Category Archives: Where Are They Now?

Where Are They Now?: Adriann Knight

 

Adriann Knight graduated in 2017 from the Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program. She spent six months as a research assistant for Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization team. Adriann is now employed as a business information officer for the City of St. Catharines.

Tell us about where you work:

I work at the St. Catharines Enterprise Centre – a partnership between the City of St. Catharines and the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. We provide small businesses and entrepreneurs assistance to start, grow, and succeed in business. We offer seminars on various small business topics, help them access financing through business plan revisions and facilitate events and one-on-one consultations.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

I’m truly blessed in my role. I get to meet talented individuals who have a dream to start their own business. I love being able to help them navigate the rules and regulations as they’re starting and being a resource for them to lean on when they have questions and concerns. It’s exciting to watch them grow and hire. Looking at just downtown St. Catharines there are a few businesses that I worked with closely and seeing them succeed is the highlight of my role! I’ve also had the chance to work with clients on crafting their pitches for the 1Awards by FirstOntario, as well as the Ignite Pitch Series by GNCC (Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce).

Please give us an idea of what types of related things you’ve been doing prior to your current position:

Just after graduating, I returned to work at the Niagara Region. I had taken a break from studies to work there full time in 2015/2016 with their Economic Development department. Upon graduating, I returned to work with the Planning Department to work on the Niagara Employment Inventory data set. I actually use this data set a lot for my current work, to help entrepreneurs understand the competitive landscape in Niagara for their products/services.

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

One of the seminars that I facilitate is Market Research. My main role at R&I was in drafting client surveys and conducting interviews. I now help my clients work through Market Research and draft client surveys as a crucial step into validating and growing their businesses.

Please describe a memorable research project you were involved with at R&I:

I really enjoyed being a part of creating the Course-Based Research Report. I had the opportunity to speak with business owners and students on the value of these projects. I guess you can say that is where my passion for working with local businesses started to grow. I was able to learn about their needs and struggles; this has helped me in my current role. I’m now better able to advise my clients.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I had the opportunity to move to Ottawa but chose to stay in Niagara. I wanted to be a part of the growth and changes that are happening here. Niagara College also offered the degree program, allowing me to complete a degree in a setting that had smaller classroom sizes and the opportunity to study abroad. During my degree, I completed a co-op placement at the Ecuadorian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I studied for two semesters in Guayaquil at UEES and then one semester in Lima, Peru at USIL.

“Work experience and life experience will help set you apart from your competition.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

Studying abroad. You learn so much about yourself when you take the leap to live in a country where you don’t speak the language. My time in Ecuador and Peru will always stay with me. I still speak to quite a few friends from South America, and have even used the Spanish that I learned in my current role. To be able to immerse yourself into a new culture, plus receive financial assistance from Niagara College to do so, was a dream come true.

Were there any faculty members who influenced you?

I honestly can say that every professor with whom I had an interaction, along with administration staff, shaped who I am today. From Eliza Lister in administration to Maxine Semple, for encouraging me to go abroad, to Jeff Sinclair (who now works at the Niagara Region) for recommending me to apply to work at the Region. Dr. Dawit Eshetu, who had so much belief in my abilities to succeed and was always there to help; David Pastirik, who always found time to listen to his students and their struggles; to Dr. Phil Wessels, for always answering my accounting questions. The list goes on. The staff is so dedicated to you succeeding!

A mentor at R&I?

Neil Wilkinson was a wonderful mentor during my placement! He has a brilliant mind and it was a privilege to learn from him!

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

Get yourself out there. Learn about all the opportunities you have available to you and go for them! Work experience and life experience will help set you apart from your competition. Talk to your professors – they truly want to see you succeed and are always happy to help!

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Do as much as you can while you’re in school to get both work and life experiences. This will help you not only find your true passion but help you grow your network, and make you an attractive hire. Be humble, patient, and always open to learning new things.

Proudest achievement since graduating:

A program I coordinated recently saw 60 new businesses and over 100 jobs started across Niagara. Knowing that in some way I helped these businesses start and hire has been my proudest moment.

What are your interests outside of work?

I love riding my bike, the yoga studio, supporting our local wineries, and spending time with my friends and family.

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

Wow this is a hard one… I think I will steal something that a hockey legend by the name of Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You have to put yourself out there and try; if you don’t, you’ll miss out on opportunities every time.

 


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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?: Justin Vigneux

 

Justin Vigneux graduated from Niagara College’s Renewable Energy Technician program in 2013. He spent one year with the Research &Innovation division as a Research Assistant during his studies. After working in the wind turbine field, he started his current position as a Wind Turbine Technician in 2018 with Boralex Inc., a renewable energy power production company. 

Tell us about where you work:

I currently work for Boralex Inc. (in Tilbury, Ontario) an energy production company. We own and operate power production facilities across Canada, France and New York State in all different forms of fuel sources. We operate wind, solar, hydro and biomass power generation facilities.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

We have just taken over the maintenance contract from the manufacturer and we are the first wind farm for Boralex to do this in all of Canada. In a sense, we are the guinea pigs in getting ready for the take-over of the maintenance contracts for all of our wind farms in Canada. This is especially cool for me because I like being able to participate in the improvement processes for paving the way for all of the other wind farms.

Please give us an idea of what types of related things you’ve been doing prior to your current position:

I previously worked for a wind turbine manufacturer that is German-based. I was the first full-time Technical Trainer to be employed here in Canada. I was responsible for travelling to Germany for my own training then travelling across Canada to deliver training to over 200 technicians. I have also managed the service operations of a wind farm.

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

The experience has helped me a lot in all of my positions since graduating from Niagara College. It was the first chance that I had to experience project-based employment where we had to sit and meet on a regular basis to keep everyone on the team up-to-date on the things we were working on. It also introduced me to things like budgeting, deadlines and experimental troubleshooting.

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

I assisted very briefly with the Papernuts project on an electrical assembly perspective while working with Brian Mewhiney (professor and Research Faculty Lead).

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I was not enjoying my employment at the time and wanted to go to school for something technical but wasn’t sure what for. My brother had recently met with a career counsellor at NC and they had enthralled him with this new exciting program being offered for the first time. Living in Niagara Falls, NC was an obvious choice for me.

 

“I like being able to participate in the improvement processes for paving the way for all of the other wind farms.

 

Most memorable experience at NC?

I would have to say that my most memorable experience at NC was working with the other students in my program; we have made a strong bond and a friendship that will last a long time.

Proudest achievement since graduating:

My proudest achievement since graduating was getting to be a part of the Niagara Region Wind Farm Commissioning, as this was, during the time, the erection of Canada’s largest wind turbines.

Any faculty members or research leads who influenced you?

Absolutely, I enjoyed working with all the faculty involved with R&I but specifically, I worked the closest with Brian Mewhiney, Costa Aza, Wing Pak, and Gary Dolch.

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

Enjoy your experience working with the industry partners; ask as many questions as you can and never stop learning.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I have learned so much since graduating from college. Learning how to be a good teammate and a hard worker are some of the things that I value most in what I have learned since college.

What are your interests outside of work?

I had a young family when starting at NC – my daughter was less than a year-old when I started and now I have a second daughter who is four years old. I would say that being a good role model for my daughters and spending quality family time with them is my favourite thing to do.

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

Never act selfishly! Always think of our future generations!

 


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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?: 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.

 


» 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?: 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.