storm – and sealing his fate as Winnipeg’s next big success story.

“I basically had to sell everything I had to get this all going, but it’s finally paid off,” says Fletcher, a self-described inventor who graduated from RRC’s Machine Shop Apprentice program in 1982.

Nice Trim Fit is a sealing system that’s easily installed on tubs, showers, backsplashes, baseboards and even toilets to protect them from mold, mildew and leaks.

Fletcher has obtained patents for the product in Canada and the U.S. (Australia is pending), and shares are sold out at $10,000 apiece. Nice Trim Fit is currently available at over 80 Home Hardware stores, and will soon be sold at Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and Rona.

RV companies and Manitoba Housing have also shown interest, and Fletcher has recently done demos for the Hilton, Canad Inns and Best Western hotel chains. He’s constantly taking the product on the road to trade shows, with another tour planned for this fall.

“It’s going haywire,” says Fletcher, who employs a staff of five. “The president of 3M came in to see my product,” he says of the multi-billion-dollar adhesives company. “He liked it so much, he said, ‘You’ve got a winner here. I’m going to endorse it.’ Now we’ve got their logo on our package.” Read More →

Engineering grad found recipe for success at Red River College

August 25, 2016 • Written by

RRC_Jeremy_Senaris_2016_sm001

Jeremy Senaris took his main courses seriously as a Civil Engineering Technology student at Red River College. This summer, the 2010 grad aced appetizers and desserts too, as the runner-up on the third season of CTV series MasterChef Canada.

“I’m still pretty proud,” the 35-year-old self-taught chef says.

“I’ve always been a fan of the show. I’ve always watched the American one and then once the Canadian one started I tried out for the first season. I didn’t make it that season and at that point I was like, ‘OK I tried, I’ll never do it again.’”

Never say never. The show’s producers invited Senaris back to audition for the third season, and he wowed the judges through all 15 episodes up to the finale in June.

As a building plan examiner for the City of Winnipeg by day, Senaris works strictly by the book, making sure residential floor plans comply with building codes and checking the structural design of every house to ensure it’s safe and sound. After hours, he likes to colour outside the lines, concocting creative menus that might include anything from bison tataki to squid ink risotto and “ice cream” made with purple heirloom rice, whipped cream and candied bacon.

The key ingredient to success on both fronts is preparation.

“I’ve always been interested in structural design, which is why I took civil engineering,” he says, adding he chose RRC because he wanted to begin working in his field as soon as possible.

The three-year course met his need for speed, and the combination of classroom theory and hands-on co-op work experiences equipped him to hit the ground running after graduation. Read More →

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