Putting Their Skills to Work

There are more than 75,000 VIU alumni living and working around the world, many of whom have started their own unique, innovative and successful businesses. Here’s what three grads did with the skills they learned in VIU programs.

January 8, 2018 - 4:15pm

By Jenn McGarrigle

There are more than 75,000 VIU alumni living and working around the world, many of whom have started their own unique, innovative and successful businesses. Here’s what three grads did with the skills they learned in VIU programs. 

Hailey Mannynvali and Paul Aboud, Co-owners, Hearthstone Bakery

Hailey Mannynvali and Paul Aboud know the products they serve at the Hearthstone Artisan Bakery in south Nanaimo are amazing, and so do their many regular customers. Now people across Canada know as well, thanks to the attention the bakery has received from television shows. 

Last year, Mannynvali showed hosts from YTV’s The Zone how to make a Nanaimo bar. Then earlier this year, a crew from The Food Network came to film in the shop for two days for a new show called The Baker Sisters, produced by Alibi Entertainment, the company responsible for shows such as Carnival Eats and You Gotta Eat Here. The segment aired at the beginning of November.

“When I asked how they heard about us, they said they had researched Nanaimo and found the Nanaimo Bar Trail, a map that marks all the stops for Nanaimo bars and other Nanaimo bar-like goodies and treats. We are one of the businesses listed and they liked our social media page,” says Mannynvali. “When they asked if we were interested in being featured on the show, there was no hesitation – the answer was yes!”

It was their connection to VIU and each other that made the business happen. Both alumni of VIU’s Professional Baking program – Mannynvali graduated in 2009 and Aboud finished the program in 2012 — they both ended up working at the Old Country Market in Coombs a few years ago, where they became friends. 

“Working there, we found out we could actually work together, and we both supported each other in the drive to produce quality products,” says Aboud. 

Around this time, Marty Dohm, owner of the Southgate Shopping Centre, approached Martin Barnett, Chair of VIU’s Baking Program, to ask him if he knew of anyone who could help him establish an artisan bakery in the shopping plaza. 

“We had just gone to VIU together to visit, so that probably made him think of us,” remembers Mannynvali. 

Hearthstone Artisan Bakery opened on December 28, 2015, a day Mannynvali and Aboud will never forget because they had lineups out the door all day. This year, the bakery won Best Desserts in the Nanaimo News Bulletin’s 2017 Best of the City contest. Aboud believes their success lies in their commitment to quality over quantity. 

“We use high-quality ingredients and we’re not mass producing anything,” he says. “We’re basically bringing back the mom-and-pop shop. It’s all open-concept, so people can talk to us while we are making the products.”

Mannynvali has known she wanted to be a baker ever since she watched a former boss decorate a cake in a grocery store bakery. The Nanaimo District Secondary School grad was able to complete her training in her final year of high school through the dual-credit program, which allows high school students to complete university credits and have them count towards their high school diploma as well. 

Aboud became a career baker late in life, but he’s been a home baker ever since he tasted real sourdough bread on a trip to San Francisco in 1989. He continued to bake as a hobby while pursuing numerous different careers, including in graphic design, illustration, animation, newspaper layout and television prop-making, until he moved to the Island and enrolled in the Baking program at VIU when he was 58. 

“The skill set I learned there has been the backbone of my current career path — this simply wouldn’t have happened had I not taken the program,” says Aboud.


Byron Bates, Founder and CEO of Muskwa Computer Sciences Corporation

Byron Bates feels his career has come full-circle. 

When he first decided to go back to VIU to take Computing Science in 2000, the Athabasca Tribal Council helped him out financially.

Years later, he returned the favour when he helped them create a cellphone app the ATC hopes will help preserve the Cree language dialect of northeastern Alberta. The app, ATC Cree, which can be downloaded for free from iTunes and the Android App Store, includes the spelling of more than 100 basic Cree words and phrases, and recordings of people reciting the words. The accomplishment caught the attention of local and national media outlets earlier this year.

“ATC provided me with support to get the skills I needed to create the language app,” says Bates. “It was rewarding to be able to use my skills to help the ATC fulfill a vision they had — the preservation of a language that plays a big part in identity.”

Computer science is Bates’s second career. Growing up in Nanaimo, he was fortunate enough to complete VIU’s Carpentry Foundation program while still in high school through the dual-credit program. He started his own business and worked as a carpenter until he was 30. When work dried up that year, he decided to make a change. 

“I always had computers when I was young and was really interested in them, so I went back to explore a career in that industry,” he says. 

Since graduating in 2004, Bates has held a variety of interesting jobs, including maintaining remote servers for a company that sells management software for body shops and setting up and managing the server that handled all the media for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. 

“Plus of course helping every friend I have get viruses out of Windows machines,” he jokes, adding that while the technical skills he learned at VIU have been vital to his success, the most important skill he learned was the ability to quickly acquire new skills.

“Technology changes so rapidly, so it’s important to be able to adapt and keep up,” he says. 

Bates moved to Fort McMurray in 2012 to work as Band Administrator for Fort McMurray #468 First Nation — a job that wasn’t initially related to his training until he began devising ways to improve the band’s IT systems and better manage workflow.

“I started Muskwa Computer Sciences Corporation in 2014 with the goal of helping to modernize IT infrastructure and management software for First Nations governments,” he says.

“Part of my vision is to help create jobs for First Nations people working with their own Nations. Traditionally, these jobs have been farmed out to non-Aboriginal individuals and companies. I would like to help First Nations people acquire those skills through work experience, mentorship and education, and have rewarding careers in the tech sector.”


Katelyn McDougall, owner, OfCity Consulting, and Public Engagement Coordinator for the City of New Westminster

A cup of coffee with VIU Geography Professor Dr. Pam Shaw changed Katelyn McDougall’s life.

One of her Sociology professors connected the two after recognizing McDougall’s interest in urban geography. The next semester, she started taking geography courses at Shaw’s urging, which led to a whole new set of opportunities, including a travel abroad trip to Los Angeles. She also formed a small business called OfCity Consulting the year before she graduated from VIU.

“My life would be 100% different if I hadn’t met Pam. It’s one of those moments I will look back on that has really helped me become who I want to be,” she says. “While it’s partly luck and chance, it’s also a result of the environment at VIU. The small class sizes allowed me to develop strong relationships with both my professors and my peers, which has continued to foster my growth and development since graduating.”

One of McDougall’s first contracts through OfCity Consulting was with the City of Nanaimo, researching the impact of a social housing development on a neighbourhood. She also went to Parksville to help with a homeless count. 

“It really opened my eyes to the reality of what homeless people face,” she remembers. “Knowing more about their challenges, but more so, having this deep connection with them through interviews, I realized there’s no difference between myself and those who find themselves living on the streets. This could happen to anybody.”

After graduating from VIU in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts (Major in Sociology, Minor in Geography), McDougall continued to build her business. She also began taking courses towards a Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement at Simon Fraser University, which led her to move to Vancouver to enrol in the Urban Studies master’s program at SFU. She defended her thesis this September. 

Living in Vancouver gave her the opportunity to work with a diverse range of organizations and different levels of government, including the BC Safety Authority, the Burnaby Heights Merchants’ Association and the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Office.

This fall, McDougall took a new step in her career when she started work as the City of New Westminster’s new Public Engagement Coordinator – a completely new role for the city and one she believes her extensive public consultation experience helped her get. 

“I’m passionate about bringing my love of knowledge and information to impact the community,” says McDougall. “At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that the things I’m doing are going to have some sort of meaningful and positive impact on the communities I live and work in.”

*This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017/18 edition of VIU Magazine. Check out more stories on the VIU Magazine webpage.

Tags: Alumni | VIU Magazine