Students Learn Employment Skills on the Job


Mount Royal’s Transitional Vocational Program (TVP) is celebrating 35 years of fostering personal, professional and academic growth for adults with developmental disabilities.

TVP Manager Craig Baskett says, “The Employment Preparation Certificate is a 12-month employment preparation program where we support students to find and maintain jobs. Before they come to us, they often struggle to maintain and flourish at work. With the support of our program, students experience much higher rates of employment success — often maintaining jobs for many years.”

The students spend 300 classroom hours learning about work preparation, life skills, and literacy and computer skills. They then go out on work practicums to apply their knowledge and skills on a work site with the support of an Employment Specialist.

We had the opportunity recently to speak with two TVP students on the job.

Michaela Wasyliw started the program in September 2014, finishing up a three-month placement at the Shoppers Drug Mart in southeast Calgary in January.


Michaela was working as a merchandiser, putting stock away and putting out promotional shelf talkers to promote specific products. “I have transferable skills to help me get a new job,” Michaela says. “I hope I will get a good recommendation from Antonina.”

Antonina Riserbato was Michaela’s manager at Shoppers Drug Mart. Antonina has provided work placements for several TVP students over the past 7 years.

“It’s such an honour to work with these students,” she says. “I love to see them grow. I feel so happy working to build them up from start to end. I think, I took part in that. I taught someone from the beginning.”

Michaela Wasyliw with TVP Employment Specialist Myles Kelly
Michaela Wasyliw with TVP Employment Specialist Myles Kelly

“Michaela is a sweetheart,” Antonina says. “She has retail in her! She grasped the basics quickly and took such pride in finishing on a set timeline. She’d say, ‘See, Antonina, I told you I’d be able to do it.’ I have no issues in recommending her for another Shoppers Drug Mart.”

“My goal for this year for work is to learn more about how to do planograms and I want to learn cashier,” Michaela says. “And I want to save on a trip to Disneyland with my friends. I want to one day move out on my own and want to save up for my own car and I want to have a family soon.”

Nick Keene with manager Jason Bucholz
Manager Jason Bucholz with Nick Keene

We also spoke with Nick Keene at the Mr. Lube location in southeast Calgary, where he has been working for a year with manager Jason Bucholz.

Nick completed the TVP program in 2014. He loves being around cars. “Right now I’m greeting everyone that rolls up but I’m looking towards going downstairs and being underneath the vehicles,” he says. “It’s a busy store, but it’s a really good job. The people here are great.”

To become a Lower Technician, Nick would undergo on-the-job training. “It’s a bit of online stuff and it’s more on the floor as well,” he says.

“We love Nick’s enthusiasm for cars,” says manager Jason. “But sometimes we have to remind him to focus on the job he has right now.” This includes informing customers of estimated wait times and writing up the information on a schedule.

Nick’s favourite part of the TVP program was “learning to do things in the workforce and how it really is, that kind of thing. There were a few things that I didn’t know that I know now. Like, interviews are little more than I thought they were,” he notes.

Since it began in 1980, MRU’s Transitional Vocational Program has helped hundreds of adults with developmental disabilities enter the work force, make meaningful contributions and realize their dreams for a more independent life.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photos by Karen McCarthy

Online Program Enhances Career Success for Recreation Manager

Carla Thebeau

Carla Thebeau is a student in MRU’s Event Management program, which she will complete this year. She takes classes online while working full-time as General Manager for the New Brighton Residents’ Association.

“Our community centre hosts all sorts of events – activities, programs, recreational opportunities. We also take care of some of the amenities within the community,” Carla says.

She is originally from Nova Scotia, where she attended St. Francis Xavier University. Like many maritimers, Carla made her way west in 2001. She fell in love with Alberta’s outdoor recreation opportunities such as kayaking, hiking and spending time in the mountains.

Throughout Carla’s career, one opportunity has led to another. “I’ve always loved planning special events, whether for student council or in my community,” she says. “I was lucky to start a career in recreation management very early. I was Recreation Director in the community of Lake Louise and then on to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I also had the opportunity to work on Disney Cruise Lines and with the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis.”

Carla always wanted a formal credential to bolster her on-the-job knowledge and experience.

“When I arrived in Calgary I found the Mount Royal program to formalize the event management education,” she says. “I wanted something to solidify all I had learned though experience. Experience is fantastic but it’s awesome to also get the education.”

Carla is hoping to improve her management style and organizational skills. The MRU program is also helping her to find ways to interpret her creativity and to bring her ideas to reality.

She is taking most of the courses online. “I didn’t know that I would be successful at taking it online, because I love interaction. But it’s actually so well laid out that it’s foolproof. The thing that I love most about it is I’m able to do it on my time, especially with working a very busy full-time job,” she notes.

Carla has already seen the benefits of the program on the job. “Prior to taking the marketing class I was able to raise about $5K in sponsorship. After taking the class this year we raised $15K.”

For those interested in event management, Carla advises, “Just go for it, if you have the passion for it, I believe this program can help make it happen. It provides you with the tools you need to be successful in this type of career.

Carla met her fiancé online last year. “Career and school takes priority right now,” she says. “But it’s nice because all the pieces of my life are finally falling into place.”

See more of Carla’s story.

by Karen McCarthy
— photo by Sandra Loeppky

PFT Grad Passionate About Helping People


Patrick Bernat is a 2014 graduate of the Personal Fitness Trainer Diploma who is now enrolled in Mount Royal’s new Bachelor of Health and Physical Education program. He is one of the first PFT grads to transition into the degree program. He is working towards becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Patrick is the recipient of a scholarship from World Health Club in recognition of academic achievement and demonstrated voluntarism in the community.

We spoke with Patrick at the Flames Health Training Camp where he was volunteering as a fitness tester.

Patrick’s motto is, there’s an athlete in everyone. “I am a trainer at NSD Sports and Fitness Club, which trains the hockey population as well as the general public,” he says. He fits his client work around his class schedule.

Born and raised in Calgary, Patrick was always active and loved the outdoors. He was well on his way to earning a soccer scholarship and perhaps playing professionally when he was sidelined by an injury. His plans changed but he held onto his ideals and enrolled in the Personal Fitness Trainer program when it became a diploma in 2012.

“If you are truly passionate about a particular field or topic, you will take the necessary actions to ensure success,” Patrick says.

“I chose the PFT program because I left my retail job and was looking to get an education in athletic training. It just happened that Mount Royal turned their certificate program into a 2-year diploma,” Patrick says. “No other post-secondary institution in the Calgary area offered a similar program.

“I have always led a healthy and active lifestyle and one thing that I took away from my retail days is that I love helping other people. I figured why not combine these two ideas and applied for the program,” he notes.

Patrick says that prospective PFT students do not necessarily have to be super fit or knowledgeable before they take the program.

“I had minimal education about fitness and exercise before entering the PFT program. What it did was strengthen my existing attitude towards fitness and give me the ability to educate, explain and justify concepts with research and data from experts in the field.”

Patrick strongly believes that passion for helping people achieve their health and fitness goals is crucial to being a trainer. “The health and fitness industry does require passionate individuals looking to improve people’s lives for the better. The best thing a student entering the program can do is come in with a desire to learn, an open mind and contagious attitude that is worth catching,” he says. ” I will never forget the amazing instructors and organizing staff that paved the way for success in every class. Their experience and knowledge of the field was invaluable.”

Patrick’s plans for the future are wide open. “The PFT program was simply my entry way into the fitness industry,” Patrick says. “I likely wouldn’t be furthering my education in the Bachelor of Health and Physical Education program if I hadn’t first started the PFT Diploma.”

“There are so many aspects of the industry that I would like to experience and I haven’t actually set my mind on a particular path. Completing a master’s degree is something that I’ve been considering. Teaching is another direction that has crossed my mind. I do not know where this industry will take me, but it goes without saying that wherever it is, the PFT program is largely responsible.”

— by Karen McCarthy
— photo by Krystal Hurt

PFT Students Help Calgarians Find Their Inner Athlete


Over 500 Calgarians started the new year off right at the Calgary Flames Foundation for Life’s inaugural Flames Health Training Camp at the Saddledome on Saturday, January 10.

A group of 25 Personal Fitness Trainer Diploma (PFT) students and graduates carried out the fitness testing protocols for adults and children. They worked closely with a volunteer group of physicians and MRU nursing students to assess participants’ fitness levels and provide counselling on next steps to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

This outreach event counts toward the PFT students’ practicum hours. “It was very exciting for the students and the graduates of all different years to have an opportunity to meet each other, ask each other questions and work together,” says Elaine Ori, PFT Program Coordinator and steering committee member for the Flames Health Training Camp.

Testing for adults started with the nursing students administering a risk assessment questionnaire, blood pressure reading, waist circumference measurement and body mass index calculation.

This was followed by a step test monitored by the PFT fitness testers to determine how quickly the heart rate would recover from a sub-maximal testing level.

“The risk assessment helped us determine the participants’ associated risk for things like metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease — things that we know are lifestyle-related chronic conditions that can be mitigated by lifestyle changes,” says Elaine. “They then reviewed all of their results with a physician and discussed where they need to make changes.”

This year’s Flames Health Training Camp was a pilot project but it is intended to become an annual event.

“We learned a lot from it,” Elaine says. “We learned how we can address the community a little bit more effectively to get more people involved. And we learned how the different professionals can work as an interdisciplinary team.”

“The biggest surprise was that the adults wanted to be put through their paces a little bit more. So for subsequent events we are going to look at protocols that will involve a bit more rigour,” Elaine notes.

“Even on the day of the event, we got emails from participants who said, you already changed my life,” she says. “You’ve given me that small push I needed to actually make lifestyle changes. The fitness testers, nurses and physicians were outstanding in pointing me in the direction I needed to go.”

The fitness testers also worked with children aged 8 to 12 on a series of tests including push-ups, sit-ups and timed shuttle runs. The children were thrilled when some of the Calgary Flames players came to join them.

“The kids were challenging the players to do push-ups and of course the players were compliant in letting the kids win. It was a lot of fun,” says Elaine.

Check out more photos from the event on Facebook.

Watch the Flames Foundation Health Training Camp video here.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photo by Krystal Hurt

Leadership Development Grad Works Hard and Plays Hard

Jeff JonesJeffrey Jones, a Leadership Development graduate, is our featured student for December. In fact, Jeffrey has been featured in several Continuing Education ads this fall as well as on the masthead of this blog. We are pleased to share his inspiring story.

Jeff completed the Leadership Development Extension Certificate in 2012. He had just been moved up to a supervisory role in the Calgary office of Tetra Tech, an engineering, consulting and technical services company serving the oil and gas industry. Jeff is a procurement specialist and project expeditor.

His boss encouraged Jeff to “polish up his skills” as he transitioned into a leadership role with his former colleagues, moving from friend to supervisor.

“I liked learning about the cultural part of leadership, interacting in the workplace,” Jeff says. “You can show leadership from any position and get noticed.”

Jeff was recommended as a featured graduate by instructor Joanne Leskow. “He really came into his own during the program,” she says. “At first he didn’t say much but soon he was participating and coming up with unique contributions to our discussions. My classes are very experiential. We take real-world situations that we can all learn from and Jeff provided some great input.”

Jeff liked that the classes took place on a Friday and Saturday, which he felt was a fair trade-off between his work time and his personal time. “I could apply on Monday what I learned on Friday and Saturday,” he says. “That really helped to integrate my learning. I learned from others in the class as well and the role playing exercises were great.”

“Joanne was a fantastic instructor,” he says. “She actually cares about her students and still stays in touch to see how I’m doing.”

Jeff is working toward becoming a Project Management Professional (PMP®), taking online courses from UBC and preparing to write the exam. His work experience has been accepted as prior learning by the Project Management Institute.

He likes to work hard and also play hard, especially as a rugby player. His fundraising efforts to support his team have found him doing things like jumping in the Bow River, wearing a bunny suit and dying his hair red (see the photo above – although he did put off shaving it into “weird” patterns until after his photo shoot with us.) For each stunt Jeff earned $250 from his friends and colleagues towards travelling to Argentina for a rugby tournament.

No matter what he puts his mind to, Jeff Jones gives it his all. We are proud to have him as a featured graduate.

Find out more about Jeff in this video.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photo by Michael Poon

Conflict Resolution Skills Life-Changing for Mediator

IMG_3955_md_300pxFlorence Lye earned her Conflict Resolution Extension Certificate at Mount Royal in 1997 and has been working in the field ever since.

Florence came to Canada from Malaysia with her husband in 1979. She was a stay-at-home mother with four children when she decided to take the Conflict Resolution program in the late 1990s. She was going through a divorce at the time.

When she worked through a mediator as part of the divorce process she did not find it as helpful as she would have liked, even though she was told the mediator was one of the best.

“I can do better,” she thought, and began to seek training in the field. Flipping through the Continuing Education calendar she found the Conflict Resolution program.

“The MRU Conflict Resolution program changed my life. I realized the importance of having conflict management skills while I was going through the divorce. The program gave me hope and a new lease on life,” Florence says.

Since graduating, Florence has worked in the field of mediation in the justice system. As a Chartered Mediator, Florence works for the Alberta Justice Civil Mediation Program as well as serving as a Family Mediator for Alberta Family Justice Services. During that time she has witnessed over 2,000 mediations.

She is also a Certified Life Coach and member of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She has her own consulting company, Arrow Mediations Inc. Florence also volunteers in junior and senior high schools, teaching peer mediation skills to students.

“My favourite part of the mediation process is to see the shift in people’s attitudes that allows them to come to an agreement,” she says. “They have empathy for the other person.”

“MRU has great instructors who have hands-on experience and passion in this field,” she says. “The Conflict Resolution program provided me with the skills and ability to work within the field of mediation. The curriculum is very hands-on and there are many opportunities to practice skills in class as well as in real life. I could apply what I learned right away.”

Florence is now an instructor with the Conflict Resolution Extension Certificate herself. She coaches new students as they go through the program and helps them prepare for assessments. “Going through this program as a student, a coach and now as a part-time instructor, I know that without these important life skills I would not be where I am today. I began my life journey towards being a successful mediator by taking that first step at MRU,” Florence says.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photo by Krystal Hurt

Stir Up Some Fun at Your Halloween Party

Photo courtesy of

We asked some of our expert Event staff, students and instructors for some tips to make planning a Halloween party easier and less of a terrifying task. Here are 5 tips to ensure that your party is absolutely Spooktacular!

1. Always prepare a budget and Task Chart of what needs to be done no matter how simple an event may be to ensure things are not missed or forgotten. The other tip — if you’re in need of inspiration thank goodness for Google and Pinterest.

Andrea Hennel, BA
Manager, Specialized Services in Events and Conference Services
Mount Royal University Continuing Education

2. With a holiday such as Halloween, it makes planning much easier if you select a very specific theme as a focus for your event! Consider your venue, decorations, party food, audience, and activities when selecting the theme for your event. For example, if you are hosting a party for adults, you could go with a very horrifying theme such as a haunted hospital; whereas if you are planning for children, a happier, fun Halloween theme would work better — like a pumpkin patch theme.

Carla Thebeau
General Manager with the New Brighton Residents Association
Mount Royal University Event Management Student

3. When dealing with personal event planning, I tend to go with two schools of thought: 1) keep it simple with disposable ware and make-ahead foods or even a pot luck event. 2) If it’s a more upscale event or if you have a larger group of people, hire a server to set up, serve and clean up the event. These two suggestions will greatly take the pressure off you on the day of the event, and will leave you more time to visit with your guests instead of running around, preparing and cleaning. In most cases, you can hire a professional server for $20 per hour.

Kristen Ferguson
Catering Director, Events and Conference Services
Mount Royal University Continuing Education

4. Mentally walk through what your guests will experience as they would as they attend your event. Think of places you can add a special touch so that your attendees get that feeling of being part of a “special” event. This could be a small as a treat, specialty drink or a moment that speaks volumes of what you are trying to accomplish – for Halloween it could be creepy, scary or spooky!

Jennifer James, CSEP
Event Producer
Mount Royal University Event Management Instructor

5. Hire an event planner (spoken as a true event planner)! If this isn’t an option, accept help from a few people — who offer — that you know are organized, creative and trustworthy.

Jennifer Brading, BSc(Rec), BMgmt
Event Coordinator, Events and Conference Services
Mount Royal University Continuing Education

Good luck with your event and Happy Halloween!

Find out more about our Event Management Extension Certificate or Events and Conference Services.

Business Owner Forging a Better Life

Jesse Messom - Bigfoot IndustrialHow do you measure success? For small business owner Jesse Messom, success means spending time with his family, running a profitable business and loving his job.
Bigfoot Industrial Services Ltd., which installs and services industrial equipment, came to life after Messom decided he could run a successful millwright and industrial mechanic business on his own.

Messom had the skills, the market and the drive to launch his company. But after being in business for nearly four years, he wanted to adopt an educated perspective on his existing business strategy.

“I knew that there was a way I could hone my business skills and run my business more successfully,” says Messom. In spring 2014, Messom completed the Entrepreneurship Certificate of Completion through MRU Continuing Education.

Judy McMillan-Evans, one of Messom’s entrepreneurship instructors, explains that approximately 25 per cent of students who sign up for the program are already entrepreneurs, and want to know what they can do to be more successful.

“It is a practical program. The intent is for a student to really examine their own business plan,” says McMillan-Evans.

This is a lesson that Messom has applied to his business, and it has helped him change the way he looks at his role in the company.

Messom recommends the Entrepreneur program to anyone considering starting his or her own business. “Absolutely do it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he suggests.

Messom says the most valuable thing he has learned at MRU is that “You have to find ways to work on your business, not in your business.” A self-described perfectionist, Messom is working towards offering more autonomy to his staff so that he can focus on the bigger picture.

McMillan-Evans believes Messom has found success because “He has a creative mind, he is focused and he has fortitude.” Bigfoot Industrial Services Ltd. is growing, and now Messom has the tools to prepare for the future.

For Messom, the best part of being an entrepreneur is “being the boss”. Messom is the first to acknowledge that being president of your own company means long hours, hard work and sacrifices. The benefit is that it is all within your control. His long days in the office are a reflection of his commitment to attaining success, and he knows the future of his company will benefit from his dedication.

Most importantly, Messom loves his job. Having a passion for your work is something Messom explains is pivotal to success. “If you want to start your own business, expect that you’re going to put in long hours. So whatever it is that you’re doing, make sure you enjoy doing it.”

— by Johanna Franconeri

Project Management Student Now on Advisory Committee

Blog_Parvez_F14Working towards becoming a Project Management Professional (PMP) is yet another career stepping stone for Parvez Dhalech.

Parvez came to Calgary in 1996 from his native India, where he had a degree in psychology. Not finding any work in his field, he went on to earn his diploma in Computer Science at SAIT. He started his career as a software developer in 2000, working in IT for Shaw Communications for five years and for four years in corporate sales in South Africa.

Since 2008 Parvez has been an IT consultant in oil and gas, with a client list that includes Nexen, Transcanada Pipelines, Digital Oilfield Solutions and Cenovus Energy. He is currently heading a major IT project for the City of Calgary.

During his spare time Parvez, his wife and two children have embraced Calgary’s great outdoor activities like camping, hiking and skiing.

In the spring of 2014, Parvez decided to take MRU’s Project Management Extension Certificate. He is finishing up his Final Assessment Paper, presenting the City of Calgary IT project. The next step in becoming a Project Management Professional is to write the Project Management Institute’s exam, which he will be doing in the near future.

“I heard great things about Mount Royal University before I joined. It has a reputation for helping people meet their goals,” Parvez says.

He appreciated the flexibility to take courses while working full-time. “Mount Royal offers great options for professionals — I couldn’t just put aside my projects to come to class. Working downtown and coming here two evenings a week worked very well for my schedule,” he says.

Parvez appreciated the theoretical knowledge that the program gave him to complement his years of practical project management experience. “The instructors are highly educated, currently working in the field and PMI certified,” he says. “They have a wealth of experience and knowledge which helped me learn the theory side of things.”

“The team here has a great support structure,” Parvez notes. And now he will be part of that support team. In the spring Parvez was invited to sit on the Project Management Advisory Committee as a student representative, having been recommended by one of his instructors.

The Advisory Committee is a volunteer group of industry experts — plus one student and one graduate — who meet regularly to help ensure that Mount Royal’s Project Management curriculum is current and relevant. They also develop new programs like the Project Management in Construction Extension Certificate to meet training needs in Calgary and beyond.

— by Karen McCarthy

Event Management Grad Enjoys New Challenges

Shannon Levandosky

Sometimes a career change requires a great deal of research and planning. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, why not?

That’s exactly what Shannon Levandosky did when she decided to make a move out of the oil patch into event planning.

She was considering becoming a wedding planner after working for a number of years in the petroleum industry. “I thought, why not? I found the Event Management program and gave it a try. Started the Intro course and loved it. So from there, I decided I was going to change what I was doing – change my entire career – and I really wanted to get through the program quickly. I loved every second of it. I loved meeting the people. I enjoyed interacting with the instructors.”

Shannon completed the certificate program within a year and a half, finishing in June 2013. She chose the classroom version of Mount Royal’s Event Management program, rather than the online version.

“I am a visual learner and I need to interact. I found that being in the classroom was really beneficial, to meet all the people, to meet the instructors from the industry. It opened my eyes to more than just wedding coordinating, because there’s just such a wide variety of event management out there.”

Shannon credits the MRU program with jump-starting her new career, landing a job before she even finished. “I think the program has been a key factor in my career. It gave me the confidence to go out and apply for positions, having no formal event management experience. And I think that was key – they saw that I was dedicated to finishing the program, and that those skills I was going to learn were going to help,” she notes.

In her new role, Shannon is part of a team that manages events ranging from business meetings to Christmas and Stampede parties to large-scale conferences.

Shannon values the hands-on, practical training she received. “Learning about how to put it all together, I could take everything that I learned and apply it to a real scenario.”

For anyone interested in event planning, Shannon recommends starting with the introductory course like she did. “It gave me a really good flavour for what the rest of the program was going to be like.”

Down the road, Shannon would like to move into a management role. “I really enjoy what I’m doing right now. I’m learning a lot because it’s my first role. I think I’d probably like to be leading that team one day.”

Shannon lives in Calgary with her husband and 6-year-old son. Family is front and centre during her time off. “We spend a lot of family time together. We go for bike rides, go to Fish Creek Park, that kind of stuff.”

Hear what Shannon has to say about her experiences in the Event Management program.

— by Karen McCarthy