Category Archives: Where Are They Now?

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.”

  


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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?: Spencer Dion

 

Spencer Dion holds three diplomas from Niagara College programs: Culinary, Chef Training (2012); Culinary Management – Co-op (2013) and Culinary Innovation and Food Technology – Co-op (2015). He spent two years with Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, as Research Assistant, Research Associate and Lab Technician. In January 2019, Spencer was hired as the Food Safety and Quality Specialist at GreenSpace Brands (GSB) in Toronto. 

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.”

  


» 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?: 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.

 


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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?: Josh Hanson

Josh Hanson

 

Josh Hanson is a 2016 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programmer Analyst program. Josh worked both part-time and full-time as a web developer during his year at Research & Innovation’s Digital Media & Web Solutions division. For the past year he has worked as a Frontend Developer for Form & Affect, a St. Catharines-based creative marketing agency. 

Tell us a little about where you work:

Form & Affect is a downtown St. Catharines creative marketing agency that uses design, strategy and technology to build meaningful brand experiences. Experts in modern-day strategic marketing, they have supplied high-calibre creative, state-of-the-art digital solutions and conceptual expertise for brands that are well-known both in Niagara and across Canada.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

I’m a Frontend Developer. A lot of my work involves CMS development using platforms like ExpressionEngine and WordPress, creating custom plugins, building interface components, and sprinkling in some progressive enhancement when possible. (CSS GRID!)

It’s a great mix of clients to have because of the variety of work it allows for. I’m able to work on everything from massive e-commerce sites, to mobile apps, and microsites. I’ve been able to build sites for CBC Sports, the Niagara Ice Dogs, local non-profits, and wineries.

One of the cooler things was watching the Winter Olympics on CBC with my family, and having the broadcaster tell people to go visit a site that I helped build.

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

The R&I experience has prepared me to work in multiple roles. While at R&I, I often had to wear multiple hats as a designer, developer, and project manager. I was able to design, and build websites, apps, and work closely with clients to make sure that we made the best product for them. 

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

Working on the Wine Council of Ontario site (now renamed Ontario Craft Wineries). On this project, I was able to act as the designer and developer. I built the wireframes, mockups, information architecture, interface, and CMS.

It was a great project to work on because they wanted a fresh start, and they already had a lot of great content and photography for me to use on the site. I was able to build them a responsive website, with a very user-friendly layout.


What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

Niagara had the most well-rounded Computer Programming program for me. The program incorporated design, development, and business classes, so you could get a greater sense of what you wanted to do when you graduated. But I always knew that I was more interested in frontend development. This helped when I was looking for a co-op program and was able to work at R&I.

A faculty member who influenced you?

100% Mark Hardwick. Best teacher I ever had.

I knew immediately within meeting him that I wanted my career path to mirror his. It was such a benefit to have him as a prof as he’s still working in the industry, and everything he teaches you in class is current and something you’ll actually use in the workplace.

He was a big part of me getting to where I am today, and I’m forever grateful.

“It’s often the more intangible things like how you work with other people, or how you manage your time, especially if you’re working with a team and need to rely on each other.”

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

Don’t limit your learning to just the classroom or workplace. Try to work on some side projects, make an app to make your friends laugh. Try to replicate a website that you think is cool. 

I found that you learn best when you do something that you find joy in.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned a lot, and am still learning every day. You don’t realize how much you need “soft skills” until you work in a very collaborative workplace like Form & Affect. I’ve learned that your “coding” skills aren’t the most important part of your job. It’s often the more intangible things like how you work with other people, or how you manage your time, especially if you’re working with a team and need to rely on each other.

Proudest achievement since graduating:

I’m happy with how far I’ve progressed in my career so far, and have built a lot of products that I can be proud of. But outside of work, on a personal level, I’m proud of who I’m becoming. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, my expectations of myself, and with those around me.

Interests outside of work?

Everything awesome happens during the summer time. I’m more of a spring/summer time kind of person, so anything outside really; hiking, camping, spending time at the beach, playing video games for eight hours, eating prosciutto.

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

Just say OV.

  


» 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

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! 

“I quickly learned how to tackle problems in a short period of time and provide solutions to industry owners in a professional way.”


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.