Alumni News: VIU Magazine 2019 Edition

Zoey Poulsen

YouTuber, freelance digital marketer and published author Zoey Poulsen (Sport, Health and Physical Education ’13) is living la dolce vita in her dream city – Rome, Italy.

September 17, 2019 - 8:00pm

#VIUAlumni tell their stories of where they are now. 


VIU is a special place for Tom Osborne (Recreation Administration Diploma ’88), General Manager of Recreation and Parks for the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN). It’s where he met his wife Darcie, and both his son and daughter are now students here. Highlights of his career with the RDN include the construction of Oceanside Place Arena in Parksville, and working with regional boards and land trust organizations to acquire, plan and develop the RDN’s regional parks system.



Following a successful career in graphic and visual design that included work on the Spawn movie and music videos for Pearl Jam, Korn and Swollen Members, Terence Fitzgerald (Diploma of Fine Arts – Visual Arts ’92; Diploma of Applied Arts – Graphics ’91), is now a partner at Sheringham Distillery in Sooke. The distillery recently won World’s Best Contemporary Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards. Congrats!


‘It’s been more than 20 years since Sarah Gilks (Applied Business Technology Diploma ’95) graduated, but she credits her VIU education with laying the foundation on which she was able to build two businesses that provide her with high six-figure incomes annually. Her lifestyle program, Healthy Role Models (HRM), founded in 2011, is transforming lives through building a supportive community of like-minded women eager to be their best selves. While HRM is now her focus, Gilks first built a nutrition-focused business that went global, with more than 230,000 members.


Becoming a hairstylist has opened up the world for Kevin Dieleman (Hairdressing Certificate ’99), Art Director/Owner of Boycreative. On top of running a business out of Maffeo Salon, Dieleman styles hair for magazine shoots and is an educator with Davines, an Italian hair product company. His career has taken him across the country and world, and he says that he’s only been limited by his own imagination in what he can do. 



A resilient wanderer, Margot Croft (Bachelor of Education ’00, ABT Certificate ’08 and Master of Education ’15) has taken her education to the classrooms of School District 79, The High School at VIU and Taiyuan, China. A self-described “educated tree-hugger,” she is currently involved in carbon reporting, developing and implementing campus-wide sustainability initiatives, and curating VIU’s sustainability social media as Administrative Assistant for the Environment and Sustainability office.


Guitar lessons with retired VIU Instructor Pat Coleman gave Tristan Clark (Assoc. in Music Diploma 2000-2001) a strong musical foundation that he still uses to this day, whether he’s teaching or performing. Clark works as an adjunct faculty member in the music and performing arts programme at New York University and plays with his band, The Tristones, which has a new album coming out later this year. He’s also in a jazz-rock fusion band called Project Grand Slam, which reached No. 1 in the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart last year with the album Trippin’. 


After VIU, Rob Tryon (Fisheries and Aquaculture Technician ’02) began a career as an oyster farmer in Effingham Inlet in Barkley Sound, just off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Looking for a way to make his product stand out, he dubbed them “Effing” oysters. In May 2013, Tryon quit his business to pursue work in the Alberta oil fields, but the Effing name did not die there. In 2015, he returned to the seafood business as a fishmonger, establishing Effing Seafoods in Edmonton, where he has been hooking locals on his fresh products ever since.


After accumulating 10 years’ experience working as an automotive service technician, Michael DeCiantis (Automotive Service Technician Certificate ’06) branched out on his own in 2011 to open Supertech Diesel Truck Specialists Inc., one of the largest independent repair facilities on Vancouver Island with nine employees. For the past three years, Supertech has won Best Auto Servicing in the Nanaimo News Bulletin’s Best of the City competition.


In 1997 at the age of 65, June Jefferies (Bachelor of Arts ’07) made the courageous decision to attend university for the first time. Her daughter-in-law had told her about free tuition for seniors at VIU (then Malaspina University-College) and after raising four children, she knew it was time for her to do something for herself. In 2007, Jefferies achieved her goal and graduated with distinction, but this wasn’t the end of her academic journey. She can still be found on campus visiting her favourite professors and taking in Arts and Humanities Colloquium lectures.


Ten years after completing his education at VIU, Spencer Leakey (Bachelor of Business Administration ’09) co-founded Leakey & Lewicki Ltd., a successful accounting firm located in north Nanaimo, which formed in 2013. A certified public accountant in both Canada and the US, Leakey enjoys advising on the complex Canadian and American tax laws and assisting clients locally and across North America with their cross-border tax issues. Grateful for the strong foundation he received at VIU, Leakey returns the favour by offering internships to VIU students and coming back to talk to classes.


As an Addiction Medicine Fellow with the BC Centre on Substance Use, Dr. Elizabeth Plant (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Psychology ’09) is learning how to best support and treat patients with addiction. Currently a resident physician with Island Health (she completed her family medicine residency program in 2017 through UBC), she will join the new in-patient addiction medicine service at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital when her program ends. Plant says her VIU psychology degree provided her with a useful background for dealing with people in difficult situations.

Jessica Sletto (Hairdressing Certificate ’08) always wanted to be a hairdresser. Through School District 69’s Head Start program, which allows students to earn post-secondary credits while finishing high school, she was able to complete her training while finishing her final year of high school. A Senior Stylist at Urban Edge Hair Group in Parksville, Sletto hopes to give back one day by becoming an instructor in VIU’s Hairdressing program.



Several VIU alumni working in various government positions had the chance to congratulate VIU President Emeritus Dr. Ralph Nilson on his retirement, and meet VIU’s new President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Deborah Saucier, at a special event hosted at the Royal Society of Canada’s Walter House in Ottawa last spring. From left to right: Marc Sorrie (Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management 2011-2012), Canada Games Council; Sven Schirmer (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Global Studies ‘12), Global Affairs Canada; Richard Kulesza (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Global Studies ‘14), Natural Resources Canada; Ralph Nilson; Deborah Saucier; Katie Durvin (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Global Studies ‘13), Global Affairs Canada; Laurent Tran (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Global Studies ‘11), Global Affairs Canada; Shantel Beute (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Political Studies ‘17), Infrastructure Canada; and Gerry Powell, retired naval officer (Master of Business Administration ‘17).


Caroline Roach (Bachelor of Business Administration ’10), a mortgage broker and co-owner of Fitzwilliam Mortgage Corp., is the VIU Alumni Association’s new president. She is proud to be part of VIU’s transition history, having started her post-secondary education at Malaspina University-College, and finishing after VIU transitioned to a full university. In addition to volunteering for the Alumni Association, she sits on the board of directors for the Nanaimo Art Gallery and is president of the Bayview Elementary School PAC.


Third-year medical resident William Cope (Bachelor of Science ’11) loved every moment of his VIU experience, saying that the constant support and rigorous training set him up for success. After VIU, Cope moved to New York City to enter medical school at Cornell, where he met his wife. They were then couples-matched into the internal medicine residency program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Now in their third year of residency, they plan to stay on as faculty at UCLA afterwards.


After graduating, Kristy Aikman (Bachelor of Science in Nursing ’12) worked at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni for two years on the medical surgical unit before doing a perinatal specialty. She is now enjoying a position in the Labour, Delivery, Recovery and Postpartum department at West Coast General.


With his VIU education, James Reid (Electrical Certificate ’12) has worked in a variety of different settings across two provinces, from industrial work in the Alberta oil sands, to electrical isolations in a northern BC gold and copper mine, to installing radio communication equipment in heavy machinery in northern Alberta. He’s currently back on the Island, working as a Maintenance Electrician for School District 69.


Dreams of pursuing medical school motivated Aaron Colyn (Bachelor of Science ’12) to study microbiology and psychology at VIU, but plans changed when he discovered his love for the science of fermentation. Once he realized that beer was going to be his true calling, he returned to his home town of Port Alberni, where in March 2017 he opened Twin City Brewing. Since then, the business has turned many folk into regular customers and accepted a wide range of accolades for its beer, including Best in Show at the 2018 BC Beer Awards. Next steps include expanding production capacity and keeping things ever-changing and always improving. 


Working for Texas Parks & Wildlife has changed the way Annie Hepp (Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology ’12) views long distances and road trips. Through her work as a Regional Interpretive Specialist, she covers Central Texas to the Texas Panhandle – an area that takes up to seven hours to traverse from her home in Waco. She loves her job connecting people to nature, and watching the more adventurous kiss a Texas Longhorn cattle – something she herself has also done!


Geographic Information System (GIS) Technician Dimitar MacKenzie (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Geography ’17) is enjoying his new job mapping school districts for a Surrey-based planning software company. MacKenzie isn’t quite done with the books though, as he hopes to pursue additional career-focused training, schooling and certifications.


While still a student at VIU, Fraser Paterson (Bachelor of Business Administration ’13) started with his girlfriend, which he later sold after creating more than $6 million in local savings. During that time, he hired more than 20 VIU alumni for different roles with the company. Now, Paterson works remotely as a Director of Publishing for an ad tech company, and he and his partner have spent the last three years travelling the world, working on creating many new businesses. They have also spoken at some high-profile events, most recently at a Google start-up event in Bali.


Alex Keizer (Sport, Health and Physical Education ’15) truly made the most of her VIU education by getting involved with Campus Recreation, the Storm the Stairs initiative and becoming a student ambassador. Keizer went on to complete her Master of Science in Physiotherapy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and after doing her residency, she moved back to Nanaimo to start her practice as a pelvic health physiotherapist at Island Optimal Health and Performance. She also works as a paediatric physiotherapist with the Nanaimo Child Development Centre. 


As a Biology student at VIU, Erin Catherall (Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology ’17) achieved something few undergraduate students achieve – she had a paper detailing research she conducted for an upper-level biology class published by Botany, a peer-reviewed Canadian journal. Catherall now works as a First Nations Engagement Officer for BC Wildfire Service with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. 


Hard work and dedication has added up to a successful career at an international accounting firm for Daniel Gardiner (Bachelor of Business Administration ’16). Most recently, it’s also tallied up to a rare accolade – earning a spot on the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada’s 2018 National Honour Roll. Gardiner, who is now a Senior Accountant with KPMG Canada in Vancouver, scored in the top 1% of the more than 6,000 Canadians who wrote the 2018 Common Final Examination – the final step in becoming in Certified Professional Accountant.


Farida El Sheshingy (Farida Salem) (Sport, Health and Physical Education ’17) has made it her life’s work to empower women through sport. While at VIU, she was on the Mariners women’s soccer team for three years, and as sports coordinator at VIU Residences, she created a sports and recreation program that runs to this day, called Res Sports League. After graduating, El Sheshingy worked in Canada for almost nine months before returning to Egypt to launch Empower Football Academy for girls. The academy’s mission is to change the physical education curriculum in Egypt. El Sheshingy wants to teach girls and young women that they can be strong and resilient in their patriarchal society through being physically active and athletic. 


Life is pretty sweet these days for Kara Shedden (Baking and Pastry Arts Certificate ’16), who opened an ice cream and macaron shop at Country Club Centre in 2018 called Burnt Honey Dessert Company. Burnt Honey supports as many local farmers, businesses and artists as possible while using high-quality ingredients. Shedden, who got her feet wet in the dessert industry by selling baked goods at local farmer’s and artisan markets in Nanaimo after graduating, achieved her Red Seal certification in November 2018.


YouTuber, freelance digital marketer and published author Zoey Poulsen (Sport, Health and Physical Education ’13) is living la dolce vita in her dream city – Rome, Italy. After graduating from VIU, the 26-year-old moved to Toronto, where she pursued a post-graduate certificate in Sport and Event Marketing from George Brown College. Poulsen worked for a few years in the corporate marketing world before striking out on her own to follow her passions – travelling and sharing her positive message with people. She’s written four books focused on different aspects of wellness and self-improvement.

As owner of the Fourth Street and Ladysmith Panago Pizza locations, as well as a local development company, Slava Govorov (Business Administration Diploma ’14) is grateful for the community he lives and does business in. He gives back every chance he gets – for example, he’s a generous supporter of both the VIU Mariners and student awards. In honour of his growing reputation as business leader, Govorov was recognized as one of the Island’s
Top 20 Under 40 last year.

Tags: Alumni | community | VIU Magazine

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