The Employee of the Month has been crowned at the Millrise Shoppers Drug Mart. Her name is Sabrina Falconer and she’s a student in MRU Continuing Education’s Transitional Vocational Program (or TVP) and she is, as her manager described, “a ray of sunshine.”
Pasquale Tumato is the Front Store Manager at the location, further describes the honouree, “She’s got an infectious personality.”
A committee that includes Tumato chooses the Employee of the Month title. “We solicit opinions from the staff,” he says, “whoever possesses the most attributes we’re looking for in that month gets it.” As to why, after a mere five months in this position, Falconer should be granted this title, Tumato explains, “She has an excellent attitude. Her customer service skills and the fact that she’s willing to do anything at any time… with her smile and outgoing personality.”
Along with bragging rights, Tumato mentions that she gets, “the public recognition, and that of the staff. She gets a letter from the association and a gift card as well.”
All of this is exciting for Falconer. She glows, “It made me feel amazing. I work so hard. Trying my hardest and becoming the Employee of the Month is, like… awesome!”
Her position has a variety of roles for her to explore. She notes, “I do stock. Put the order out onto the floor or in the back. Chips… I fill the chips and beverage carts.” All of her responsibilities seem to rely on her sunny disposition since they’re all client facing.
Her favourite part is, “Coming in to see the customers. I’m a big people person.”
The toughest challenge, she admits, “I’m learning cash. How to do the lottery.” This high-demand ticket checking and selling system is something that even Tumato admits to being stumped by. With her character-defining positivity, she adds, “But the best part about life are the challenges and learning.”
This is the first time Tumato has arranged a work placement with MRU’s TVP Program, and it won’t be his last. The experience has been wonderful. We’ve had a couple other programs that didn’t work as well. This one (MRU) has worked really well.”
To give credit where it’s due, “Sabrina is a huge part of the success, but the support she gets is huge.” Tumato states.
She has an equally sunny outlook on her program. “I would recommend it to others who have learning disabilities or to others who are having trouble getting into the workplace. “
Falconer values her association with Shoppers. She’s scheduled to be here until the end of March, but says, “I could extend the contract until I get hired, or might try another work experience (placement).” But for now, she knows, “I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Paul Gray is a ‘glass-half-full’ type of guy.
Despite being diagnosed with Rhabdomyosacroma (a rare form of cancer usually found in children) upon starting his PFT program at MRU Continuing Education, he persevered and graduated the program this last spring.
But that’s not where his journey started.
His first career was as a consulting accountant in the oil and gas industry. “Oil companies employ a huge number of accountants,” he quantifies, “25% of their workforce.” A self-described accounting problem solver, Gray was involved in a start-up company with a friend. “I was the accountant. So, I did everything – all revenue, production, financial statements… you name it.”
He was good with numbers, but his calling came from elsewhere. “My ultimate dream was to get into outdoor pursuits.” Feeling the winds of change, he faced his reality, “I would have stayed in that career if I could do it for three days a week, but they kept hiring younger.” Answering the call, “I registered for the Personal Fitness Trainer Program.”
Both Gray’s process of learning and his road to recovery were elevated by the culture of camaraderie within the program. “The support I received from my fellow students both in the year I started and the year I finished was exceptional.” he admits. “I am so appreciative for this program, the knowledge base, the instructors, the MRU facility and my fellow students that I feel it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery on his affected leg, Gray’s tumour has been removed and he is three-years cancer free. All the while, he has been forwarding his next career.
As a personal fitness trainer, he is now focused on supporting others’ adventures and fitness goals, while he continues to train and heal. “I had an idea for a business,” Gray declares, “Kachina Fitness, named after the Hopi kachinas which are the spirits that represent all the essences of life.”
Kachina Fitness is focused on helping others plan and train for their adventures. “My target demographic all along was my friends, the aging baby-boomers, who are not getting their regular exercise.”
Gray has a lot of goals and a lot of optimism that he (and his clients) will achieve them. At age 55, and rebuilding his endurance in his leg, he admits, “I feel accomplished for me. My success is just thankfulness and gratitude to be alive and with hopes and dreams of skiing, climbing and hiking across the Grand Canyon again.”
A new career is a new journey and, as Gray reminds us, the saying goes, “every journey starts with a single step.” Paul Gray coaches those making similar transitions to reframe their success. “Life now is – don’t look at what I can’t do – look at what I can do.” Measure it not by what has been lost or taken away, but what you can do with what you have left. “I want to measure my life on how many times I visit the Grand Canyon.”
Start your own adventure here.
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Dawn O’Byrne is like many young women. Her reality wasn’t quite fitting her dream.
“I actually came here (MRU) a few years ago to do Open Studies,” she attests. But, like many, her grades weren’t what she wanted them to be, her focus waivered and her heart wasn’t in it. It seemed she needed time to find herself before she could find her career.
O’Byrne describes her post high school choices, “I really struggled in the past to find a career direction and I felt like my focus at that time was more on my identity.”
She recently enrolled in MRU Continuing Education’s Education Assistant program. “Now,” she says, “I feel like my focus is on where do I see myself career-wise.“
Her story is a familiar one to many of the full-time programs at MRU Continuing Education where a student might not find their stride in traditional education streams. Like O’Byrne, they have to ask themselves if they’d like an office job, or something different.
“I really like helping people,” O’Byrne suggests, “I want to be in a profession that gives back.” Her current practicum placement at Bishop Carroll High School is offering her the opportunity she needs to do just that. And what’s more? She’s succeeding.
“The difference between then and now is that I take my work very seriously.” She glows. “So, I’m more academic now and my grades are wicked!”
As an educator, O’Byrne longs to pass this experience onto others. “The commitment is huge,” she admits, “But having a sense of belonging makes me feel like a stronger individual. I can just be myself.”
That sense of enthusiasm is an enviable one. It’s the sense of pride of one who is actively fulfilling a life-long passion. “Now, when I wake up,” she relays, “I’m not stressed. I can’t wait to get to school… and my practicum.”
“It’s even more fulfilling because this is a career I know I can still be happy doing in twenty years or more.” She smiles, ”I feel like I’m living my dream. I couldn’t be happier.”
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When you meet Kofi Wiafe in the office or on the basketball court, it’s clear that the success he’s had has all been on his own terms.
A self-driven individual, Kofi was feeling trapped in a decade-long comfort job in manufacturing. He explains, “I didn’t want to get stuck in a position where there was no growth and no opportunity.”
“In manufacturing,” he instructs, “you’re seeing he raw inventory and building it into a finished product.“ Kofi knew the inside of the business inside out, but outside his manufacturing position, there was more to understand about the logistics and procurement of the products being manufactured. “I wanted to be able to learn more,” he admits. So, he went to his manager with five words, “How can I move up?”
His manager suggested the Supply Chain Management program at MRU Continuing Education. He completed his certification, while working full-time, in just two years. His reason was his drive, “I wanted to keep the information fresh in my mind.”
As for the course content, Wiafe says, “the instructors were great. The information was fantastic. It was all real-world experience, which I appreciated.”
Always striving for his personal best, Wiafe admits there were some challenges along the way, “Sometimes it’s really easy to quit.” he says about the workload, “but committing yourself to a program while working full-time really shows the type of drive a person has.”
He didn’t walk through the doors of MRU without a second thought, Kofi admits to being scared initially. “Even though I knew that going back to school would be a scary thing to do, the reward that would come after was greater than the fear.” Its times like these where he assessed his motivation and decided, “I’m just going to do it… for the growth, for the career development, personal satisfaction — and it’s rewarding financially.”
Once his certification was complete, he realized that his current company couldn’t offer further growth or opportunity. He had hit his ceiling. So, despite friends and colleagues saying, “You’re crazy. Why would you leave an environment you’ve been in for ten years? You know the system, they treat you well here… why would you want to leave?” Kofi put himself in market for a new position.
Again, drive conquers fear.
“I figured if I could get into the oil and gas industry at the time where it’s down and be able to ride the wave, then in the upswing,” he planned, ”I’d be there for years and years ahead.”
Kofi was offered a job at TransCanada Pipelines. He traded in his manufacturing t-shirt and lab coat for a suit and now occupies an office in downtown Calgary.
And the rewards? “Financial benefit.” He sites first. “There’s no worrying about if I’m in the right position or if I’m making enough money to take care of my family today, tomorrow and ten years down the road.” Not one to over-indulge in luxury, he admits to some practical perks, “vacations and activities change a little bit. Instead of one week’s vacation, I can take a two week one in Mexico…or wherever.” With a smile, he also fulfils a personal victory, “It allowed me to purchase a new vehicle – a 2015. It’s dependable and reliable. I don’t have to worry about putting money into it.”
He also mentions some intangible benefits regarding his future, “Growth. There’s endless room for opportunity. “I came in as a senior Performance Management Specialist,” he states, then strategizes, “my goal is to work towards management, then director, and VP.” He lays out the game plan, “The goal was to get in the door and work my way up.” If we were to look at the running scoreboard, it’s a sure bet that he’ll achieve all of these goals.
Looking back from his high-rise office, Wiafe reflects on the achievement, “Wow I did this.” He sighs. “I made a commitment to go back to school and look for something better – and achieved that.” To others contemplating taking a big risk to break through their own personal ceiling, he has this simple advice, “You’ve got to let your fears go – and take the next steps.”
As if the time was running down on the basketball court’s shot clock, he stops reminiscing to turn his thoughts again to strategizing what’s next. With a score like Kofi Wiafe’s, you know he’ll always take the shot.
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