Alumni Profiles

Hard work, motivation pays off for Heavy Duty Equipment Mechanic grad

April 24, 2017 • Written by

RRC billboard: Billie-Jo Laird, Bison Transport

As a Red River College student, Billie-Jo Laird worked hard while completing her work placement. And for both her and her employer, that hard work paid off.

In the fall of 2015, while attending RRC’s Heavy Duty Equipment Mechanic program, Laird was sent to Bison Transport for the first of two work placements. By the summer, Laird was a Level 1 Tractor Apprentice in Bison’s maintenance shop.

“Before the end of school I had already secured my job,” Laird says. “I got good reviews from both (work placements), and come June, when everyone was looking for work, Bison contacted one of my instructors at school to ask me to contact them about a job they wanted to offer me.

“I asked my instructor, ‘Does that usually happen?’ He said, ‘No.’”

“When students come in here and ask me, ‘Do you have any ideas for how to get a job?’ I say, ‘Just show your motivation. Don’t treat your work placement like a two-week vacation. This is your job interview. Ask as many questions as you want, just don’t slack off.’”

No one could accuse Laird of slacking off. In 2014, she earned her Mature Student High School Diploma. Prior to earning her Heavy Duty Equipment Mechanic certificate from RRC, Laird was working in fast-food restaurants. Now, she’s putting in 12-hour days, from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. no less, at Bison.

On top of that, she’s a mom caring for her two sons, aged seven and eight, as well as her own mother. With her family as motivation (that, and a lot of coffee), Laird is determined to work her way up at Bison. Read More →

Let there be light: MET grad keeps region illuminated as Sylvania’s area account manager

April 17, 2017 • Written by

RRC billboard: Jeff Laurin, Sylvania

Jeffrey Laurin is serious about making light.

An account manager for the Sylvania lighting brand, Laurin is the go-to guy for all Sylvania lighting projects in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. His duties include energy audits, lighting design, and end user and distributor training – basically everything but screwing in the light bulb.

“We don’t do the install, but we have contractors that do, so I work with contractors to get the product installed, and [on] the maintenance of it as the years go on,” says Laurin, who graduated from Red River College’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program in 1996.

“I’m the local expert for anything Sylvania. For instance, if you’re a school division and you’re looking to do something with lighting in it, you generally contact me. Basically, I do everything – from the energy calculation, recommending the right product, and following it through.

“Also, there are Sylvania distributors in Winnipeg and Manitoba and Ontario that I look after. I make sure their sales teams are up to speed on what they need to know for our products. There’s day-to-day stuff too, like, ‘What do I need to fix this problem?’ or ‘What lamp do you recommend for this application?’ or ‘What’s the best new product to replace our lighting?’”

Laurin says the MET program’s wide scope – which includes such topics as design, manufacturing methods and quality assurance – prepared him for the diverse nature of his job.

“You can get into all kinds of different fields – manufacturing, design or sales,” Laurin says. “I think the program just prepares you with enough information so you feel confident. Day One at Sylvania, my electrical wasn’t up to [that of] the guys I was talking to. But with the different courses you take at Red River, you put everything together and come up with reasonable answers.” Read More →

CreComm grad keeps TSN 1290’s drive-home show in gear

April 10, 2017 • Written by

RRC billboard: Adam Toy

Adam Toy is the off-air hustle behind the Hustler and Lawless show.

As senior producer at TSN 1290, Toy’s main task is putting together Hustler and Lawless, the station’s afternoon drive show featuring hosts Andrew Paterson (Hustler) and Gary Lawless.

A graduate of Red River College’s Creative Communications program, Toy starts his day by scouring the sports news for show topics. At 9 a.m., he participates in a conference call with the show’s hosts, where the trio puts together a first draft of that afternoon’s show.

After that call, Toy begins booking guests, putting together audio clips and compiling information for the show. Simultaneously, he’s checking in with the station’s program director and promotions department to see if there’s anywhere else he needs to direct his attention.

Toy’s job really heats up when the Winnipeg Jets play at home. On game day, he attends the morning skate at MTS Centre, gathering audio and checking in with visiting sports writers. Then he shoots a Facebook Live video with Brian Munz and Paul Edmonds, TSN 1290’s Jets broadcast team. Next, it’s back to the station to cut up audio, print notes and finalize the show.

And on game days, Hustler and Lawless broadcast live from Boston Pizza cityplace, so Toy heads back downtown for the show, after which he heads over to the rink for the game. During the game, Toy handles social media for the station; post-game, he’s in the dressing room, interviewing the players and personnel.

“There’s this thing called the NHL grind, the grind of the season. It’s a real grind,” Toy says. “There are times when that high pace and those long hours can get to a person, and it has got to me before, but I’ve adopted some practices to help me get through that. I try to take care of my body. I’m in the gym three times a week and I try to eat well. I’m also trying to improve my practice of meditation, so I can attack the day with a refreshed mind.” Read More →

Strictly business: Teacher Education grad takes hands-on approach at Tec-Voc

April 3, 2017 • Written by

RRC Billboard: Kathleen Mira

Kathleen Mira is taking care of business.

A graduate of Red River College’s Business/Technology Teacher Education program, Mira has taught at Technical Vocational High School in Winnipeg’s West End since 1999.

Mira has taught it all at Tec-Voc, from computer and software applications to accounting principles and systems to retailing, promotions and entrepreneurship, and everything in between. She says her time at RRC prepared her well for the multi-faceted and ever-changing world of business.

“You have to be versatile in this position. You have to be able to adapt to change,” Mira says. “We offer at Tec-Voc the full gamut of the business curriculum. Working here, I’ve had to be very versatile. I have to be able to turn my brain on for accounting, shut if off, then turn it on for marketing, shut if off, and then turn it on for entrepreneurship. You have to be able to change on a dime.”

Speaking of dimes (and nickels, quarters and loonies), Mira also operates Tec-Voc’s school store, Stingers, where students get real-life experience in a retail setting.

“It gives students hands-on experience that they normally wouldn’t get because of their age,” Mira says of the store, the name of which is a nod to Tec-Voc’s athletics teams, the Hornets.

“We have a point of sale system. [Students] scan items, they cash out, they cash in, they do inventory, they stock shelves, all those fun things. It’s like any other retail environment.”

The practical applications of Tec-Voc’s business programs don’t stop there.

“Being the accounting nerd that I am, I really wanted to start a credit union here at the school,” Mira says.

“We are in a partnership with Assiniboine Credit Union. We started that in December 2014, and it’s an awesome program where my accounting students can operate as member service representatives — or as many people know them, tellers. They get some hands-on experience developing those skills, so accounting is not just boring stuff every single day, they’re actually doing something.” Read More →

Pizza my heart: Business Administration grad builds legacy out of ‘saucy little number’

April 3, 2017 • Written by

Gennaro (Jerry) Cianflone is a big cheese in the restaurant business today, but the CEO of Pizza Hotline and his wife Theresa (nee Maione) weren’t exactly rolling in dough when they started out 30 years ago.

The couple met as students in RRC’s Business Administration program, and they were fresh out of college in 1986 when they bought their first eatery, a full-service restaurant called Colombo’s Pizza on St. Anne’s Road.

“Theresa’s family was in the restaurant business and her father said at one point in time … he was interested in selling the business,” Cianflone recalls. “So I said, ‘Well, if you’re interested in selling, I might be interested in buying,’ and Theresa and I ended up buying that business and that was where we started.”

“The first year, of course, was very tough — the first couple of years where Theresa and I were working seven days a week around the clock. It was hard, it was very hard in the beginning but we did it. We persevered and we stuck through it and just kept going.”

From one small slice of the market, the business has grown to include Café 22 and 25 Pizza Hotline locations in Winnipeg, Selkirk, Winkler, Steinbach, Portage la Prairie and Brandon, all easy to reach by calling one “saucy little number”: 222-2222. These days, the notion that you can punch any number seven times and get a pizza is a running gag, but in the early 1990s, it was a new concept in Manitoba.

“Honestly I think we might have been the first company to have a call centre in Winnipeg because that’s how we did that. We had a centralized number and all the telephone calls would come in to one location and at that time it was in the basement of one of our locations,” Cianflone says.

Read More →

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 →

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