Milestone planning ahead for new SONAMI project manager

After a career in research and project management, in areas like innovation research or data analytics, organizing the big picture, charting milestones and determining logistics is clearly Sarah Dimick’s happy place. You could say she delights in a robust Gantt chart, in all its colourful bars of glory.

“More than anything, I love planning a project,” she says. “Knowing the end goal and doing the work of figuring out how to fit all those pieces together, so it matches that goal; it’s just a big puzzle I want to solve.”

Dimick’s mastery of all things planning is brought into play in her role as project manager for the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium of seven academic institutions supporting manufacturers’ research and development needs through applied research projects.

The award-winning network, which is currently in its second phase after a major reinvestment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev), includes post-secondary members Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk, Niagara and Sheridan colleges and McMaster University. Within the next four years, the consortium is slated to grow to 10 partners and enhance its reach into the manufacturing community.

As project manager, Dimick is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the network, including the oversight of a range of projects and related activities.

“I’m working on the details of the project, making sure the levers are working.” And, as she points out, there are a lot of moving parts: To date, SONAMI partners, through pooling its technical knowledge and expertise, have worked with 109 businesses to commercialize more than 140 products.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the level of camaraderie between the institutions because I think it’s very easy to be competitors in this field … which they are, but they’re also willing to pitch in and work together and share best practices, share experiences, and share projects at times, ” she notes. “With SONAMI, it’s not an option to put walls up … everyone’s on that same plane, and I’m really impressed by this.”

Dealing with the various partners in an academic backdrop is literally second nature for Dimick, who comes from a long lineage of educators.

She grew up in a family devoted to knowledge transfer. Her grandfather was a school superintendent and principal, her grandmother and an aunt, were both teachers, and her parents both worked at the same university and in the same business school department, in senior administrator roles.

“Academia is the family business,” she laughs. And aside from a year-long stint teaching English in Korea following university, she jokes that she “managed to escape the family business.” Until now, that is.

She holds two degrees, both from Carleton University: A Bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science and a Master’s degree in Legal Studies.

And she’s quite at home with innovation, information services and public policy areas, after spending a decade at the Conference Board of Canada, an Ottawa-based think tank, as a researcher in their Technology and Innovation group. Her focus areas there included innovation ecosystems and identifying an interconnected and essential role for education institutions in those environments.

“We were working with groups who were interested in commercialization, groups who were interested in manufacturing.”

Ironically, one of her first projects there was doing research for the Ontario Partnership for Innovation and Commercialization (OPIC), in which she ultimately recommended advanced manufacturing as a path for the province.

“You could say it’s coming full circle,” she notes. “It gives me an interesting line of sight into the policy behind and the thinking of why commercialization and advanced manufacturing is important and how this can contribute to Ontario and to Canada and be part of a thriving economy.”

Dimick’s savviness for project management was reinforced at her most recent position as director of research at Analytics, an innovative data-analytics start-up in Niagara. During her time there, among many things, she mentored five cohorts of co-op students, with a constant stream of ramping up, training, and executing myriad projects.

“I learned how to manage all those personalities and for a lot of them it was their first time in the workforce.”

Her leadership expertise was recognized with a Brock University award as an Outstanding Co-op Supervisor.

While she’s had many years of experience in project management, she finally decided to make it more official and earned her PMP (project manager professional) designation last summer.

“In all my jobs, the one thing I’ve loved is project management.”

Besides being a self-described ‘Type A’ personality, she points to her affection for charts and lists. Which, of course, are just precursors to planning and solving the challenge du jour.

“I think in another life I would have gone into an engineering field,” she says. “I’ve always liked building and putting things together, whether it’s a conceptual puzzle or real physical puzzle, it’s still something I really enjoy.”

Indeed, at the St. Catharines home she shares with her husband and two daughters, she’s the one with the toolkit, and there’s not an Ikea product that she can’t assemble.

 To learn more about SONAMI, visit the website: