When Sarah Kowalevsky graduated with her music diploma in 2001, MacEwan University was a very different place. “It was a community college when I left,” she says.
And Kowalevsky has grown and changed since those days too – she's still passionate about music – she plays in cover band Five on the Side with her husband Justin – but her career is in fund development. She's spent more than a decade connecting with people at the University of Alberta, and now, as a member of MacEwan’s Alumni Advisory Council she wants to help other MacEwan alumni find their place in her alma mater. “I want to connect with people just like me who might have been out of touch and bring them back,” she says.
We talked to Kowalevsky about her memories of the old Jasper Place campus, getting involved as an alum and a little dance affectionately known as the "MacEwan Shuffle."
Q. What inspired you to join the Alumni Advisory Council?
I'd been away from MacEwan for such a long time, so it was a great way to get reconnected and to give back. I think I'm a pretty good advocate for the MacEwan music program, but joining the Alumni Advisory Council gave that advocacy a clear purpose.
Q. How much has MacEwan changed since its community college days? How will you connect with other alumni who feel the institution has changed significantly since they left?
When I was at MacEwan, my program was at the old Jasper Place campus and it was just so tight there – it was small and everyone knew everyone. Even when we had to take electives, we shied away from going to the main campus. Now I'm on this council with so many great people who really got involved in campus life when they were students and I feel like a bit of an outsider that way – I wasn’t on the main campus. I was never part of the SAMU executive.
But now I can show alumni how they can give back now. If you want to get involved with your university, all you have to do is raise your hand. I didn't do that when I was in school, but that’s okay – it’s not too late.
Q. What is your most vivid MacEwan memory?
All of the rehearsals that went super late, working with our peers and playing in all sorts of different bands. It was empowering in a way – we were all creating music with our friends and kind of forgot about everything else. We were in our own little world.
Q. What is the one thing that you associate with your time at MacEwan?
Anyone who went to the Jasper Place campus at that time would say Brado’s Pizza on Stony Plain Road. Everyone would go there to hang out and do karaoke. I didn’t go there quite as often as some of my classmates because I wasn’t a big partier, but it was the spot that everyone would frequent just to get away from all the stress and let loose a little bit.
I would also say we had fantastic faculty members when we went. Bob Gilligan was the chair of the music program at the time, and he was the creator of this thing we called the "MacEwan Shuffle" — this little sidestep that vocal students would have to do while performing. It was Bob’s way of making sure we relaxed and moved while we were performing, because nobody wants to see a stiff board up on stage. The MacEwan Shuffle was an easy way to get us moving, even if it was a little cheesy. None of us will ever forget it.
Q. What’s your favourite song to cover with your band and why?
“I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross. There’s a trumpet solo in that song and I do the trumpet sound with my mouth and that always surprises people. The other one would probably be “Sweet Child O' Mine” By Guns N’ Roses. Even though I have a jazz background from MacEwan, I like to embrace my inner rock star.
Q. What’s the key to creating a good setlist?
We usually structure our sets in 15-song increments. I like to go on with a bang – something uptempo that's going to get people on the floor immediately. Then we keep them at that energy level for a few songs. By around the sixth or seventh song, I throw in a ballad, because people are tired and by then, their partners are saying to them, “Come on, honey, this is the only dance you have to come up for.” And then we start to slowly ramp it up again before ending with another bang.
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