Carrie-Anne Atkins

Carrie-Anne Atkins started her career journey where many Durham College (DC) Public Relations students do – a third-year placement gaining real-world experience in a fast-paced agency. After graduating in 1998, she cut her teeth as an account
co-ordinator at Environics Communications, a PR agency in Toronto. There, she worked closely with big technology and consumer clients like Yahoo!

“Back when it was ‘King of the Internet,’” she quips.

“I loved agency life. The experience taught me how to think on my feet and to hustle, and the PR program at DC really provided me with the stepping stones for a successful career in communications,” shares Carrie-Anne. “There is a direct correlation between my third-year placement at a downtown PR agency and my first job at a PR agency. Without that line on my resume I may never have gotten my foot in the door.”

In 2000, Carrie-Anne joined Ontario Power Generation (OPG), exploring roles in employee communications as well as community relations and outreach. Today, she works closely with OPG’s neighbouring business community, strategic partners, local government and conservation authorities, as well as community organizations such as DC to maintain a free flow of information between stakeholders and the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

While Carrie-Anne is involved in all kinds of diverse projects through her role with OPG, her favourite part of her job is the support she provides to community-based educational programming, such as Bring Back the Salmon and the Atlantic Salmon Classroom Hatchery Program. This community-based bio-diversity initiative is run by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in support of the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, and OPG has educational hatcheries located at both the Darlington and Pickering Nuclear Information Centres.

“Working with local community and school groups provides me with the opportunity to not only talk about our business at OPG but to also learn and develop relationships with the community members,” says Carrie-Anne. “When we issued a call for Grade 5 classes located in the Cobourg area to help with Bring Back the Salmon, we were blown away with the response. Forget about cloud nine, we were on cloud 10! One classroom produced an entire video of why they wanted to get involved. Think about how that message is now organically cascading.”

As Carrie-Anne continues to work closely with the community through her work with OPG, she also volunteers her time outside of the office, serving as a member of the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Committee, and previously as a member of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee and Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade Communications and Marketing Committee. In addition, she currently serves as vice chair for the Durham Community Foundation Board of Trustees, and served from 2013 to 2016 as a board trustee for Victim Services of Durham Region.

“I love working closely with stakeholders to help our community thrive and do well,” says Carrie-Anne about her combined volunteer work and career. “In the end, the old saying is true: love what you do. Couple that with being a proud, hard-working DC alumna and good things will happen.”


Kerri-Ann Williams

Kerri-Ann Williams has had a unique and diverse career. From quality assurance in the food processing industry to the Jamaican military and private security management, she’s seemingly done it all. After moving to Canada to be with her husband, Kerri-Ann took an analytical approach to deciding her next career move.

“I did a thorough examination of the Canadian job market and realized that both health care and technology are quickly growing fields. I decided to enroll in the Biomedical Engineering Technology program at Durham College because it presented the perfect opportunity to combine both fields.”

After working in an entry-level position as a technician post-graduation and taking some time off to grieve after the sudden passing of her mother, Kerri-Ann was set on finding a more challenging and stimulating role that could help her make a difference. She decided that the time was right to explore her field from a business management perspective rather than as a hands-on technologist, and soon Delbow Medical Sales was born.

Named after her mother, Kerri-Ann’s new business is growing quickly thanks to a few strategic business relationships she has forged in the industry, and provides component level biomedical depot repair services for health-care facilities in Canada and also in the Caribbean.

“We’re providing affordable and reliable medical device repairs in the Caribbean region where this service has been difficult to access and prohibitive based on cost,” she explains. “Being able to offer much needed support in this area is especially meaningful for me, as it was my home for so many years.”

While Kerri-Ann continues to build her business as managing director of Delbow Medical Sales, she also works as a clinical project manager for BrainFX Inc., where she is currently overseeing a project that seeks to develop a novel cognitive assessment tool that will provide effective roadside detection of cannabis impairment.

“The tool my team is developing, if validated and widely accepted, will contribute substantively to keeping our roads safe in
this post-cannabis legalization environment,” she says.

While it’s only been a few years since returning to school and changing the direction of her career, Kerri-Ann has seen incredible success and is excited about her future. She has since gone on to complete her Masters in Business Administration and has received her Project Management Professional certification. She is also currently pursuing doctoral studies in business management.

“When I think about the future, my plans are simply to keep learning, keep seeking new challenges and to apply my knowledge in constructive and meaningful ways. The sky’s the limit!”


Sarah Gerditschke

A little over a decade ago, Sarah Gerditschke graduated from Durham College’s (DC) Automotive Technician – Tool and Die/CNC program excited about her future in the trades – but she never realized that would mean cutting dough instead of metal.

Today, Sarah is the owner of Dream Day Cookies, where she designs, creates and bakes intricate hand-piped sugar cookies for events and clients.

“Tool and die making and baking are actually very similar,” says Sarah, who opened Dream Day Cookies in 2017 while on maternity leave with her first daughter. “You’re taking a raw material and using precision tools to create a design. In both instances, you get to be creative, use your hands, and you have to be meticulous. I love that part about what I do.”

Within a year of opening Dream Day Cookies, Sarah was overwhelmed with the demand – so much so that she was able to hire her mom and her sister to help out. In 2018, her work was featured on the Kate Aspen blog and in Wedluxe magazine. As a result her cookies flew off the shelves at local pop-up markets and online.

As her business thrived, Sarah also began cultivating relationships with other local artisans who she was meeting through her work. Inspired by the passionate and diverse community of makers within the Durham Region and Greater Toronto Area, she recognized an opportunity for a new business venture – a permanent market storefront where vendors could rent shelf space and set up shop on a regular basis.

In April, her vision became a reality when she officially opened Markets by Dream Day, a beautiful, bright storefront in Brooklin, Ont. that boasts handcrafted products from more than 60 local vendors, featuring everything from sweet and savoury treats to attire, jewelry and home décor.

“I wanted to create a safe, positive and accessible place where people can shop, grab a coffee, take a workshop, hang out or just relax, and a place where passionate makers can share what they’re working on,” Sarah explains.

Since opening, Markets by Dream Day has been buzzing with activity. The artisans are frequently restocking their shelves and Sarah has found support from other local businesses, some who share photos of the products they’ve bought on social media and others who visit the store two or three times a week.

“It truly warms my heart being surrounded by people who genuinely appreciate the work we do as artisans. People walk into our store and they know that what they’re buying has been handmade and that they’re supporting a mom being able to put their child through dance lessons, or a student who is trying to pay tuition.”

While Sarah has put her cookie making on hold for a few months as she adjusts to the crazy life of a store owner, she reflects on where her journey began and how it has prepared her for this new and exciting career in entrepreneurship.

“Of all the skills I gained at DC and in my program, what I really learned, that is hugely important in any trade, is how to hustle. It all comes down to hard work.”


Bev Woods

Bev Woods has given thousands of people a reason to smile over her 33-year career.

After graduating from Durham College’s (DC) Dental Hygiene program in 1986, she has worked in both general practice and public health, gaining experience as a dental hygienist and eventually holding the title of director of dental hygiene for Maxwell College.

In 2008, while preparing to open her own dental hygiene office in Trenton, Ont., she was inspired by the idea of helping others. It was then that she founded Gift from the Heart (GFTH), a nonprofit organization and one-day event that brings together dental hygienists across the country to offer free dental hygiene services to those unable to afford or access care.

The first event saw 16 offices and over 50 dental hygienists from across Ontario participate, paving the way for another ten years of success. Today, the event takes place across Canada each year during National Dental Hygienists Week.

“Dental hygienists that offer free oral cancer screenings and dental hygiene services can potentially save a life,” says Bev, whose organization has provided over $1.2 million in no-cost dental hygiene care to vulnerable populations. “The more preventative care we can provide, the less our communities will need to visit emergency rooms for temporary relief from oral pain.”

In recognition of Bev’s generous work with GFTH and meaningful contribution to dental hygiene and her community, the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association presented her with an Award of Merit in 2014. Two years later, Bev was selected by the International Federation of Dental Hygienists to represent Canada at the Global Social Responsibility conference in Florence, Italy and received second place for the Social Responsibility Award.

“It’s amazing how much better someone can feel just from receiving a teeth cleaning. We increase their self-esteem, which in turn makes them smile more and eventually they’ll feel confident enough to give back to their own communities,” explains
Bev. “A simple act of kindness can have a profound difference on someone’s life, and sometimes it can also change your own life.”

While Bev has just finished her role as president for the Bay of Quinte Dental Hygienists Society and her three-year council position with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, she continues to dedicate herself to her profession. Recently, she came out of retirement to join the Whole Health clinic in Brighton, Ontario. There, along with her work at GFTH, she continues to bring smiles to those she helps every day.


Garth Green

Garth Green always knew he wanted to work with his hands – and it was this passion that informed his decision after high school to switch post-secondary programs last minute, transferring from marketing to Mechanical Engineering Technology at Durham College (DC).

The second class to graduate with a specialty in CAD/CAM – a computer software used to design and manufacture products – Garth left DC in 1985 as an in-demand graduate. For the next decade, he gained expertise in his field, working
for numerous companies in Ontario and British Columbia in the automotive, sales, dental, aircraft and computer industries.

In 1994, Garth’s decision to follow his heart took him one step farther as he opened his own machining and fabricating business: ASDAC CNC Machining Limited (ASDAC). With a small loan from his parents, and a grant from the government, Garth was able to kick-start his company, producing over $70,000 in sales his first year.

The company has since grown – both in sales, and in employees – and Garth’s wins have included major long-term build contracts, and awards like the 2010 Business Excellence Award for Mid-Sized Business of the Year from the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. Although passion and skill have contributed to the success of his business – he also credits his team as supporting that success through their own hard work and dedication.

“It took me many years to put together a group of people who work harmoniously together to build the business up,” recalls Garth. “I have an open door policy and feel that it’s important to listen to your people. We’re all equal, we just have different jobs. If I don’t have my team, then I have nothing – I couldn’t do it myself.”

While Garth and his team have experienced numerous successes, he also acknowledges that mistakes and missteps are a natural part of any business, but it’s all about how you deal with them that matters most.

“Coming back from a mistake is not easy, but it is simple. Keep your head down and work hard. It’s all about desire,” he says, confidently. “I don’t believe I have any special skills, but I am persistent, and I know that there is a solution to everything. While some people give up, I don’t – and that’s all you can do when things get tough.”

Armed with resiliency, passion and a committed team, the future looks bright for Garth as he enters his twenty-fifth year of business. Moving forward, he hopes ASDAC and his team will continue to grow and flourish, giving him the financial freedom to travel and see the rest of the world.

 


Brandon Bird

As CEO of a highly-successful mechanical contracting company, Brandon Bird is an ambitious dreamer who embraces life and where it has taken him.

Built from the ground up by his grandfather and father, Bird Mechanical Ltd. was where Brandon spent the summers and weekends of his youth. When it came time to decide on a career path after high school, though, he was determined to try his hand at something different and move in his own direction. He eagerly jumped at the opportunity to study film – hoping to break the family mold and do his own thing.

It wasn’t long before Brandon learned that life has a funny way of bringing people back to where they’re meant to be, and he soon found himself once again working for the family business. What was meant to be temporary – a part-time job to help out between film projects – soon turned into full-time hours in the fabrication shop where he was learning new skills.

Eventually, Brandon found himself doing what he never expected; falling in love with the trades and cultivating a passion for the family business. It was this newfound passion that led him to pursue a plumbing apprenticeship at Durham College (DC).

“Part of the agreement I had with my father when I officially joined the company full-time was for me to do an apprenticeship,” says Brandon, who completed the advanced portion of his apprenticeship and secured his Red Seal plumbing license in 2012. “DC allowed me to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the industry through a mix of theory, hands-on application and business, and exposed me to many situations that I hadn’t yet seen in the field. The first residential bathroom I ever roughed-in was in trade school.”

Today, at age 30, he is the youngest CEO in Bird Mechanical’s history and credits his success not just to his own business expertise but to his employees and their shared commitment to constant improvement.

“Quite often I have people say they can’t believe the size of the company I run at my age but it takes a great team to be successful,” he says. “When you have a dedicated and passionate group of people, and you’re willing to take risks and push not only yourself but your team out of their comfort zone, everyone involved strives to be better and to do better.”

Despite his youth, the years he spent gaining experience working for his father, along with his DC education, are paying off.

Last year under his leadership, the company hit $32.7 million in sales, opened up a new office in Halifax, NS, to expand their operations into Atlantic Canada and acquired a small civil-contracting company. A month into 2019, Bird Mechanical already has over $25 million in work secured and Brandon is focused on streamlining operations and further reinvesting in the company through new tools and equipment.

“I’m always looking at what’s next to see how we can improve. While a lot of my team focuses on the day-to-day, I’m looking six months to a year or two ahead, always considering our long term goals,” Brandon explains. “No matter how good you are as a company, even if you’re the best, you can always find ways to improve and evolve.”


Cailey Hart

In 2010, Cailey Hart graduated from Durham College’s (DC) Early Childhood Education program, packed up her familiar life in the Durham Region and traveled to South Africa for a one-year volunteer opportunity to work with underprivileged children.

Eight years later, she’s still there – having worked her way up to principal of Botshabelo’s Urban Kids Educentre (UKE) where she manages a team of

13 staff and provides 120 low-income preschool students with a high-quality education.

“For many children in the impoverished areas of South Africa, the only option for education is a preschool run by an uneducated teacher in a makeshift schoolhouse,” says Cailey, who has helped to build the non-profit organization’s preschool program from the ground up. “My favourite part of my job is when I get to tell a

parent that their child has other options, and that we’ve found a sponsor to pay for their school fees and can bring them to UKE to receive a better education.”

While Cailey never imagined she would stay longer than a year, she has since made a home for herself in Johannesburg and at Botshabelo – driven by an understanding that access to high- quality education can change a child’s life.

As UKE’s first set of graduates head to high school next year – with one receiving a sought-after scholarship for a private, all-boys school – Cailey and her team continue to keep in touch and watch as they grow into strong, intelligent students.

“It’s amazing watching our past graduates flourish and they do so not just academically, but by taking the confidence they have gained in our care and building on it after they leave, allowing them to conquer any circumstance they may face in their life.”

As Cailey’s preschool continues to thrive year- over-year alongside the successes of its students, she hopes to take the centre further by securing additional funding for her own staff to continue their education and upgrade their skills.

She also aims to provide future child psychology and occupational, art and speech therapy internship opportunities to local university students so that UKE may become a resource centre not only for its own students, but for other schools whose teachers have gone through Botshabelo’s UpliftED Teacher Training program.


Lori Lane Murphy

For Lori Lane Murphy, a 1988 graduate of Durham College’s (DC) Public Relations program, her career as a mental health advocate began accidentally.

“I was working on my own mental health in therapy a couple of years ago, dealing with the death of my father and the hole he left in my world, and just started writing about the experience,” says Lori, whose career until then had been focused on training and development in the health and safety sector.

Her writing soon evolved from a journal into a memoir and play entitled Upside Down Dad, a tribute to her father who had struggled all his life with clinical depression. “Through my performance, I wanted people to know that even if mental illness lives in your home, there is no shame and nothing to apologize for,” Lori explained.

While originally an outlet for expression, writing soon took Lori down another path, blossoming into a fulfilling career as an author after she began to write about the year she received her own mental illness diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II. With the completion of her book Bipolar Expedition, Lori saw a way to give hope to those also struggling.

“I wrote the book to share my own story,” says Lori. “I want people to read it and feel at least a little bit of the weight lifted from their shoulders, and to know that they are far from alone.”

When not writing, Lori takes her advocacy to another medium, producing and co-hosting the podcast Stories Like Crazy in an effort to connect with others living with mental illness to normalize their experiences and erase stigma. With a permanent waiting list for guests interested in sharing their own stories, Lori and her co- host plan to keep the podcast going as long as they can.

Focused on making a difference in the Durham Region, Lori was recently appointed as an Ambassador of Hope for Ontario Shores 100th anniversary. Extending her advocacy work through this avenue, she will represent the organization at events over the coming year and assist with initiatives and campaigns associated with their milestone anniversary.

“This is an incredible opportunity to take my advocacy to the next level. Reducing stigma and changing the hearts and minds of people around mental illness is my constant quest. This is an amazing chance to help do that,” says Lori.


Roland Kielbasiewicz

FAST FACTS

• Graduation year: 1990
• Program: Business Operations Management
• Currently: CEO of Loraxian, Inc.
• Number of DC grads he’s hired: Three
• Favourite DC campus spot: Cafeteria

Roland Kielbasiewicz has always been an entrepreneur. Starting his construction company the year before he entered the Business Operations Management program at Durham College (DC) meant that his free time on campus was spent doing payroll for his employees or taking business calls. So when he graduated in 1990, there was nothing to do but hit the ground running.

Kielbasiewicz is now the Founder and CEO of Loraxian, Inc., a company specializing in providing sustainable infrastructure solutions in Canada and internationally. He is also the founder of the IGNITE Infrastructure Association, a non-profit organization which provides energy efficient and sustainable infrastructure capabilities to government, First Nations, education and healthcare sectors.

Even after all these years, Kielbasiewicz has strong ties to DC. Since graduating, he has been a Program Advisory Committee member, a guest speaker in numerous classes, and has used his business acumen in research projects at DC, partnering with the Office of Research Services, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ORSIE).


Cassie-Jean Dillon

Cassie-Jean Dillon’s Durham College (DC) journey started over 20 years ago with a single class.

“In the mid-80s, I enrolled in a series of DOS computer classes. I was 23 years old and already a single parent. My employer was offering a chance to attend computer training courses and I had always regretted not attending high school, so I was eager for the opportunity to learn.”

It was the first time she had ever stepped foot on a college campus, let alone taken a college course, and she was more than a little intimidated. Fortunately, stronger than her feelings of intimidation was her determination to succeed.

“I remember coming to tears in one programming class,” she shared. “But these DOS certificates represented a pivotal moment in my journey. They opened the door for me to have more than just a job – I was building a foundation for a career.”

Over two decades, Dillon returned to DC several times to add to her computer credentials. Though she carried a dream of pursuing full-time studies, life’s realities kept it out of reach. Raising her daughter alone made full-time employment a must, only leaving windows in the evenings and weekends for her to study.

Beyond that she was also struggling to keep herself and her daughter safe – the second time Dillon enrolled in a course at DC she was living in a women’s shelter after enduring horrific domestic violence. She credits the weekly class structure and focus required to learn with helping her survive that difficult time.

Survivor is just one part of who Dillon is – she’s also Kanienkeha:ka, part of the Mohawk Nation, a member of the Wolf Clan, and a secondgeneration residential school survivor.

“Growing up, being a second-generation survivor meant just the idea of attending school raised concern in my older family members,” she said. “It was never encouraged or considered a priority.”

It was all the more remarkable then when Dillon also became a First-Generation post-secondary student. In 2015, after being laid off following 25 years of continuous employment, she found herself back on the DC campus – this time as a grandmother – with a plan to use her severance pay to fund the full-time studies that had always eluded her. After achieving terrific success in her academic upgrading courses, Dillon entered the Fitness and Health Promotion diploma program.

“My goal going into the program was focused and modest: graduate and be qualified to share my knowledge about health promotion to empower my Indigenous brothers and sisters to exercise healthy lifestyle choices,” she said.

Looking back on how far she’s come, Dillon still gets emotional – only now the tears come from a very different place than they did during her first days on campus attending DOS certification classes.

“I still have some disbelief that I really achieved what I always dreamed of,” said Dillon. “But I wanted to show my grandchildren that anything is possible. I want them to want education and experience the same support that I had at DC.”

After graduation, Dillon received a contract with the federal government as a learning assistant with the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) – a fitting role for someone as drawn to education and life-long learning as she is.

Now, Dillon manages logistics at CSPS to ensure efficient delivery of courses covering a myriad of topics. She also assists faculty to ensure course content is kept up-to-date, a role she hopes to take further by integrating recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) calls to action.

“Looking forward, I hope to develop content specific to the TRC and how our federal and provincial governments are working towards fulfilling the 94 calls to action,” she said. “I plan to showcase successes within the post-secondary education system, identify barriers and perform a gap analysis.”

Dillon will also pursue further education as she works in her new position; she is enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work at Trent University starting this fall.