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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As I wind down my term as President of the University of Regina Alumni Association (URAA), I think of the numerous sponsorships and partnerships of which we've been a part. At the same time, I congratulate the University for being such a welcoming host for the community engagement it strives to achieve. In particular, I think of Slam Dunk, now an annual event for my family. From the festive spirit of the pep rally to the electric energy of the packed house cheering on the Cougars, one can't help but feel proud to be a U of R alumnus. After every game, the UR Ambassador in me can't help but give my young family a tour of the campus to spur the feeling of opportunity I always experience when taking in the modern architecture and rich history. At the same time, I think back to my education - now an entire generation ago - and always feel the same way: bittersweet. The "old" me wishes time could've slowed down during my five years so that I could have experienced even more. Yet, I remember how the "young" me couldn't get out the doors fast enough. Being a part of the URAA has enabled me to stay connected to the University in a new way and has allowed me to make a difference for the next generation by lobbying for them.

In the time I've served, the URAA has been part of mentoring initiatives, scholarships, sponsorships & partnerships, strategic planning, the establishment of both a new governance model and a new website, building and strengthening relations with faculties, designing a new memorandum of understanding with the University - and, of course, celebrating our alumni through our flagship event, the Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards. I'm particularly proud to have designed our most recent logo, and to be able to stand on stage at convocation to shake the hands of thousands of new alumni. I wish I could shake all of our near-90,000 (at the time of this writing) hands, but I hope this message suffices.

The University of Regina empowers anyone with a thirst for knowledge to go far. Together, the alumni - the product of the University - have the ability to shape our community, our country and even our planet. By showcasing ourselves, we are also directly showcasing our University. My mandate has been to amplify the presence of the URAA as a bridge between alumni groups and the University. As we begin celebrations of our 50th anniversaries -of both the University and the URAA - now, more than ever, is the time to engage with your Alma mater. To that end, I encourage you all to visit our website and consider joining our board of directors. Most importantly, I hope you get to experience one of the many alumni events planned for this fall, and rekindle your best memories.

Thank you again to our University Engagement team for giving our alumni a platform.

-Scott Carson BSc'03, President, URAA (University of Regina Alumni Assocation)

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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!"

Serious faced indvidual 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.

Smiling individual 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!

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