Category Archives: Where Are They Now?

Where Are They Now?: Brian Cunningham

 

Brian Cunningham graduated from the Electrical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program in 2018. He spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team as a Research Assistant. Brian began his new role as Engineering Technician in February 2019 at Cimcorp Automation, a global supplier of intralogistics automation.

Tell us a little about where you work:

Cimcorp Automation is a manufacturer and integrator of pioneering material handling systems for the tire industry that has developed unique robotic solutions for order fulfillment and storage. These solutions are being used in the food & beverage, retail, e-commerce, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and postal service sectors.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

Currently, I am assisting in coordinating new resource management software for internal company use. My main responsibilities regarding this software include maintaining our large catalog of design and commercial parts, as well as providing training to engineering designers to allow them to utilize our new software for a number of engineering processes.

As we transition into this new software, I have also been taking on challenges with troubleshooting some of our smaller automated robots. This has led me to work with and testing servo motors and servo drives, as well as various battery and battery management technologies. 

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

Much of my time at Research & Innovation was spent developing automated systems. This included programming PLCs and microcontrollers. I also worked on some electrical panel design, wiring prototypes, as well as designing and assembling printed circuit boards. 

I believe these experiences, that I enjoyed so much, led me directly into a career in the material handling industry. My constant exposure to electrical design as well as different advanced manufacturing processes has also allowed me to easily communicate between both electrical and mechanical designers to address their concerns, as we continue to roll out our new resource management software being used by our employees.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

The Grimo nut project was my first and most memorable project I was able to be part of at Research & Innovation. Grimo Nut Nursery breeds a walnut variation known as the heartnut, which is popular because of its heart-shaped shell. The nuts had to be cracked by hand using a hammer in order to keep the shell intact and the industry partner needed an automated solution for cracking.

Our team developed a proof-of-concept machine that employs pneumatics for quick feeding and positioning of the heartnut, a programmable logic control (PLC) system to control and fine-tune all of the operations on this machine, and a proprietary nut-cracking chamber. It was my first experience with PLC programming, and was one of the more intricate and complex projects that research had taken on at the time. It really challenged me and the rest of the design team to think outside the box.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I knew I wanted to get into engineering and was looking for something a little more applied. My program at Niagara College offered courses that spent large portions of class time in the labs. Small class sizes also allowed students to get plenty of one-on-one time with professors.

“If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes – correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate – you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

Being able to participate in open house events at NC was always a great experience. It gave me the chance to highlight the potential opportunities that await those who are interested in the Engineering faculty as well as Research & Innovation at Niagara College.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn and grow during my time at NC and Research & Innovation, and it would be an incredible disservice to potential students and program applicants if they were not made aware of these potential opportunities that await them. Whether I was giving a presentation or providing a group with a tour of the research lab, I’ve always seen it as a way of paying it forward and hopefully inspiring future students to realize their full potential at NC.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There isn’t one particular faculty member that had an influence on me, because they all did! Every one of my teachers had something different to bring to the table; they all had different experiences that they could draw from to supplement the content taught in the classroom. So without making the list too long, I want to say thanks to Paul Jiankos, Fred Graham, Paul Kendrick, Sarah Rouillier, and Mike van den Bogerd for making #myncstory a memorable one!

A mentor at R&I?

Again, there are almost too many people to list. If I had to pick, my Project Leads Gord Maretzki and Al Spence were able to provide me with literally decades of industry experience expertise between the two of them. They always encouraged me to think outside the box and to continually hold my work to the highest standard. Their experience in automation and robotics certainly played a role in the career I find myself in today.

Big shout out to Jim Lambert, Gord Koslowski, Carolyn Mullin and Marc Nantel for bringing me along to countless trade shows, research symposiums, and showcases. Thank you for pulling me out of my comfort zone allowing me to show faculty, local business owners, industry professionals, and even members of parliament what Niagara College Research & Innovation is really all about.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Don’t let uncertainty stop you from doing anything. In research, when we’re uncertain of what’s going to happen, we try it out ourselves to find out! The worst possible thing that could happen in the end is you learn something, and you’ll only be better because of it. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you’re just starting out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t hold yourself to a high standard (because you should!), but employers recognize there is a learning curve to their processes and methods of operation. If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes, correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate, you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace. 

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Starting my career! It’s really encouraging to see all of my hard work beginning to pay off.

Interests outside of work?

In the summer months, I usually like to get out on my bike when I’m not playing on one of my slo-pitch softball teams. In the winter when the weather’s not great I’ll work on designing and building audio equipment for my home setup. My drums get played year round!

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Check out Taylor Wallace & Patch Bay (my band) on Soundcloud!

https://soundcloud.com/user-618944530

Where are they now?: Gwen Kitiwano

 

Gwen Kitiwano graduated from the Bachelor of Administration (BBA), International Commerce & Global Development program in 2017. She spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team, first as a Research Associate and then as Research Assistant. Since July 2018, Gwen has served as a Junior Analyst for the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Tell us a little about where you work:

The Translation Bureau is a federal institution within the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio. It supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to serve and communicate with Canadians in both official languages.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

In my role as a Junior Analyst, I work on various files doing many different things. Some examples would be, conducting research on international governments, assist in writing reports, prepare presentations, support strategic planning initiatives among other responsibilities. It is my first position in the Canadian Federal Public Service, so I am still taking it day-by-day and learning a lot as I move forward.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

My experience at R&I has helped me tremendously to prepare for my current role. It has helped me refine my research and presentation skills. I have accepted that presentations will never come quite naturally to me, as it does for other people. It will constantly be something that I will seek to improve, however the feedback and positive encouragement from my colleagues during my time at R&I have really helped me in improving those skills.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

One of my most memorable projects that I was involved in with R&I was working a marketing plan for Planet Bean, a local coffee roasting company. Working on creating a survey, gathering and analyzing the primary data really taught me how meaningful data can be and the impact it can have of important decisions.

Many of the projects that I worked on were in collaboration with small local businesses. Although I was technically “working” for them, it truly never felt that way. I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses. I genuinely wanted to see them all succeed and even if my research had a minuscule contribution to that, that was enough for me. My experience at R&I increased (even more so than I had before) the respect that I have for small local business owners. It takes a lot of heart, patience, and perseverance to do what these people do and I really commend them for it. All of this to say: Support your local small businesses whenever you can!

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

This answer might be a surprise to those who know me well. My friends and family know that I am a very organized person and (for the most part) am a huge planner. But the truth is, after high school, I had nothing planned. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was 17 and fresh out of high school and decided to go with the first thing that I thought made sense – I enrolled in the Computer Programming program at Niagara College. I learned very quickly during my first semester that playing video games and making them were two completely different things. I took some time off to really think about what I wanted to do and to put it simply, I knew two things were certain: I did not want to move, and I loved to travel. Fast forward and I applied for Niagara College’s Bachelor of Business Administration International Commerce & Global Development (aka ICOM) program. I got accepted that same summer and started in the fall and the rest is history!

 “I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College honestly is my time at R&I. I had a job that didn’t feel like a job and those are the absolute best.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There were many faculty members who influenced me during my time at Niagara College and R&I. During my time as a student, Professor Dawit Eshetu and Navjote Khara had a huge influence on how to improve my work. Most importantly, they always made time to sit down with students to provide us with the time and advice that we needed for either the class or just life in general. I learned a lot through the many conversations that I had in their offices and will value the advice and knowledge that they shared.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your professors/mentors, and put in the effort – it shows, and people notice.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned that, first and foremost, how important it is to take care of yourself. Work hard, but take care of yourself harder (yes, I just made that up). If you take care of yourself, not only will you be a better employee, but also a better friend, sister, partner, etc. It makes all the difference in the world and only positive things will come from it!

Proudest achievement since graduating?

My proudest achievement since graduating is finally getting winter tires.

Interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I very much enjoy travelling whenever I get the chance, going to the drive-in and trying out local foods with my friends and family. Also, I like to sneak in a few hours of World of Warcraft here and there!

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

“Don’t forget to breathe.”

Where are they now?: Spencer Dion

Tell us a little about where you work:

GreenSpace Brands owns several recognizable brands, including Kiju Organic and Central Roast. They promote the idea of better products through the use of simple ingredients, traditional farming practices, and innovative branding.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

As the Food Safety and Quality Specialist, I work out of the Mississauga location, where we process all things Central Roast. I am responsible for maintaining, updating, and implementing our food safety and quality programs (HACCP and SQF).

Currently, I am in the process of updating and standardizing all of our program documents. While that may not seem very glamorous, is there really anything more satisfying than a well-organized food safety program?

Recently, we had our facility in Mississauga kosherized by the Kashruth Council of Canada.  We had a meeting with the lead auditor, who brought with him some documents, including a kosher integration program for SQF that I actually helped write when I was working at Research & Innovation! It was really great to know that they were actually using it and showing it to all the companies that they certified.

How has your experience with R&I helped prepare you for your current role?

Already in my short time at GSB I have had to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. This was the norm at R&I and having that experience really improved my time and resource management skills.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

When I worked as the Lab Technician for R&I, I would help others with the lab aspects of their projects. One such project required me to develop a titration experiment to determine the acidity of the vinegars being developed for a client. With no prior titration experience, I set out to researching methods and practices and within a week or two, I had created and validated the experiment.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

In high school, I had a culinary teacher who I really respected and, after being accepted to five different culinary schools, I asked his opinion on which one he thought I should attend. He said that Niagara College would give me the best opportunities and that set me on a path to where I am today.

Most memorable experience at NC?

To be honest, my most memorable moment has to be my last day working at R&I. Having to say goodbye to all those who I had worked alongside for the previous years was difficult, but they really made it a great day that I won’t forget. I still have the personalized picture book full of inside jokes that was made for me.

“It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.”

A faculty member who influenced you?

Definitely Dr. Amy Proulx. I have never met a teacher more dedicated to the education and success of their students. She is an endless source of information on almost any topic and always has her door open to those seeking assistance. I still often look to Amy for advice and support whenever I need it.

I cannot go without mentioning Kristine Canniff [Research Project Manager, CFWI Innovation Centre]; if nothing else, she taught me what to look for in a leader and I can’t imagine R&I without her. 

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help – nobody is an expert in every subject. If you don’t know the answer to a problem, draw on the resources around you.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I have learned to always keep an open mind about the work I am doing. It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.

Proudest achievement since graduating:

Although not job or school related, per se, I did just recently purchase my first house, and of that, I could not be more proud.

Interests outside of work?

Indoors, I am all about reading and consuming all forms of media (TV shows, movies and video games). Outdoors I love skiing and attending craft beer and food festivals.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”

Where Are They Now?: Brendan Spearin

 
Brendan Spearin is a 2013 graduate of Niagara College’s GIS – Geospatial Management program and was a GIS Research Associate for Research & Innovation’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre from 2012 to 2014. Brendan is currently the Aquatic Invasive Species, Regional Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

A little about what your job entails…

A new position, the goal of my unit is to coordinate with regional stakeholders (provinces, conservation non-government organizations (CNGOs), and Indigenous groups) to implement the four key pillars: prevention and outreach; early detection and surveillance; response; and control and management.

How has your R&I experience helped you prepare for your current role?

While working at Research & Innovation, I felt that I was given a lot of independence towards how I solved the problems that I was assigned. That said, I always knew that [Senior Research Associate] Sarah Lepp and [Research Lead] Dr. Mike Duncan would be there to help if I was stuck or needed some guidance.

I got to be involved in client meetings and these formal and professional meetings were excellent examples of a business atmosphere. Taking that professionalism and knowledge into the workplace allowed me to immediately make an impact.

“The way artists and game designers are able to convey so much about the world through the way that they build maps is inspiring!”

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

It was recommended to me by a number of GIS professionals at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs where I worked as an Assistant GIS Technician after graduating from university. One of the research fellows even took me out to meet Dr. Mike Duncan, so the chance to work with him while attending college was an opportunity that I could not let pass.

Most memorable experience at NC?

Working for Research & Innovation was the highlight of my Niagara College experience. Being able to work in my field, gaining experience, while also completing my post-graduate degree, was something that I am extremely grateful for.

A faculty member who influenced you?

Dr. Jiang was an amazing teacher who also supported my Niagara College thesis. I learned a lot from him, especially from our one-on-one thesis meetings. Without him, my programming skills would be nowhere near what they are today. Ian Smith was also an excellent teacher; his passion for the environment and GIS were great to see and his classes always felt so alive.

Top 3 skills you obtained from your time at NC:

1. Professionalism.
2. Drive – to never turn it off.
3. Humility – admit when you do not know and need help!

Proudest achievement since graduating:

As part of my previous job, I got to work directly with academic institutions, Indigenous groups, and CNGOs on applications for the Coastal Restoration Fund. Thanks to their hard work, a number of Arctic projects were funded through this national contribution and grants program.

I also worked on the Recreational Fisheries Conservation and Partnerships Program, a national competitive program that enabled me to work with local organizations to improve recreational fish habitat across Canada. The drive of these local organizations and their work ethic and final products (restored habitats, new fishways or spawning shoals, stabilized stream banks) were truly inspiring.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Work hard, show initiative, and be professional in all that you do. You will reap what you sow.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

That you will never stop learning. I’ve changed jobs and projects quite a few times throughout my career with DFO and each switch has required me to sit down and do a hell of a lot of reading, talking with peers, and research.

Interests outside of work?

I’m a huge gamer. I love everything from board games to DnD (Dungeons & Dragons) to TF2 (Team Fortress 2). It’s actually what partly drew me into the world of GIS – I absolutely love maps. The way artists and game designers are able to convey so much about the world through the way that they build maps is inspiring.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Stop being mean to people you don’t know on the Internet.

 


» VIEW ALL PROFILES

Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.

Where are they now?: Ankita Mathkar

Where are they now?: Ankita Mathkar

Ankita Mathkar is a 2018 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program. After two years working as a Research Assistant for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, Ankita accepted a position as R&D Project Lead with Sol Cuisine, a natural vegan foods manufacturer with a growing community of restaurant and retail consumers.

Tell us what you do in your new job

I formulate new products that are completely plant-based with the use of soy, peas, lentils and vegetables. I then ensure that they are led to the production floor and that large-scale production is successful. I work a little on the regulatory side as well, so my job entails looking over the packaging and working closely with labelling software.

Proudest achievement since graduating:

Probably seeing one of my recipes going into production and patiently waiting for it to hit grocery stores.

How did your R&I experience help prepare you for your current job?

I was able to work on a plethora of projects and learn what research and development really entails when it comes down to the real world. R&I was a fast-paced place to work, with all the projects coming in and deadlines sneaking up daily. I quickly learned how to tackle problems in a short period of time and provide solutions to industry owners in a professional way. It also taught me how to deal with downfalls when something doesn’t work out, because in the research and development world, it’s OK to have downfalls. Matter of fact, its best to build up after something has gone wrong. Most importantly, I was able to make connections with various influential people and suppliers that still come in handy.

What first attracted you to Niagara College?

The Culinary Innovation and Food Tech program stood out to me. No other colleges or universities had a three-year coop program that would be able to teach me both culinary techniques as well as open up opportunities in the food industry. Plus, visually, the campus looked absolutely gorgeous! 

Favourite NC memory?

There are too many to count – I had an amazing time at NC! I was able to make long-lasting friendships. I had excellent professors and coworkers. If I could do it again, I most definitely would. 

A faculty member who influenced you?

It would be hard for me to pick one, so I would have to say the infamous trio that everyone in Culinary Innovation probably knows – Sabi, Sunan, and Amy. They were always there; we had either one of these ladies throughout our three years at Niagara and they never once stopped encouraging every individual. I couldn’t have made it without them.  And a special shout out to Chef Oz and Chef Keith, who made culinary classes a whole lot of fun.

Top 3 skills you obtained from your time at NC:

  1. I learned how to be patient. I remember making a chocolate cookie recipe over and over again with slight variations. Highly frustrating at first, but so worth it at the end of the semester.
  2. I learned how to work well in a team. Almost all classes had projects that needed to be done in teams. By the end of the year, we had become a close-knit classroom and we knew that if we had to all work together to pull off one big project, we could do it without any conflicts.
  3. I learned how to be time efficient. Everyone knows juggling theory classes, culinary classes and lab work is tedious. However, NC was able to make it fun for everyone in my year and everyone was able to complete every task on time.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned that mistakes are a part of life, it is so important to overcome them and face your fears. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you always give 100 percent; it does get rewarded.

How does this job fit into your overall career plan?

It fits perfectly. It is exactly what I wanted to do after graduating and I am so glad Sol Cuisine was able to provide me with the opportunity. That being said, I am glad that R&I and Niagara college were able to open those doors for me. I love what I do as of now; what the future awaits is a mystery.

What are your interests outside of work?

I like to hike, swim and play tennis. At the end of a work day, I find that all three of them help me relax and ensure that I get a good night’s sleep.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

‘Courage doesn’t always roar.’ Sometimes all you need is the little voice inside saying “I’ll try again tomorrow” – said by someone else, but it definitely resonated with me.

 


» VIEW ALL PROFILES

Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.