Alumni News

October 16, 2018 - 8:45pm

What happens when an artist loses her ability to conjure images inside her head? This is the situation Sheri Bakes (Diploma of Fine Arts – Visual Arts ’93) found herself in following a stroke at age 29 that left her with aphantasia, a rare condition where one cannot visualize imagery, meaning she cannot paint from visual imagination. Bakes persisted in doing what she loves, spending the last 17 years developing her unique painting style, and now supports herself with her artwork. Her remarkable story and artwork caught the attention of Canadian Art magazine, and a feature on her was published in May 2017.

Thanks to encouragement from his wife, parents and VIU professors, Dr. Rosendo Da Costa (Bachelor of Arts ’08, Major in Psychology) has accomplished his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor and is currently working at two walk-in clinics in Toronto, Ontario. In Da Costa’s free time he volunteers as an assistant physician for a free medical clinic tending to the homeless, refugees and patients with no medical coverage in Canada.

Two alum were featured in an exhibit at VIU’s The View Gallery sponsored by TimberWest’s First Nation Cultural Art Showcase Program. Vince Smith (Fine Arts 1976-1981) of the Ehattesaht Nation and Mulidzas-Curtis Wilson (Bachelor of Arts ’03, Major in First Nations Studies) of the Wei Wai Kum Nation were two of three First Nations artists participating in the show, which ran from September 13 to November 3. 

Seeing people grow and make positive changes in their lives is what led Jenna Beck (Bachelor of Arts ’07, Major in Criminology) to her career as a Community Corrections probation officer. With lots of options for change and growth, Beck loves her job and plans to stay in it for some time.

Producing high-end food in a relaxed, approachable and comfortable environment is what Ian Blom (Culinary Arts Diploma ’09) aims for as Executive Chef at the Old Firehouse Wine and Cocktail Bar in Duncan. Blom was recently written up in Boulevard Magazine and became a finalist for a Black Tie Award from the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce this year. Not only did Blom fall in love with food at VIU – he also met and fell in love with his wife Kim while both were in the Culinary Arts program. Their final pièce de résistance is their 4-year-old son, David.

After being diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis, Kim Clark (Bachelor of Arts ’09, Major in Creative Writing) returned to school at VIU, where she says the coursework and professors helped re-energize her and give her the confidence to keep going. Since then, Clark has become a well-respected poet and author. Accolades include becoming a finalist in both Theatre BC’s Playwriting Competition and The Malahat Review’s novella contest, and she has a novella under option for a feature-length film! For more information, visit


An avid horse enthusiast, Anastasia Hirst (Bachelor of Arts ’13, Major in Child and Youth Care) has combined her VIU training with her love of horses to practice Equine Facilitated Wellness (EFW). Time and time again, Hirst watched as children dealing with trauma started to transform and thrive in the presence of horses. Wanting to get the word out on the impact of EFW, Hirst and her partner, John Fulton, a videographer and photographer, began travelling through North America creating their documentary series Equus: Healing Through Horses. Each episode covers a different person who has used EFW to overcome deep trauma or pain.

Connie Graham (Bachelor of Arts ’16, Major in Anthropology) credits experiences she had while at VIU with helping her land her current position with the shishalh Nation (Sechelt Indian Band) as their Implementation Coordinator for the tems sayamkwu Hydro Project. A run-of-river renewable energy project being developed in the territory with partner company BluEarth Renewables, Graham handles the project’s administrative work. While at VIU, she worked with Indigenous communities and Elders through her Anthropology and First Nations Studies courses. Being involved with the VIU Students’ Union board taught her about governance and policy – all of which help her in her current job.


As the Events Coordinator for the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce, Caitlin Woon (Bachelor of Tourism Management ’17) is now planning the local events she’s enjoyed attending as a guest over the years. With previous experience organizing events such as Parksville’s Sand Sculpture Competition and Exhibition and the Tourism Vancouver Island Conference, her new role was a perfect fit.


Early on in life, Darcy Good (Bachelor of Science 2010 – 2014) witnessed first-hand the impact that saving one life can have on both the individual and those around them when his step-father suffered a major heart attack. After attending VIU for most of his degree, Good, a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, was accepted into the University of British Columbia’s (UBC’s) medicine undergraduate program. He started UBC’s Vancouver Island Psychiatry Postgraduate Program in July. Good plans to use his education to support the mental health needs of his community.


Adding to people’s personal well-being in a meaningful way is what Lindsay Jacobson (Professional Esthetics Certificate ’14) likes about her career as an esthetician. Immediately after graduation, Jacobson was hired by Nanaimo’s Breze Salon and Day Spa.


After graduating, Leah Trippell (Bachelor of Science ’10) wasn’t sure what direction to take until she received an email from one of her VIU professors who suggested she consider medicine. Trippell found her calling in the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan. Ultimately, Trippell would like to practice medicine in a way that allows her to incorporate global health into her practice.


Excited to be part of an amazing team at Raymond James Ltd., Virginia Fournier (Bachelor of Business Administration ’16, Double Major in Finance and Economics) hopes to deepen her knowledge and skill set in Operations (Corporate Actions). An avid sea wall runner and practicing salsa dancer, Fournier also finds time to volunteer with the Alumni Engagement Committee for the Association of Women in Finance. Fournier’s ambition is to start her CFA designation process within the next two years.


After winning first place in the PanGlobal Training Systems’ 2017 Student Achievement Awards with a 90.7 per cent average, Tim Ryper (Power Engineering/Process Operator 4th Class ’17) has gone on to work as a power engineer at Catalyst Paper in Crofton, where he did his practicum. Ryper loves the busy nature of his job, which involves a lot of problem solving.

For much of her degree, Elissa Doerksen (Bachelor of Arts ’18, Major in Media Studies) created videos about student life on campus that are still prominently displayed on VIU’s website, YouTube channel and social media feeds. She was also class valedictorian at her February Convocation ceremony. Doerksen has her own photography and videography business. She’s also landed a job in media production for a local non-profit.


Working on big projects and having input on how they are built is what makes Josh Gait (Carpentry Level 4 Apprentice ’10) excited to come to work. Gait began working for Saskatchewan-based Coram Construction in 2014 and has helped manage sizeable projects in Saskatoon and Regina. Gait hopes to one day be in charge of running some of the biggest projects in the country.


Welder Cam Rogers (Welding Level B ’17) did all of his training through VIU; now through the company he works for – Nanaimo-based B&F Manufacturing – the first Quadra Jet M-225 parts washer he worked on is in use at his alma mater. The machine made by Rogers is being used by VIU’s Heavy Mechanical Trades program. Visit to learn more. 


Born in Somalia, civil war forced Hamdi Aweys (Bachelor of Business Administration ’18, Major in Accounting) and her family to flee the country to a refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. She came to VIU in 2013, sponsored by the University’s World University Service of Canada (WUSC) local committee – a program she says changed her life completely by giving her the chance to get a quality education. Aweys has landed a job at an accounting firm in Duncan. Throughout her time at VIU, she’s given back to the program that made such a difference in her own life by serving as VIU WUSC co-chair and mentoring incoming refugee students.


Through various mentorship opportunities at VIU, Troy Barnes (Bachelor of Arts ’17, Major in First Nations Studies) had the chance to hone his leadership skills. He’s now using these skills to help potential and future students in their own academic journeys as an Aboriginal Education Advisor at North Island College.


After graduating from VIU, Ebrahim Lababidi (Bachelor of Arts ’16, Double Major in History and Political Studies) started his master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. At the end of his second semester, he started working as UNICEF Canada’s International Policy and Communications Intern. He also worked on assignments for the Corporate Social Responsibility team and published an op/ed about child inequality in the Huffington Post on behalf of UNICEF Canada. Lababidi’s long-term goal is to work for the United Nations.


Two VIU alumni – mixed-media artist Denise Tierney (Bachelor of Arts ’17, Visual Arts major) and sculptor Ruben Galdames (Visual Arts) teamed up to put on a show at the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery this spring. Immortal Narratives was Tierney’s first major exhibit since graduating from VIU. She is currently the artist-in-residence at St. Andrew’s United Church in Nanaimo. Galdames, a retired architect from Chile, took visual arts courses at VIU for personal interest over the past four years and has exhibited his work in several group shows.


John Phan (Welding Level B ’18) had zero experience in the trade when he enrolled in the Welding Foundation program at the Cowichan Trades Centre in 2016 and was afraid he’d be overwhelmed. Instead, he found himself having fun in class. Fast forward two years and Phan is now a fully certified welder working for Pacific Industrial Marine welding pontoons and bridges – a job he found out about through VIU Welding Program chair Mike Hallam.


Since finishing her training, Melissa Saxby (Professional Esthetics Certificate ’16) has been working full-time pampering her clients. In April, Saxby helped VIU Esthetics Instructor Lesley Osborne open a Lesley’s Esthetics location in Nanaimo.


With the help of a $36,000 funding package, Erica Greenup (Bachelor of Arts ’18, Major in Liberal Studies) starts her master’s degree at the University of Victoria this fall. Over the next two years, she’ll focus on the history of secularization in Canada – a blending of what she’s learned in her Liberal Studies and History classes at VIU. One favourite memory from her time here is attending the Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference in March to present a paper. Her ultimate goal is to become a history professor.

Kesa van Osch (Carpentry Level 4 Apprenticeship ’17) is a carpenter with Victoria-based Knappett Projects by day and a national-level curler in her spare time. She loves the variety of the work she does – no two days are alike on the job site. On the ice, she made it to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Canada’s national women’s curling championships, for the second time this year, where her team made it to the championship round.


There are 403 steps from the bottom to the top of VIU’s Nanaimo Campus. For one of her final projects before graduating, Amber Morrison (Bachelor of Arts ’18, Major in Visual Art) highlighted this unique feature by spray painting a baby-pink number on each one of them – a high-profile project that caught the attention of many in the VIU community and beyond. Morrison is the Program Coordinator at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. She plans to pursue a master’s degree, develop her studio practice and eventually become a university professor.


After getting two and a half years of political science courses under his belt, Jacob Gair (Bachelor of Arts ’18, Double Major in Political Science and History) became the second youngest person in BC to be elected as a school trustee in 2014. Gair is a trustee for School District 69 (Qualicum) and his crowning achievement is getting his board to pass a motion seeking to reduce the voting age of those who can elect school board trustees to 16 – a bid to empower students to participate in local democracy. Gair is planning on taking a break from politics to seek further education – either a master’s program or law school.

*This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of VIU Magazine. Check out more stories on the VIU Magazine webpage.

Tags: Alumni | VIU Magazine

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