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Technical Writers Increasingly In Demand in Business

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Lyndsay Steffler, Technical Writing Instructor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyndsay Steffler has been an instructor in the Technical Writing Extension Certificate for 8 years. A graduate of MRU’s Applied Bachelor of Communications – Technical Writing program in 2002, she has worked at WestJet for 10 years. She has three children aged 3, 6 and 8, and balances her full-time job and part-time teaching with family life.

Q: What is your background in technical writing?
A: After graduating from Mount Royal I wasn’t sure I wanted to do technical writing as a profession; I was going into PR. But I wound up getting really deep into it. I started as an editor at West Jet and kept going from there. I really enjoy it and I’ve now been with West Jet for 10 years. A couple years later I came into a teaching role with Continuing Education because of my connection with the administration at Mount Royal.

Q: What changes have you seen in the field of technical writing? 
A: During my career I’ve seen that, rather than focusing solely on policies and procedures, technical writing is bridging with business analysis. We’re working to understand what a position does and what is needed to make it more efficient. Technical writers take all of that information and process it to make improvements. But technical writing still centres mainly on policies, procedures and processes.

Q: What kind of person would be suited to this career?
A: This is a communications field, so you’re not just sitting behind your computer. I spend half my time working with people, talking to them to understand their business function. The other half of the time is writing that up. People who do well in technical writing have great interpersonal skills and are able to communicate complex things in a clear and concise manner.

Q: Are there any myths about this industry that you have to clarify for your students?
A: People tend to think that technical writers can work from home. But because this role is so interactive most technical writers are integrated into the office. Even if we get contracts, it’s for an in-house contract role. The work-from-home jobs do exist but most technical writers are on site.

Q: Is there something that people ask you frequently? Something people should know about the profession?
A: The biggest question I am asked is how much we get paid. It comes up every semester. Wages really vary, depending on your work experience.

Technical writing is a function that’s beginning to gain ground in business. There were only eight of us in my graduating class. There aren’t a lot of professional technical writers out there. Technical writing originally wasn’t recognized as a profession unto itself. It used to be combined with engineering. The thinking was that the subject matter experts should document their own information. But more and more, technical writing is gaining value in the eyes of business leaders.

Q: Where do we see the products of technical writing?
A: Technical writers write business policies and procedures, as well as business processes. There are technical writers in finance and annual reports are a big piece of what they do. A really big technical writing function is software documentation.

The way I put it to people is, you know the “for dummies” series? That is technical writing. I tell my students that technical writing is teaching on paper. You’re teaching someone how to do something, but you do it on paper, not in the classroom.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
A: The students really make this job worth coming to. Everyone is nervous at the beginning of the semester but by the end of it the group gels so well. I enjoy when my students contact me after the course to tell me about their job interviews. I see their successes and I just love that I’m a tiny part of it.

Second Career and Second Chance for PFT Student

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At age 54, Paul Gray recently graduated from Mount Royal’s Personal Fitness Trainer Diploma. Many of his fellow graduates, who have become close friends, are in their 20s and 30s. Paul came to the program after working for more than 25 years in the oil and gas sector.

When his father passed away several years ago, Paul began working with a personal trainer to improve his health and find an outlet for his grief. He became interested in personal training as a new career. “I saw how fitness can complement daily life,” he says.

Life threw Paul a curve ball in 2012 at the beginning of his first year in the PFT program. During the August long weekend, he found a golf ball-sized lump in his thigh while putting on sunscreen. It had not been there only a few weeks earlier. He went to the doctor the next day, had an ultrasound in September and a biopsy in November.

Paul was diagnosed with a rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the connective tissue, in December. “The tumour just missed my femoral artery, which could have caused it to spread more widely. I feel incredibly lucky and extremely grateful for our health care system,” he says.

“My sister is a nurse and told me that this is a cancer that usually affects children,” he notes. “It’s extremely rare in adults. But that’s what I had. I had to fall back a year in the PFT program, and not graduate with my group. I had amazing support and love from my original classmates and my new ones, as well as the program administration and the instructors. The program has been phenomenal. I can’t speak highly enough of it.”

He underwent surgery and intensive radiation treatment in early 2013. He is now 2 years and 4 months out of treatment. He will be followed closely for 5 years, having MRIs every year and chest x-rays every 6 months.

“The two-year mark is big for sarcoma,” Paul says. “I lost a hunk of my medial quadriceps, which wraps around the knee, so it’s still sore. I got back on a bike a year ago, which gave me huge joy.”

Paul came back to the program last fall and graduated in June. “I graduated exactly 30 years after the first time,” he says.

He has worked with seniors at the Westside Recreation Centre. “Some of them have never exercised in their life,” he says. “I want to work with older people and show them that the average person can still get fit. Especially my generation, the Baby Boomers, who have been sitting at a desk for over 25 years. Fewer than 14 percent of Canadians get regular exercise.”

Paul’s first degree was from the University of Arizona, where he developed a passion for the canyon lands. One of the first things Paul did after he had begun to recover was to run to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, 3500 feet down, and back out again. He did it in 4 hours.

Paul Gray 2_Student Spotlight blogHe is starting an adventure fitness business, where he lead groups of mature adults on hiking, skiing or climbing adventures with the assistance of local guides. He hopes to demonstrate the all-encompassing nature of fitness, from the physical to the mental to the spiritual. “You can shock your brain into learning new things. Keep those neurons firing,” Paul says.

He recently led a biking trip on Utah’s White Rim Trail and is planning a hot springs tour in Idaho.

Inspired by the Hopi nation in the American southwest, descendants of the ancient cliff-dwelling Anasazi, Paul’s business is called Kachina Fitness. “My slogan is, I’ll help you find your spirit,” he says.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photos courtesy of Paul Gray

MRU Kids Celebrates 25 Years of Fun and Learning

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Mount Royal’s first summer camps were launched in the summer of 1990. In the 25 years since, MRU Kids (formerly College Kids) has served over 40,000 children and youth aged 5 to 17.

Check out our Facebook album of photos from summers past.

MRU_Kids_25th_eflyer_S15The MRU community and former MRU Kids (and College Kids) campers, leaders and staff will be attending a special anniversary celebration on Friday, July 17 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Ross Glen Hall.

MRU Kids camps combine fun and learning. This year they run from July 6 through August 28. The one- and two-week camps suit a wide variety of interests. Whatever the child’s interest — sports, art, computers, science, theatre, leadership, engineering and more – MRU Kids has something they will love. There is daily recreation and free before and after care.

As they walk from one activity to another, or play on the grass during recreation time, the groups of children and their leaders brighten up the otherwise quiet summer campus of MRU.

A lot has changed over the years at MRU Kids, but a lot has stayed the same. Former MRU Kids program coordinators all talk about their joy in seeing campers grow and change. They are full of praise for the energy and work ethic of the young staffers, 30 percent of whom are MRU students, who lead the MRU Kids activities.

Popular camps like CATS (Computers, Arts, Theatre and Science) and sports have been around since the beginning. Others, like this summer’s new camps Junior Field Trip and Leaders-in-Training, are developed each year in response to feedback from parents.

“MRU Kids reminds us of our role in providing the tools for Calgarians to become fully participating citizens,” says Community and Health Studies Program Director Christina White Prosser. “This program exemplifies our belief in ‘learning through play’ – the opportunity for our campers to naturally grow and develop while having fun and making friends.”

Kevin Gilbert has been MRU Kids coordinator since 2012. “It’s about the kids coming here and having a great time,” he says. “I look forward to seeing them return, seeing them grow.”

Andrew Varsanyi was MRU Kids program coordinator from 2010-11. “What I enjoyed most about the job was getting to see the kids experience new things,” Andrew says. “One of the most heart-warming things was making the phone call informing a parent who had applied for a bursary that their child would be able to come to camp.”

Andrew’s affiliation with MRU Kids goes back to the beginning. “I was a camper in the first College Kids, as it was then called,” he says. “I took the science program. I remember loving it and I actually kept the T-shirt ’til I was about 11.”

MRU Kids 25th Anniversary sponsors are ConocoPhillips Canada, Calgary Co-op and Mount Royal University.

— by Karen McCarthy
— main photo by Michael Poon

Student Completes CAPPA Certificate in Record Time

(l-r)  Dale, Lavinia, Breanne and Brayden Wolkowski
Brayden on a family visit home to Saskatchewan. (l-r) Dale, Lavinia, Breanne and Brayden Wolkowski

Brayden Wolkowski completed the 244-hour CAPPA Certificate (Canadian Association of Petroleum Production Accountants) in just 8 weeks this spring. He attributes this land speed record to mindful goal setting combined with previous experience in production accounting in the field and in an office setting.

Brayden, 22, is a University of Regina business student now working in Calgary at Newalta Corp., an energy services company.

He started the first course of the CAPPA program on April 14 and completed the fifth course on June 8. He took the program through independent study, completing course work on his own and arranging to write exams through MRU.

“I set a goal to be done by mid-June,” Brayden says. “I did, and finished with a 91 percent average.”

Students normally complete the program within a minimum of 2 semesters. They have up to 5 years to complete the 5 courses.

“Working with numbers just came naturally to me,” says Brayden. “I had experience as a field operator where I would gather numbers for the production accountants. That experience helped me understand that it’s not just a number, it’s a way to bring a concept into reality.”

Brayden discovered his interest in petroleum production accounting on the job. “My mentor got me excited to take the program,” he says. “She has 30 years of experience in the field. If I had questions about any of the courses I could discuss them with her.”

Brayden thrived in the program’s online environment. “The information was very self-explanatory,” he notes. “I liked the process and being able to work at my own pace.”

“The people in Continuing Education were extremely helpful. They were willing to accommodate me and set up a different exam schedule so I could complete the program quickly,” Brayden says.

“Brayden’s accomplishment is nothing short of amazing!” says MRU Oil and Gas Program Coordinator Diana Lundine. “He sprinted through the entire CAPPA program in less than 3 months and earned exceptional grades at each level — all of which was unprecedented. He’ll be holding onto this record for quite some time, I’m sure.”

In his spare time, Brayden enjoys playing sports and being active. He coaches volleyball with a Calgary club from December through May.

Brayden plans to continue working in Calgary and will complete his business degree. His family back home in Saskatchewan have been Brayden’s biggest fans. “Without the support of my family I would not even be in Alberta today,” he says.

— by Karen McCarthy