Meet the Fall Class of 2016

November 15, 2016

Congratulations to the Fall Class of 2016

MacEwan University is proud of the Class of 2016. No student is the same—their journeys to graduate are as unique as they are. Here they share the stories of the (sometimes rocky) roads they took to reach the Convocation stage—and the dreams they have for the future.



Esperance Madera, Bachelor of Science, Biological Sciences


In Zimbabwe, I was exposed to the health care system at a young age because my grandmother was a nurse and I saw so many inequalities in health care. I wanted to see us all do better. I wanted to help and I wanted to use my education to give back to the community. (I had forgotten until recently, but a childhood friend reminded me that back in Grade 3, I told her I wanted to be a doctor.)

I came to Canada for my post-secondary education, knowing I wanted to study biology and eventually medicine. I came to MacEwan two years into my degree and was able to do so many different things, including a research project on sexual dimorphism in crickets. I feel like that project was the highlight of my university experience, which wasn’t about going to class, studying and writing an exam—it was a chance to apply the skills I was learning, to grow and do something that I was really proud of.

Right now I’m studying in a global MD program in Antigua and it feels a bit like trying to take a drink out of a water hose, but I love it. Canada will be my first stop when I’m finished my medical degree, but I chose this program because I want to go wherever I’m needed in the world. 


Erica Loh, Bachelor of Arts, Honours Psychology


When I was really young, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I think that was really what got me interested in psychology and learning about clinical illnesses.

I never really thought I would be interested in research, but looking back I think that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of. I worked on a study where we tested an anti-anxiety drug on zebra fish. It was new and novel—something nobody had looked at before. We did several anxiety tests and measured different variables, including shoaling—a behaviour in fish where they swim more closely together when they feel anxious. When we gave them an anti-anxiety drug, we found that they spread out more, demonstrating signs of decreased anxiety.

Doing that research also meant presenting it in Canada and internationally. The first time I had to speak to a room of 100 people I was terrified, but pushing myself out of my comfort zone made me a much better writer and speaker.

Now I’m applying to study neuroscience at grad school. It’s an opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do—research the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s and looking for cures and preventative measures.


Kyle Hubbard, Bachelor of Arts, English


I’m a pretty timid person and never really put myself into a leadership role that much before university, so joining the executive committee of the English Brigade at MacEwan changed me a lot and made my experience about a million times better. It also gave me confidence and made leading a group of people feel natural.

I spent a lot of time in the English common lounge—we call it the Lit Lounge—where I connected with other writers. I think that’s probably what led me to organize a small creative writing group, and eventually create an online forum where people could post their work online. The group was formalized when a friend put together the Bolo Tie Collective, a joint creative writing club with students from the communications and English departments.

Now we’re taking it a step further and creating an audio-based digital publishing house—sort of like a streaming service for short stories and poetry. Those things may not get a lot of mainstream attention these days, but I think there are social networks to be found within them, and I’d love to be part of making people fall in love with literature again. If there’s anything I can do to make that happen, I will.


Kaitlyn Woodman, Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology


My best advice is to try not to pigeonhole yourself into something someone else thinks you should do. Keep an open mind and take a lot of different courses until you find something you’re passionate about. I took almost two years of general studies before falling in love with anthropology.

I caught the travel bug in the middle of my degree, and ended up taking a year off to travel through India and Nepal. I think my parents were worried that I wouldn’t finish my degree, but I came back knowing that I loved learning about other cultures and wanted to major in anthropology.

I love how flexible anthropology is. Most of my classes involved studying different cultures, but I also did a linguistic anthropology project that looked at the language used around sexual assault in the courts and in the media because I wanted to know how language can perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Being on the executive committee of the MacEwan feminist club in my last year has influenced everything I’ve done since. I finished up the last courses for my degree in the Spring semester at a field school in Italy where we did first-hand field research and I studied female traditional healing as alternative medicine.

Right now I’m working on grad school applications to programs connected to gender studies, and I’m hoping to continue studying sexual violence. It’s a topic that has always struck a chord with me, and an area we need more information on—we can’t dismantle rape culture until we understand just how pervasive it really is.


Jacob Thalen, Bachelor of Science, Biological Sciences


I’ve wanted to be an entomologist since I was about five years old. That was around the time I got kicked off the elementary school soccer team because instead of chasing the ball, I’d just sit down in the field in the middle of a play looking for bugs.

In my third year at MacEwan, I started getting involved in research. I worked on a study that looked at weaponry in juvenile crickets, and another research project investigating fish food chain dynamics. I dissected a couple of thousand fish stomachs and analyzed the contents—which was mostly aquatic insects. Every now and then we would find something completely unexpected. When I was dissecting one fish stomach, I pulled out a fish that was larger than the one that ate it.

I’m the first member of my family to go to university, so at first I was panicked at the idea of doing research. I had no idea what to expect, but it turns out I really enjoy it. And there are so many research avenues you can take with insects—they are one of the most ancient groups of animals in the world and have so much diversity.

I’m applying for grad school next year and hoping to get into an entomology program. I’d love to have an insect named after me one day, so I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Sarah Riswold, Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology


I was working my way through a bunch of 100-level courses when I took my first anthropology course, and discovered I was learning one awesome thing after the other.

I enjoyed the classes I took in archaeology the most, and ended up doing a two-week dig in Spain where I learned the basics about taking levels and how to physically do the digging (I didn’t realize that was something you had to learn, but it is). That was fun, but what I love the most about anthropology is how it opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about people, cultures and how we connect with or disconnect from one another.

After graduation, I ended up getting a job that has nothing to do with archaeology but I still find myself using the things I learned in anthropology classes. I work with accountants, and we interact with many ethno-cultural groups. Being able to take a step back to look at and explain why a group does things is a particular way has been really useful.

I’d love to pursue a master’s in archaeology in the U.K.—it’s a big goal that may or may not happen—but even if it doesn’t, I’m still happy with my choice. The beauty of archaeology is that you can always go on volunteer digs. I’m getting married in a couple of years and we’re planning to go on a dig together for part of our honeymoon.


Stacey Martin, Bachelor of Arts, English Honours


It took me a while to find the right path. My first attempt at university didn’t work out and I ended up baking and catering for a number of years before I started volunteering in an English as a Second Language class, and realized just how much I loved and missed being in the classroom.

The second time around, I was in it to win it. The highlights for me were working on my honours thesis project that looked at alternative forms of the sacred in the fiction and nonfiction of Virginia Woolf, and my time as a research assistant on a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Part of being a research assistant meant visiting the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library to fill in the gaps of a digital archive being compiled at MacEwan. It was a challenge, and something people from other universities are usually gobsmacked to hear I did as an undergrad.

Working on my honours thesis and doing research showed me different sides of academia and different ways of working with literature. Both experiences taught me skills that made every other part of my degree so much easier, enriched my experience and helped prepare me for grad school.

Right now I’m working on my master’s degree at Queen’s University, and every day I’m astounded at how well my experience at MacEwan prepared me for this. I feel like I have a very strong foundation on which to build, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.


Derrick Gold, Bachelor of Science, Computer Science


I was part of a group that built an interactive smart mirror for our capstone project. A lot of smart technology is starting to appear in homes and we wanted to do something unique.

We spent three months creating a platform for writing mirror app software that would give people information on the fly while they are getting ready for their day—things like email, to-do lists, calendar and weather information. We even built our own hardware.

I’ve been programming since I was 14 years old and I’ve done many different projects, but seeing this come together from the ground up was probably what makes it my favourite—and the one I’m most proud of.


Elisia Snyder, Bachelor of Arts, English Honours
IMAGE_Convocation_Elisia_S Dean’s Medal, Faculty of Arts and Science

A creative writing class in my third year changed me forever—I was hooked and ended up being the first student to do a creative writing thesis.

Anytime there was a contest for creative writing, I entered. Every time there was an award or a bursary for a senior writing student, I applied.

The Flo DeCoteau Bursary was a real milestone for me. Before that, I was like a lot of people who go into a creative writing class for the first time—I had a lot of half-written ideas and just wanted someone to listen to what I had to say and tell me that I was good.

I wrote a story called “Miss.” It was ridiculously hard and I worked on it every day for weeks. It won, but wasn’t actually published. That experience changed my perspective on what it means to be an author. You need to put things out in the world—of course it matters that other people read your work—but it was also nice to have that one starting moment that was a pure writing experience.

Applying for scholarship after scholarship and working full time in the summers allowed me to pay off my student debt, and even buy my own car. Most people don’t think you can do that with an English degree. It’s not typical, but it is possible.

In the fall, I’ll be at the University of Alberta for grad school, and working on a non-fiction anthology called Hello Nurse—a collection of stories about nurses who have been through adverse events.



Nicole Bock, Massage Therapy

image-convocation-NBockBefore coming to MacEwan, I did a degree in sociology and psychology through the University of Alberta. Then I worked in the homeless sector for a lot of years—but it was too heartbreaking for me. So I did a bit of soul searching. Going back to school as a mature student, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going into something again that I wasn’t really sure about.

When I was living in Calgary, I signed up for a program to learn basic massage techniques, which is an intro to see if massage therapy is for you. I ended up falling in love with it. It was the perfect mix between one-on-one interaction with people in a helping role, but it was a lot less stressful. Promoting stress-free environments and preventative health-care measures is something I am very passionate about.

I definitely came into this program thinking, “I love getting massages! Massage is so relaxing, stress-free, go with the flow.” The program is absolutely not that. It is single-handedly the hardest education I have ever done in my life—and I had already done a four-year degree! It’s really intense, it’s really heavy, but it’s really effective, and the hard work was worth it because it's something I truly love to do.


Amanda Otto, Child and Youth Care diploma

image-convocation-AOttoGrowing up and going through teen years can be a challenging time while trying to figure out who you are. The people that go into child and youth care are really caring and supportive—they want you to succeed—and I wanted to be one of those people for somebody. I think if you have that one person in your life, they can change everything. I just really have a passion for that and for working with youth because those are such crucial years.

Convocation is a really big deal to me. When I was 16, I didn't think I could go to university. I didn't think I would be good at anything. I didn't do the greatest in school, so I thought, “How am I even going to go to university? What am I going to do?” But the core of what I'm passionate about just felt right to me and to be able to graduate and do well is such a huge accomplishment in my life. It makes me really happy.

My advice to new students is to be mindful and enjoy every single moment because when you reflect back a year or two from now, you're going to see what helped shape you into the person you are. Self-care is such huge thing, and a lot of us forget to do it on a daily basis because we have work, we have school, we have family life or other things going on. I definitely think even taking half an hour, 10 minutes or five minutes to yourself is such a huge thing. It's just going to help your mental state.


Amanda Riley, Bachelor of Child and Youth Care
President’s Medal of Academic Excellence and Student Leadership recipient

image-convocation-ARileyWhen I was a teenager, I struggled with depression. I kind of felt like I had no one to talk to—not necessarily because I didn't have good supports, but because with family sometimes you don't want to worry them. So I could have really benefited from having a role model, and so that's what I want to be for other people.

I loved the Child and Youth Care program. When I first started, I was super shy and now I'm a lot more outgoing. It helped me develop as a person.

I did my final-year practicum overseas because I just felt like it would push me outside of my comfort zone, which is when you do your best learning. I asked my professors where I could go to do my practicum, and one of them connected with someone she knew in New Zealand. For six weeks, I worked under the guidance counsellor of a high school in a small town of approximately 5,000 people, in a predominantly Maori community.

The personal growth that I've had while I've been in university is the most important thing that I'll take out of my experiences at MacEwan.



Ryan Agozar, Bachelor of Commerce, Management

image-convocation-RAgozarI was good at science in high school, but in university, it lost its sparkle. I studied really hard for an exam in my science degree program—I THOUGHT I studied really hard—but I bombed it. All the effort I was putting in was just not worth it in terms of an effort-to-results ratio. I was basically killing myself for failing grades. At that point, I realized it wasn't what I wanted to be doing.

So I stopped with that and started working in retail. With retail, it was fun when you're in your early 20s, but as I got older, I realized everyone is getting their career started and I'm still here folding clothes.

RELATED: Read about Ryan Agozar’s second chance at a degree.

I was folding all these shirts one day and suddenly realized I'm destined for something more than this. This was not what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. And I kept hearing an ad on the radio too—"Start your business career at MacEwan!"

There's a big difference from when I was here fresh out of high school—I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I came back as a mature student, I knew what I wanted and I knew what I was working towards, and that alone made this a whole lot easier.

That was one of the things that my organizational behaviour course taught me. A lot of it was about “Why are you here? What is your motivation? What are you working towards?” And ever since, that class has been driving me to find that goal and work towards it.


Carman Chiu, Bachelor of Commerce, International Business

image-convocation-CChiuWhen I first attended university, I really didn't know what I was doing. In fact, I was honestly questioning whether or not business was meant for me. I feared failure and that I would disappoint my parents and myself. As my four years at MacEwan went by, it wasn't as scary as I had initially thought it would be. I’ve met a lot of like-minded individuals who had the exact same struggles. MacEwan's supportive system enabled me to meet other people and further grow and develop as an individual throughout my degree.

The biggest lesson I learned was to embrace whatever curve ball is thrown at me. At the end of the day, there is always a solution and there will always be someone willing to help—it’s just a matter of asking.

My advice for the next group of students is don't stress too much, take part in the extracurricular programs the university has to offer and just enjoy your time here at MacEwan. You never know who you will meet and where it will take you!


Harsh Sharma, Bachelor of Commerce, International Business

image-convocation-HSharmaThe most challenging part about coming to Canada was the weather. I was coming from tropical weather in Uganda to negative temperatures. I was told about frostbite and how if your pipes freeze and break, it can cost a lot, and I was trying to make sure none of that happened.

The Bachelor of Commerce program was informative, and I learned a couple of things from the study tours that I went on—I went to Prague over Reading Week and then France and Morocco in May. I liked studying the different business and cultural atmospheres, and then evaluating what is distinctive and what is similar, and how things work out in terms of business.

In five years, I should be done with my master’s degree and have a good amount of work experience, and maybe set up a business of my own or partner up with someone.

I would tell other students to ask around if they don’t understand something, or if they feel like they’re getting off track. The professors are really helpful. You can always drop in at office hours and they’re ready to help you.


Lalita Soundara, Asia Pacific Management

image-convocation-LSoundaraBefore starting post-secondary, I was very introverted. I still am, but I think doing group projects and presentations really pushes you. You have to put yourself out there for your work, everyone has to, and I especially needed it for my practicum in Japan. I had to think about how I was going to get around. I didn't have internet, I didn't have a phone—I couldn’t call anyone. You have to put yourself out there and figure it out.

The biggest lesson I've learned in the program is probably about myself. I didn't think I could go to Japan by myself, and figure out my destinations and meet all these new people. Thinking back to when I first went, I honestly didn't believe in myself. But after coming back, I feel more confident and able do things that I'm scared to do. 

Hoiting Wong, Asia Pacific Management

image-convocation-HWongFear comes when you get into situations that you aren’t familiar with. My fear came from the language change. English is not my first language—I’m from Hong Kong. In the beginning, I refused to communicate in English. It’s not funny when people misunderstand you—it’s embarrassing, honestly.

During my first year at MacEwan University, I questioned myself: “Is this what you want?” My heart was full of uncertainty, and I never got rid of it. Our world is full of uncertainty—all you can do is get used to it and deal with it. I found a way to comfort and push myself out of fear. I wouldn’t let myself feel shame anymore. I realized that I’m not supposed to be good at everything, but I can learn. That’s the reason why I am at MacEwan.



Daniel Schieman, Arts and Cultural Management


I know exactly how important the arts are to a community. I used to play violin and piano, but I decided to study arts and cultural management because I was most interested in the business aspects behind the performances.

Two years doesn’t feel like a long period of time, but so much has happened while I’ve been working on my diploma—and so much has changed. I started out thinking that I was going to work in the symphony and that classical music was the way to go. But by my second year I really started opening up my mind to the many possibilities out there. I gained so much experience through my field placement and built up a portfolio that I was really proud of. That portfolio led me to where I am today—working as an event and project manager for the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta.

I never could have guessed that this is where I would end up, but it’s perfect. I get to learn amazing things every day. Working on events and projects means you’re always looking forward, being creative and being asked to innovate your work and yourself. I love that.

And in spite of the clichés, engineers are incredibly creative people. I’m amazed at how many of the people I work with are connected to the arts. We have a lot more in common than the world might have you think.  


Joel Payne, Music

Image_Convocation_JPayneMy parents tell me that when I was two or three years old I would get paint cans and mixing sticks and start tapping. Then I did the pots and pans thing, and by the time I was four years old, I was obsessed with drumming. I would set up a collection of ice cream buckets in front of the TV and drum along with my dad’s live concert DVDs.

I got my first drum kit from my grandparents for my fifth birthday and started taking music lessons. I did that for years and then got to the point where I decided I was too good for lessons, so I dropped out. I played in bands and shows for three or four years and then realized I hit a ceiling. I wanted to be as good as I could be at my craft, but I didn’t know how to get better.

I took a year off after high school and eventually decided to come to MacEwan. I’m from Newfoundland, so I always lived near the west campus, but I could never practice where I lived. I spent all day, every day on campus from 8 a.m. to whenever the building closed.

Musically, I’ve had a fantastic time here—I’ve played with so many great musicians both inside and outside of school. I feel like I’ve come miles from where I was when I started, and that and all the people in this program keep me motivated.

We’re all working toward the same goal and it sounds kind of crazy, but the music program really is like a family. The bond I have with the people here and the sense of community we have will stick with me forever—and I don’t think I could have experienced it somewhere else.


Tara Manyfingers, Theatre Production


I’m an older student and a single mom, so the two years I spent here were intense. Sometimes it was a struggle to keep up, and other times I was cranky and hard to be around because I felt like I was missing out on time with my son.

A counsellor suggested the Theatre Production program at MacEwan because she knew they made costumes and that I grew up sewing—but I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into. The program takes you through every aspect of the theatre, and you gain a new appreciation for the people behind the scenes. It taught me to be more social and to work on my people skills, it showed me the good energy that comes together when you’re part of a team making something big come together, and it also made me realize that my artistic skills are greater than my technical ones.

RELATED: Read more about Tara’s time in theatre.

Once I was at MacEwan, the momentum started to build and I knew that there was no way I was going to stop learning. I don’t take anything for granted, so I applied to finish my Bachelor of Fine Arts and the U of A and now I’m just going for it.


MacEwan University is proud to celebrate the more than 2,900 members of the Class of 2016, including 726 who are being recognized this fall. Congratulations to this year's graduates, medal recipients and distinguished award honourees.


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