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Family, history, legacy

As Cambrian College alumni, you are part of a prestigious network of more than 70,000 graduates applying their skills and expertise across the globe. You are also a life-long member of the Cambrian family, comprised of a strong network of engaged individuals. Through your participation and support, this network will only continue to grow.

Together, you help make up Cambrian’s rich history and help to shape its future. As we raise the bar, we invite you to strengthen your tie to Cambrian. Our community is strong, we are committed and our passion is contagious. Together, we are all members of the #CambrianCommunity.

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As you continue on your path in life, fulfilling your potential and acting as a Cambrian College ambassador, we encourage you to stay connected with us. We take great pride in your personal and professional successes and want to celebrate and support your achievements. Through this on-going connection, we can also inform you of opportunities, activities and events that may be beneficial to you during your journey, and we want to have some fun along the way.

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Alumni Profiles

Being a Cambrian alumnus means being part of almost a half-century of history. You are part of a community with nearly 60,000 Cambrian alumni. Our #CambrianCommunity is built on success and hard work, and is one that’s growing every day.

chris alumni

Chris O’Neil

Music Performance, 2000

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That’s why I love what I do; inspiring others keeps me motivated. I especially like leading student orientation events at Cambrian, because it allows me to give back to the place that launched my career.

Chris O’Neil knows how to energize a crowd. Originally from Cambridge, Ontario, Chris uses interactive African drumming as a powerful tool to build team spirit, empower employees, and ignite positive energy in students and faculty across Canada. “People often start out with inhibitions, but once you’re able to connect and realize that we each have a unique contribution to make, we move towards a common purpose – that’s when the transformation really begins to happen,” he says of his affection for drumming.

O’Neil, who graduated in 2000 from Cambrian College’s three-year Diploma of Applied Arts with a major in Music Performance, has travelled all over the world with his drum. His passport includes stamps from Mali, Guinea, Israel, Mexico and Hawaii. In Africa, he sought cross-cultural experiences and practice opportunities; elsewhere, he was facilitating workshops and bringing people together through the love of drumming.

In Canada, O’Neil has led groups in Montreal, Newfoundland, Vancouver, Niagara Falls and Windsor – to name but a few destinations.

“Drumming is very honest – you can’t really hide behind it, so however you’re feeling, it comes out in the music,” he explains. “It’s a way to ground yourself. It helps us realize we’re all connected – it’s a universal language. It levels the playing field and puts everyone on the same page.”

As a student at Cambrian College, O’Neil believed he would end up working as a music teacher or a full-time performer. After graduating, he moved to Vancouver to further his studies in the music performance program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and it was then that he began performing and leading workshops. The rest fell into place and O’Neil’s career as a group facilitator was born.

“Being in front of people and inspiring people and motivating them – it’s what I love to do,” he says. “I love to see the transformation that happens.”

In addition to providing his academic foundations, O’Neil credits Cambrian with nurturing the soft skills he would later rely upon as a facilitator.

“I had an incredible time meeting a lot of people and building lasting relationships, and gaining a lot of life lessons,” he says. “It helped me to develop my personality and framed the way I interact with other people.” O’Neil also staged guerrilla performances throughout the school.

“I put myself out there and met a lot of people,” he says. “Cambrian’s a real community and that community developed outside of the music department. By getting out there and making myself visible, I was able to make a lot of connections.”

Over the years, O’Neil has lent his talents to dance companies and symphonies, but since 2003, when he founded Drum Café’s Toronto location, his primary focus has been on team building and energizing people. Using drumming as a motivational tool, Chris leads school or corporate events, conferences and social gatherings and engages people of all ages in the joy of rhythms.

“The heart of these events is the interaction that takes place, which ignites some kind of change or movement towards the goal of the event,” he explains. “That’s why I love what I do; inspiring others keeps me motivated. I especially like leading student orientation events at Cambrian, because it allows me to give back to the place that launched my career.”

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Suzanne Bernier

Journalism, 1988

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I became the first female uniformed emergency management field officer in Ontario. I’m proud to say I paved the way for other young women in this field…

She has a diminutive stature and a smile that could span an ocean. After speaking with her for approximately 10 minutes, it’s impossible to overlook how much Suzanne Bernier loves her life. She admits her career path would not suit everyone – long hours and lots of travel during times of crisis – but for Bernier, life as an emergency management and business continuity consultant and instructor means there is rarely a dull moment. “My family includes incredible people from all over the world, who’ve come together to rebuild communities and to help save lives,” she says. “To me, that’s an incredible family to have.”

In 2015, she released her first book, Disaster Heroes: Invisible Champions of Help, Hope and Healing, and with that, she has added the role of author to her CV. “It’s about ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things to help respond, rebuild, and recover after some of the world’s most significant modern disasters,” she says. “I’m lucky to be involved enough to see what really happens during disasters – the other side of disaster. It’s not just about what you see in the media – the deaths and destruction and devastation – but what you don’t see. It’s also about all the great things that happen in the aftermath, like communities coming together and individuals pulling together to help their fellow neighbours.”

Bernier was raised in North Bay and graduated from Cambrian College’s journalism program in 1988. She was hired at the age of 19 by a local radio station. After two years, she was lured away from broadcast journalism and offered a job at Queen’s Park as communications advisor for the (then) Minister of Northern Development and Mines, and then for the Attorney General’s office. In 1997, she joined Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) as their Communications Advisor. But almost as soon as she started, Suzanne knew she didn’t want to just talk about all the great work EMO and their Field Officers did, she wanted to become one.

“At first, they didn’t want to hire me as a Field Officer because I was a female,” she recalls. “But I fought for it, and in the end I won. I became the first female uniformed emergency management field officer in Ontario. I’m proud to say I paved the way for other young women in this field.”

Over the course of her career, Bernier has responded to disasters throughout North America, including the 1998 ‘Ice Storm of the Century’, 9/11, the 2003 Northeast Blackout, SARS, Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012), and many other disasters or crises. In the months following Hurricane Katrina, Bernier was part of a team of crisis consultants who rebuilt fire halls, homes, community gardens, schools and other critical infrastructure throughout the city of New Orleans. She returns on a regular basis to help recover and rebuild her ‘second home’ of New Orleans.

While the number of women working in emergency management has increased over the past 25 years, Bernier contends it remains a male-dominated field; however, she says women should not feel dissuaded from pursuing such a career.

“It’s still challenging, but as long as you know your stuff and you can go in and show people that you know what you’re talking about, and can act responsibly and fairly, you’ll gain people’s respect,” she says. “Be strong, but understand you’re not there to lead or to be the number one person. Emergency management is all about teamwork. No single person has ever saved a community from disaster.”

Bernier admits she has made sacrifices to sculpt her life. She has missed weddings and birthdays, births and funerals. She says she has likely lost a friend or two along the way. She is not married, and has never had children. But she would have it no other way and encourages young people, especially female students, to “do what makes you happy and life will work out.”

Hers is a life lived uniquely, exuberantly and fully complete.

“I cry with joy regularly when I have the time to reflect and to look back on my life. I think about how lucky I’ve been to help, and to meet such amazing, incredible leaders from across the world. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I think my path has led me to this place, because I was meant to be here,” Bernier muses. “The fulfillment I get makes me feel so fortunate. That’s worth more than any pay cheque could offer.”

Meet Thakkar

Meet Thakkar

Dental Hygiene, 2015

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I’m a bit ambitious. Whenever I go somewhere, I try to involve myself as much as possible. I wanted to immerse myself into the community, to learn what Canadian culture is about; I wanted to excel in each aspect of college, not just the academics.

Meet Thakkar, a Dental Hygiene graduate from Cambrian College, is definitely a high achiever and a bit of an international star. At his graduation in 2015, Thakkar, who hails from India, earned an advanced diploma and Cambrian’s highest honour, the President’s Gold Medal, in recognition of his academic excellence and his outstanding contributions to the community.

Soon after graduation, Thakkar became a registered dental hygienist and joined a busy dental clinic in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Always an ambitious and involved student, Thakkar’s next step in his career was to set his sights on dentistry. He applied and was accepted to the University of Manitoba’s prestigious College of Dentistry. His admission to a Canadian dentistry school was a well-deserved reward for an individual who’s demonstrated tremendous commitment to dental health and to the overall well-being of others.

At Cambrian, Thakkar was highly engaged in academic pursuits and student life. In addition to maintaining a perfect GPA of 4.0, he was the class representative for his program and the first international student representative on the College’s Board of Governors. He won a Canadian Dental Hygienists Association national student essay contest in August 2013 for writing about student-led oral health advocacy efforts, and he volunteered as a peer tutor on campus, and at a local church. In early 2014, Thakkar was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from the College Student Alliance in recognition of his student leadership.

As an international student, his dedicated commitment to the community was motivated by his desire for authentic Canadian engagement. Thakkar studied dentistry for five years in India and is a certified dentist in his homeland, but he chose to pursue Dental Hygiene at Cambrian College because he wanted an international experience. This experience extended beyond Canadian borders, as Thakkar fundraised and participated in class mission trip to Costa Rica, during which Dental Hygiene students volunteered their skills and knowledge to enhance oral and overall health in local communities. All of the students on the trip appreciated the chance to increase their international exposure, and for Thakkar, the trip was another chance to build on his multi-cultural experience.

“I’m a bit ambitious,” he says. “Whenever I go somewhere, I try to involve myself as much as possible. I wanted to immerse myself into the community and to learn about Canadian culture; I wanted to excel in each aspect of college, not just the academics.”

Despite the list of accolades that he’s earned, Thakkar remained modest and generous, helping other international students adjust to campus life.

“When new students would arrive, I would try to help them by guiding them and introducing them to others,” he says. “When I came, I didn’t know anything about this country or city. I don’t even have relatives in Canada.”

Thakkar has gained international recognition for his accomplishments and altruistic endeavours. In December 2013, he was featured in International Student Voice magazine for his academic excellence, passionate approach to promoting oral health care, and extra-curricular activities throughout the community.

Despite hitting a few obstacles during the first couple of months in Canada, Thakkar says his experience has been positive – he even enjoyed the seemingly endless wintry weather that blanketed Sudbury in 2013-14.

“The most valuable thing I learned while attending Cambrian College is how to build new connections and networks,” he notes. “From my experience on the Board of Governors and as a member of its Presidential Search Committee, I have inculcated a new approach to leadership. I also learned how to maintain balance between personal, academic and professional responsibilities.”

He attributes some of his good memories to a local family he met soon after arriving, saying he has become part of their family. Thakkar, a Hindu, even attended Christmas mass with his “new relatives.”

“I’ve had many positive forces,” he muses whimsically. “What I’ve found here is that if you want to achieve anything – if you try, people will notice. It’s been pretty smooth for me.”

Before graduation, Thakkar voiced his ambitious career aspirations, and he’s well on his way to bringing them to fruition. He’s expecting to graduate from dentistry school in 2018, and is considering a specialization in public health, which is perfectly aligned with his mission to improve oral and overall health for all people.

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Yves Dalcourt

Business - Marketing, 1990

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The advantage I have is my ability to advance practical decision-making. My decisions haven’t been based on textbooks. I’m street smart. The reality of business happens on the floor, not in a book.

Yves Dalcourt has a few words of wisdom for new graduates.

“It’s important to set some goals and to create an action plan; I set mine in five-year increments,” he notes. “You need patience to grow into a career. Students need to sit back and ask themselves where they want to be at 30, 35, 40, etc. – and really stick to it.”

Dalcourt is a 1990 graduate of the Business-Marketing program at Cambrian College. He spent years working his way to the top, with positions at Proctor & Gamble, Black & Decker, Mars Canada, Miele, American Standard, and LG Electronics along the way. Currently President of Miele Canada, Dalcourt is responsible for leading the company’s strategic growth and development for the Canadian market, which entails bringing continuous innovation to retailers and consumers. Previously, he was General Manager of American Standard Brands Canada, and prior to that, he was Vice President of Sales at Miele Canada.

For Dalcourt, after gaining general manager experience at American Standard, returning to Miele as President shows his career plan paid off. “You have to manage your own career,” he explained. “If you need additional industry experience and opportunities aren’t available at your current company, sometimes it means you need to secure that experience elsewhere. When you’re thinking about your career, you have to look at it objectively and make the necessary moves to ensure that you will be successful in the long-term.” Long-term success, achieved through continuous improvement is a hallmark of Miele as well. In 1899, the company’s founders inscribed the words “Forever Better” on their first products.

Dalcourt has built a strong reputation as a leader, but there are also other aspects of the retail business that stimulate him. “I’m very excited when we have a new product,” Dalcourt says. “The relationships with customers and consumers are so important, but mostly I love introducing new products that make life easier.”

He still uses the practical knowledge he acquired at Cambrian College and credits the school, in part, for his rise to platinum status.

“I’ve competed against MBA graduates throughout my entire career,” he notes. “The advantage I have is my ability to advance practical decision-making. My decisions haven’t been based on textbooks. I’m street smart. The reality of business happens on the floor, not in a book.”

Dalcourt is passionate about his job – a necessity to achieve success in the highly- competitive corporate world – and advises those considering a career in business and marketing to really consider the field before diving in.

“(This industry) is not for everybody – you have to understand what gets you excited, what gets you up in the morning,” he says. “For me, going to work is a passion. I don’t have to kick myself out of bed. You have to be passionate about what you do, regardless of your field. You’re going to spend a lot of time at work, with your colleagues and so on, so you’ve got to make sure it’s the right avenue for you.”

He also advises taking time for people – sincerity and authenticity go a long way in his industry. Dalcourt has made it a routine practice to try to meet each and every employee. He also prioritizes quality customer service and believes that nurturing good relationships is the core of any successful business venture.

“Face-to-face interaction for me is so much better (than phone or e-mail),” he says.

Dalcourt practices this sage advice at home, as well. Down time is a priority for the busy executive, but he and his family still meet at least twice weekly for full-fledged family dinners – not always an easy accomplishment with two teenaged daughters in the mix.

“Work-life balance is an important part of my responsibility as a father and husband,” Dalcourt says. “I can’t just consider myself and my job. My wife and I need to be there for our kids as much as possible. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got that family time.”

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Julia Fedec

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, 2011

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It has taken me a long time to not only accept who I am, but to like who I am. I’m proud of myself for jumping into this adventure and for opening my heart and mind to self-discovery, for accepting people as they are and for forgiving – or letting go of – the things in life and the qualities in people that I can’t control.

Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree1 in 2011, Julia Fedec accepted a position at Guelph General Hospital. But two years later, wanderlust struck and in November 2013, she moved to England to complete a nursing diploma in tropical medicine at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

In February 2014, the 26-year-old boarded another plane – this time to Tanzania. She spent five months volunteering in Arusha (in the northern part of the country) as a nurse with the Upone Medical Dispensary Foundation, a non-profit clinic established in 2007. It was modest – just three small buildings that included the main reception area, a small procedure room, consultation rooms, a lab, a four-bed in-patient ward, the doctor’s office and staff quarters.

She admits to some mild – but pleasant – culture shock.

“From the moment I set foot in Tanzania, a mixture of emotions left me both grateful and overwhelmed,” Fedec explains. “The kindness and generosity of the locals, and their incredibly welcoming nature left me feeling humbled. I became a familiar face during my daily 10 km walk to the clinic, with community members greeting me every morning, and often inviting me in to their homes for tea and food.”

Fedec’s passion for global health was confirmed during her third year at Cambrian College, when she and her classmates travelled to India to volunteer for three weeks in rural clinics. She says the experience reinforced her decision to study nursing and taught her that “no matter where you are in the world, people need to be taken care of and nurses are needed.”

Fedec has immense respect for her medical colleagues in Tanzania, but acknowledges that resource shortages could be trying at times.

“They have almost no access to gloves or hand sanitizer, let alone hand soap. They try their best to keep themselves and the clinic clean in order to reduce the risk of infection and the spread of disease,” she contends. “Our three-building clinic shared only two buckets and two mops, which were used to clean the floors with plain tap water. Surfaces and beds were wiped clean on a weekly basis, either with tap water, or with occasional chlorine powder when it was available.”

Fedec also cites power outages, missing parts and material scarcity as daily challenges.

“Our used syringes and sharps were disposed into overflowing cardboard boxes and when full, they were simply thrown into a hole dug in the ground,” she explains. “Our mom and baby clinics ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and were often dysfunctional and chaotic as we lacked syringes and medications to vaccinate the children. We often had to ask mothers to return later, when we had the money to replenish our medicinal dispensary cabinet.”

Despite resource shortfalls, the experience was life-changing. Fedec expanded her knowledge of tropical medicine, but mostly she learned to nurture herself and to be a kinder, gentler person.

“It has taken me a long time to not only accept who I am, but to like who I am,” Fedec says with uncommon honesty. “I’m proud of myself for jumping into this adventure and for opening my heart and mind to self-discovery, for accepting people as they are and for forgiving – or letting go of – the things in life and the qualities in people that I can’t control.”

She also got in touch with her ancestral roots.

“In 1942, my grandmother and many others were displaced from their homes in Poland and sent to live as refugees in the village of Tengeru, which is about 30 minutes outside Arusha,” Fedec explains. “As I walked through a mesmerizing, deeply forested tropical paradise, it gave me comfort knowing my grandmother lived in such a wonderful place during a wildly devastating time. Today, many of the landmarks remain immaculately preserved, including the school, hospital and cemetery.”

These days she knows the nursing program was the right choice, but early in her studies, Fedec was less certain.

“I knew I wanted to be in the medical field and specifically wanted to work with children. When I graduated from high school, I was overwhelmed with the idea of choosing my career path, so I settled on Cambrian’s Pre-Health diploma,” she explains. “I grew interested in nursing and thought it would be beneficial to have both theoretical and practical knowledge, should I decide to go to medical school in the future, and, that should all else fail, I was employable after graduation. Most importantly, I could help people.”

Cambrian’s small class sizes nurtured strong relationships with the faculty and staying in Sudbury – her hometown – meant she could connect with her community.

In September 2014, Fedec began a Master of Science in international public health in the United Kingdom, but she hopes to return to Sudbury some day.

“What pushes me is knowing there’s a possibility of returning to Cambrian College as a member of the nursing faculty and collaborating with the group that taught me the ropes,” she says.

[1]: Cambrian College, Northern College, Sault College and St. Lawrence College are part of a Collaborative Nursing Program, delivering a common curriculum leading to a Laurentian University degree.

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Paul Ricker

Mining Engineering Technology, 2014

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What interested me about mining is that it’s hands-on; with telecommunications, you couldn’t see it, couldn’t touch it – it’s all ones and zeroes. With mining and mining technology, you can see it and put your hands on it – you can go underground. It’s real. You’re not necessarily stuck in an office for eight hours a day, looking at a screen.

It took him some time, but Paul Ricker has finally met his career match. Returning to school in his early 30s, Ricker graduated in May 2014 as a mature student from the three-year Mining Engineering Technology program at Cambrian College. After those three years, he says with a smile that the highlight of his education was crossing the stage at convocation.

As a Cambrian student, he earned two consecutive Governor General Awards for maintaining outstanding grade point averages of 97 percent (when he graduated from the two-year Mining Engineering Technician program) and 96.93 percent (when he graduated with an advanced diploma as a Mining Engineering Technologist).  Along the way, he also received the J.P. Bickell Foundation Mining Scholarship; the Daniel Labelle Memorial Scholarship; the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Bursary; and the Xylem Scholarship. In total, Ricker received more than $24,000 in academic awards. It made a difference.

“The Cambrian Foundation awards made it possible for me to do as well as I did,” he says. “They helped immensely. I didn’t have the financial pressures that many of my classmates had, which meant I could focus on school.”

Ricker, who hails from Arnprior, which is outside of Ottawa, had earned a bachelor of engineering in telecommunications from Carleton University, as well as a computer security certificate from Algonquin College, but he had trouble finding steady work.

Before enrolling at Cambrian College, he worked for a while as a fly fishing guide and instructor, but admits that while it was enjoyable, “it didn’t pay the bills,” especially since he spent most of his earnings on new fishing equipment.

Ricker wanted a hands-on career, not a desk job. He hired a career coach who looked at his skills and abilities and then developed a list of jobs that would be most suitable for him.

“What interested me about mining is that it’s hands-on; with telecommunications, you couldn’t see it, couldn’t touch it – it’s all ones and zeroes,” he says with a laugh. “With mining and mining technology, you can see it and put your hands on it – you can go underground. It’s real. You’re not necessarily stuck in an office for eight hours a day, looking at a screen.”

He chose Cambrian College for its three-year, accredited program, as well as its opportunities for experiential learning. “You get to use the equipment, rather than just learning about it,” Ricker explains. “Being able to take classes and labs underground was great. I wish we could have gone underground more often.”

Although he had been through a university program, Ricker admits he was surprised by the amount of work involved in his third year, but says small classes meant that students got ample one-on-one time with faculty. “They were quite personable and we were able to ask them lots of questions,” he adds.

After graduation, Ricker found work at Tulloch Engineering in Sudbury, where he spent his days drafting, surveying underground and doing fieldwork. At the time, he said he hoped to develop his career in another direction. “I would like to be on-site at a mine, either as a planner or an estimator, or as a designer,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where – even if it’s a fly-in location – I’m not too particular. Being on a mine site is more interesting and more dynamic than being in an office all day.”

Nine months later, that dream began to materialize. In March 2015, Ricker moved to Thompson, Manitoba, where he began working at Vale as a mine survey technician. In this role, he worked underground almost every day, using survey equipment to install line and grade plugs, before returning to the surface to create prints for the miners.

In January 2016, Ricker was promoted to mine planner, where he will work to identify efficiencies and opportunities for the sandfill system for the operation’s T1 and T3 sites.  On top of that, he will soon take on the added responsibility of production planning, where he will use information provided by geologists to plan the best way to extract ore from the site. “That’s a simplified version of what I do,” explained Ricker, who’s obviously enjoying the dynamic pace and new challenges that keep coming his way.

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Cambrian College Alumni
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