Uzezi Ekhator MHRM’23 and Jim Greenwood BAdmin’93 grew up almost half a world apart, with distinctly different life stories, but they share the belief that their co-op work term experiences at the University of Regina significantly contributed to the decisions they made that helped them to find careers that are a better fit for their skills, attributes, aspirations, and their ongoing successes.

Greenwood and Ekhator took very different paths to the University of Regina. Greenwood grew up in Regina, so for him, taking his post-secondary education at the U of R was, as he puts it, “… a natural fit.” In contrast, Ekhator grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous urban area in Africa. She received her undergraduate degree in Accounting and Finance from Delta State University in Nigeria and worked for seven years with FirstBank of Nigeria in customer service and other roles. Ekhator enjoyed working in banking at first, but over time it became monotonous, with few opportunities for career advancement. In 2015, she switched to a career in Human Resources because it is people-oriented and requires strong communication and interpersonal skills, which align with her strengths. She decided to upgrade her qualifications and skills by taking a master’s program, which led her to emigrate to Canada, and attend the U of R. She chose the Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) program at the U of R’s Levene Graduate School of Business because it is one of the few schools that offers a MHRM degree in its entirety, rather than as an option within the MBA program. The MHRM program, she notes, covers subjects like compensation, labour relations, occupational health and safety, and everything in between. “Moreover, the school offered the co-op option, which provided the opportunity to earn a living while learning,” she adds.

Culture Shock and Making Adjustments

As a newcomer to Canada, one of the first things Ekhator noticed was the differences in the banking systems between the two countries. “In Nigeria people are milling around the banking halls, and staff are under constant pressure to meet deadlines. I realized the importance of prioritizing work,” she says, “and how to handle difficult customers. One of my first cultural shocks in Canada was having to schedule an appointment to open an account!”

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Jim Greenwood at his office in Regina. Photo: Trevor Hopkins, University of Regina

Discovering What Fits and What Doesn’t

Jim Greenwood graduated from the U of R in 1993 with a Bachelor of Administration degree, having completed four co-op work terms as part of his studies.

“The focus of my degree was accounting, but thankfully my first co-op work term was with an accounting firm, and I quickly realized that this was not going to be a good fit for me,” Greenwood says. “Being an articling student during tax season was a bit of trial by fire. I enjoyed the numbers work, and the hard work, but the environment was way too formal for me. If you were working on site, you were not to talk with anyone, and if you were visible to a customer you had to have your suit jacket on. I’m really social, so to be stuck in a back room with my head down wasn’t for me,” he says.

Greenwood also completed two work terms with the province’s Department of Mines and Minerals, tasked with tracking down past rights holders to determine their mineral rights. In those pre-internet days. that involved searching land titles by hand, often seeking out beneficiaries named in the wills of rights-holders who had died.

“It was like detective work,” Greenwood says. “Most of the people we found were surprised to learn there were mineral rights. The majority of them were worthless, but there were a few that were very lucrative.”

In Greenwood’s final work term he was part of a large project team with Petro Canada, trying to automate the company’s field sales force within the limitations of the pre-internet tools available. He likens it to the client relationship management software applications available today. “What stands out for me from my co-op experiences was that I was exposed to several different types of work environments,” he says. “These experiences allowed me to develop a sense of what I wanted in a career, and more importantly, I found out what I didn’t want. Working in different types of employment structures, the different experiences helped me understand that I was truly an entrepreneur at heart, and that I wanted to work for myself. I was confident in my abilities to be successful in any structure but felt I would be more fulfilled and rewarded working for myself.” For Ekhator, her two co-op terms working at the U of R’s Centre for Experiential and Service Learning (CESL) provided opportunities for her to learn the ropes of the workplace and the Canadian work culture, and to add the co-op certification to her MHRM degree. She was also active in the U of R’s Ambassador and International Peer Advisor programs, volunteering with several events on campus. “Compared to Nigeria — where I grew up and earned my undergraduate degree in Accounting and Finance — Canada has a vastly different work culture and set of laws governing employment and labour,” Ekhator observes. “The co-op program provides the opportunity to overcome cultural conditioning and prepare for a successful career,” she notes, adding that more than half of her cohort in the MHRM program that graduated in 2023 was composed of international students.

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Uzezi Ekhator in Edmonton. Photography: John Ulan

Co-op Education Evolving and Expanding

Since the co-op program was established by the U of R in 1969 — the first of its kind in Western Canada — more than 30,000 students have used it to expand their educational experiences, become familiar with different employment opportunities, and earn some money to support their education. That first modest pilot program —  termed a “sandwich scheme” after the concept of semesters of work layered among semesters in the classroom — placed 21 Engineering students in paid positions with local businesses. That pilot evolved and expanded into the Co-operative Education and Internships program, which now offers work placements in Business, Arts, Science, Actuarial Science, Engineering and Applied Science, French and Francophone Cultural Studies, and Indigenous Career Education. (Internships are different from co-op work terms in that interning students work with one employer for a total of 12 or 16 months, providing them with a more immersive experience in one workplace. Internships are available in Engineering, Actuarial Science and Indigenous Career Education.)

In 2022, the U of R launched the Centre for Experiential and Service Learning, bringing together several services in one place for students seeking hands-on work and volunteer experiences. Besides the Cooperative Education and Internships program, CESL services include the student-run Volunteer Centre, Student Employment Services, Career Preparation, and the Ambassador program. Kevin Bolen, Director of Student Success at the U of R, says the “small but mighty” staff at the CESL bring a positive perspective to their work with students, listening carefully to where they are in their personal, academic and professional development. Bolen observes that some students are focused on where they want to be, while others have no clear idea. The breadth of the programming offered allows staff members to help students explore different career opportunities, including opportunities they may not have ever considered.

The U of R prides itself on its 55-year history of experiential learning, Bolen notes, with more than 30,000 students participating in work placements since its inception. In the last 20 years, he emphasizes, more than 3,000 International students have completed domestic work terms.

The Centre now has software that enables it to track student engagement in the various programs in detail, identifying the skills and experience each student has acquired, providing them with information that enhances their marketability with potential employers. The software also allows the Centre to do some serious number crunching, an example of which Bolen is eager to share. “The faculties of Arts, Education, Kinesiology, Media, Art and Performance, Nursing, and Social Work offer students a 13 to 16-week practicum, fieldwork or internship for course credit,” Bolen explains. “From September 2023 to April 2024, a total of 1,500 students participated in this internship, logging 773,000 hours volunteering in K-12 schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and community-based organizations. The positive impact within the community is astounding,” he says proudly.

Helping to Advance and Shape Careers
Greenwood pursued his entrepreneurial spirit to build Regina’s Blue Sky Financial Planning , where he is the managing partner. The business includes his business partner, a senior advisor, and three support staff, including Greenwood’s daughter. During his co-op placements, he observes, he worked with some hard-working people and some he describes as not-so-hard-working, and it was easy to figure out who was who. He has used that experience in building the business. “I have surrounded myself with great people and we are an excellent team,” Greenwood says. “Ours is a small shop, so we have not hired a co-op student, but I have always advocated for the program, and have recommended it to every student I know that they enrol in it. It shaped my career and has been invaluable.”

Ekhator is currently working as an Employee Relations Consultant with the Government of Alberta, providing strategic advice and recommendations on complex employee relations matters related to collective agreements, performance, and conduct in the workplace. Her co-op experience, she states, was extremely beneficial in securing her current position. “I believe my participation in the co-op program enhanced my résumé and distinguished me during the recruitment process. Unsurprisingly, as a co-op student working in the co-op office,” she continues, “I made the most of the services it offers, such as conducting résumé reviews, drafting cover letters, and preparing for interviews.”

In the near future, Ekhator says, she aspires to move into a leadership position that would enable her to have a greater impact on the culture of the organization. Longer term, she plans to use her knack for numbers and her accounting degree to earn the Certified Professional Accountant designation. As for her other aspirations, she plans to “… work smarter rather than harder, push myself, continue to enjoy the journey, contribute to projects that matter and simply be happy.”

Support Experiential Learning

The University of Regina believes that real-world, hands-on learning is essential to prepare skilled, career-ready students entering today’s workforce. For the past 55 years, the co-operative education program, administered through the Centre for Experiential and Service Learning at the University of Regina, has been providing more than 30,000 students with real-world experience to compliment and strengthen lessons learned in the classroom.

Support Experiential Learning today!

About the Author

Bill Armstrong is a Regina freelance writer and amateur photographer with a strong interest in Saskatchewan history.

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Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2024 edition of Degrees magazine. As you read this issue of Degrees, the University of Regina has just celebrated Spring Convocation, ushering 2,529 new alumni into the world - and into a family of more than 90,000 U of R alumni across the globe.

As so often happens, the years following graduation bring many surprises, twists, and turns. Our alumni live in more than 100 countries around the world, making a positive difference in their communities wherever they land. This issue of Degrees magazine celebrates the accomplishments of just a handful of these extraordinary alumni - a celebrated filmmaker, inspiring educators, leaders in business, and advocates for social justice among them.

As the University of Regina prepares to mark its 50th anniversary year, I hope you'll join me for a host of celebrations culminating in a special alumni week in October. You can read more about this - including an announcement of this year's recipients of the Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards - in the magazine.

I'm proud to be serving as your President at this very exciting time for the U of R - a time to reflect on our illustrious past, but also look ahead with optimism at what the next 50 years will bring to our University, and to the communities and province we so proudly serve.

In the meantime, I wish all of you and your families a fun-filled and enjoyable summer, and I hope to see as many of you as possible at Alumni Week this fall!

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Jeff Keshen
President and Vice-Chancellor


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Every year, the University of Regina celebrates the best and brightest among its more than 90,000 alumni with the Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards (ACAAs) presented by the URAA. Established in 1992, the ACAAs were created to honour our extraordinary alumni for their outstanding commitment to excellence, community engagement and leadership, and impact on the social, cultural, and economic well-being of our communities.

We're excited to celebrate this year's ACAA recipients on Saturday, October 19th, 2024  - exactly 50 years-to-the-day since the University of Regina's first convocation! This year's recipients include inspiring educators, intrepid scientists, passionate advocates for social justice, and dedicated community volunteers.

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Lifetime Achievement Award
Dr. Bryan Hillis, BA'78

Dr. Bryan Hillis has enjoyed a distinguished career as a student, educator, and researcher, beginning his careers as a lecturer at Luther College, and eventually serving as Dean of Luther College from 1995 to 2005. He was appointed President of Luther College in 2010 serving in this position until his retirement in 2020, and was appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Regina and Luther College in 2021. Dr. Hillis has enjoyed a long and storied career teaching  in the areas of world religions, the history of Christian thought, religion in Canada, and science and religion, among others. Distinguishing himself as an academic and a leader, he has been instrumental in rebuilding Luther College High School in Regina, and refurbishing Luther College at the University of Regina.

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Professional Achievement Award
Pamela Cook Ellemers BA'91, BSc'94

Pamela Cook Ellemers' career in the mining industry has spanned more than 30 years. She has held a variety of leadership roles in exploration and operations within the De Beers Group across Canada and South Africa including work in Australia, Botswana, and India. She is currently the Principal Mineral Resource Manager for De Beers Group, based in Calgary, Alberta. In addition to her technical leadership role in Mineral Resource Management, Pamela led the De Beers Canada Inclusion and Diversity working group, focused on enabling an inclusive workplace and increasing women's representation in STEM. Pamela was recognized as a WIM100 - '100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining' by Women in Mining UK, has been named a 'Top 10 Influential Women in the Mining Sector' by Mining Digital, and a 'Leading Women in Mining' by EY and Women in Mining Canada. Pamela is passionate about mentoring and about raising the awareness of geology and science among young people, in particular among young women. She loves spending time in children's classrooms sharing her passion for rocks, minerals and the positive role that mining plays in our communities.

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Distinguished Humanitarian and Community Service Award
Mutangilayi "Christian" Mbanza BEd'17

Mutangilayi "Christian" Mbanza is an educator in Regina, Saskatchewan. He has been working in the Regina Catholic School Division, and is currently completing his Master's Degree in French Education at the University of Regina. Christian prioritizes cultivating diverse relationships with staff, community members, students, and parents, alongside his unwavering commitment to championing Black culture, addressing social issues, and promoting the welfare of the Afro-Canadian community. Currently, he is the community outreach director for the Black in Sask, an organization which contributes to holistic growth of the Black community in Saskatchewan by addressing systemic issues, connecting members to various networks and educating on the black experience.

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Dr. Robert & Norma Ferguson Outstanding Service Award - Maria Reardon BA'69, MA'73

An active community volunteer, Maria Reardon has dedicated her working life to improving healthcare and health outcomes in Saskatchewan having served for 13 years as Director of Education with the Saskatchewan Health-Care Association (later Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations), where her focus of activity was on board and staff development. In later years, Maria became involved in the Lifelong Learning Centre, taking classes, making friends, and before long, serving as chairperson of the Seniors' University Group, now in her sixth year of renewed service on the Seniors University Group board. Maria has also represented the Lifelong Learning Centre on the Provincial Advisory Committee on Older Persons, and in September 2014 was the recipient of the Saskatchewan Senior Volunteer Award in Education, and in 2019 she received the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers.

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Academic Professional Award
Dr. Bing Chen PhD'06

Dr. Bing Chen is a globally renowned leader in environmental engineering. His distinction is defined by his remarkable research, teaching, and leadership achievements. He is the founding director of the Northern Region Persistent Organic Pollution Control (NRPOP) Laboratory and the global Network on Persistent, Emerging and Organic Pollution in the Environment (PEOPLE), hosting pioneering research and education on quantitative understanding of persistent and emerging pollution in cold regions and marine and freshwater environments, and development of integrated mitigation solutions under climate change. Dr. Chen has delivered more than 550 technical publications including over 180 refereed journal articles, making him one of the most productive and impactful environmental engineering researchers in Canada and worldwide. Dr. Chen has trained more than 100 thesis-based graduate students and postdocs. He has held various leadership roles including as president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) and vice-president of the Canadian Association on Water Quality. He has received many prestigious awards and honours, such as a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering, the Engineering Institute of Canada, and the CSCE, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada's College and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Dr. Chen's efforts significantly benefit the wellbeing of the environment and our society, and casts broad impacts of Canadian environmental research.

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Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Ashley Major BHJ'12

Ashley Major is a lawyer and consultant specialising in human rights, gender equality, and sexual and gender-based violence. Ashley's passion for women's rights has driven her career. Prior to law school, Ashley volunteered as a sexual violence counselor and worked as a domestic violence counselor at the Regina Transition House. She worked at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law's International Human Rights Program, and was a consultant at the Thinking Forward Network, an organization focused on migration and human rights. Over her career, Ashley's legal practice has focused on files relating to sexual and gender-based violence. She has completed work for several leading human rights organizations including UN Women, UNFPA, UNDP, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others. Ashley currently works at Calibrate Solutions, a consulting firm dedicated to transformation in justice and gender equity systems around the world.

Don't miss this special edition of the ACAAs during the University of Regina's 50th Anniversary Alumni Week celebrations!

Tickets to the 2024 Alumni Crowning Achivement Awards are available now!

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