Rising-star composer signs with top publisher

By Debora Van Brenk


As a pre-schooler, Sarah Quartel found music everywhere, even in the tuneless rattle of the refrigerator. “I used to sing along with the hum of the appliances and create melodies and harmonies from what I heard.”

Today, Quartel, BMus’05, BEd’06, is one of Canada’s rising stars in choral composition, with commissions from around the world and, now, a new contract as Major Composer with the prestigious Oxford University Press (OUP). The signing confirms Quartel among the elite as OUP’s youngest Major Composer, its only Canadian and one of just two women.

“It’s a dream come true,” said the 34-year-old Quartel, noting the publisher’s commitment to music and musicians, its business savvy and an international reputation for excellence. The contract with Oxford dramatically expands the exposure her work receives by choral ensembles of all kinds.

For its part, Quartel has a “fresh, exciting style. She is already highly successful in North America and we are excited to represent her and her works around the globe,” said Ben Selby, OUP’s director of music publishing.

Quartel’s compositions have been performed as close to home as West Lorne, Ont., and as far away as Japan, by school choirs and community choruses, in small churches and soaring concert halls. The Oxford contract will make her work available to an even wider world audience.

Born in Chatham and raised in London, Quartel lives with her husband in Hawaii but still calls Canada home. This country, and southwestern Ontario in particular, has been her muse. Its changing seasons shape the heart of many of her pieces.

Quartel comes from a large extended family with deep musical roots. Her father, and her grandather, were church organists; her aunt, an accomplished trumpet player.

She began piano lessons at age four, and gained choral experience in church choirs and later in the Amabile children’s choir.

One year, the Fanshawe Symphonic Chorus, led by Gerald Fagan, held a competition for best new Christmas choral composition; the prize would be the chorus would perform the winner’s piece that season. Eight-year-old Quartel earnestly composed a song – she’s forgotten its name, but remembers each note and word of every part – and submitted her entry.

“I tied for first place, little me,” she recalled. “I remember sitting on stage in my crushed-velvet pink dress while the chorus sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ It was an indescribable feeling.”

Even so, her musical passions as a child and teen gravitated more toward piano and voice training than composition. Her piano teachers had links to Western, which gave her experience beyond just lessons. “I had exposure to really great music education as I was growing up,” she said.

Accepted into the Don Wright Faculty of Music after a vocal audition, she swung into the composition stream in her second year.

The personal attention students received at the school was energizing and inspiring, she said, recalling detailed feedback from Composition professor Peter Paul Koprowski and lecturer Kim Lundberg. “You walk into the room with a piece you’ve composed and they take it apart and, together, you rebuild it. As nerve-wracking as that can be, it was a tremendous experience because you got that one-on-one analysis of your work.”

When she tells fellow composers of her Western experience, they marvel she received such detailed critiques as an undergraduate, something their schools offered only at the master’s or PhD level.

“As I listen to her music, I understand the reasons she was embraced by the Oxford University Press. I am impressed by the effectiveness of her writing and the veil of beauty permeating her music,” said Koprowski.

Quartel also credits Jennifer Moir, Director of Western’s Les Choristes & Chorale, with shaping her perspectives on arrangements and choral singing. “Jennifer put brilliant scores in the hands of her singers.”

Quartel developed a style infused with emotion, personality, place and storytelling. Commissions began to trickle in, starting with the Treble Makers, a small West Lorne women’s chorus that asked her to write for its spring concert. The choir’s conductor, Sharon Little, sought out Quartel while looking looked for new, accessible Canadian pieces that would suit a small group. “It’s difficult to find music that is intelligent and has a range that’s not in the stratosphere,” Little said.

The resulting work, I Remember, became one of the choir’s favourites. “The first time we sang it – and we have a musically educated and involved community – there were people in the crowd in tears.”

The evocative piece made it into the OUP repertoire and has since become one of its most popular, with performances from groups such as the Singapore Symphonic Youth Choir.

“Sharon Little took a chance on me and asked me to compose a piece for the Treble Makers before I had really proven myself elsewhere. They put a lot of faith in me at a point in my life and career when no one else did.”

That comment took Little aback: “I never knew that. I didn’t know where she was in her composing career. I liked what I’d seen and she fit the local, Canadian, young, female, easy-to-find criteria. The Oxford University Press is the height of choral publishing companies in the world, and to start there is pretty awesome.”

Only the best of the best are among the OUP’s half-dozen major choral composers: including the likes of John Rutter (commissioned to write a piece for Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011) and Mack Wilberg (director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

Quartel’s favourite feedback comes from people who say her music unexpectedly moved them, such as the accountant from New Jersey who sent her an email to say he is ordinarily emotionally reserved, but cried when he sang one of her compositions.

“The reason I write is to make that emotional connection with myself and with others,” Quartel said. “When I’m writing, I don’t connect with a piece unless it first emotionally resonates with me.”

Meanwhile, Quartel continues to write from Hawaii, where her husband is posted with the Canadian Navy, as she prepares for the birth of their first-born. “Where do I go from here? Back to my piano, and I keep writing. Some of my friends have noted I haven’t written any lullabies, so maybe that’s next.”

Posted with permission, Western News

Working Hospitably: By Erin Annis, Recruitment Consultant

What led you to the hospitality career path?


I remember being in 9th grade, sitting with my Dad at a downtown restaurant that had new ownership and had changed drastically since the last time we’d been there.  The topic of hospitality came up…and that there actually was a degree in the field of hospitality management!  

I thought that was such an intriguing and unique concept.  On family vacations, the hotel was always my ‘happy place’.  So, contributing to someone else’s experience of such joy – combined with the opportunity for travel – seemed the most rewarding career choice that I could imagine!  

So, I studied Hospitality Management at the University of Guelph.  During my co-op placement, I landed an amazing opportunity in Human Resources with one of the Starwood Hotels. That experience doubly confirmed that this was definitely the path I wanted to follow.  My co-op teacher visited me at my placement and said something along the lines of “Wow, I have never seen someone so happy to be at work!”  She even decided to feature me in an article in our high school newsletter (a mini-work story, if you will!)

More specifically, what led you to hospitality recruitment?

The University of Guelph does an amazing job of highlighting how widespread the hospitality industry really is.  Courses range from Hotels to Restaurants to Airlines to Casinos to Property Management   – Hospitality is a multi-faceted industry!  I’ve always considered myself a "people person” as well, so the appeal of Human Resources was always there. Combining my passion for both Hospitality and Human Resources was the best of both worlds for me.  After graduating from Guelph, I knew I would come to a fork-in-the-road situation, since Corporate Recruitment roles, as with many roles, are extremely competitive.  I knew that I would have to take a few career steps before landing a role like that.  I could go either the Operations route in the hotel sector – and work my way up through the Front Desk ranks ­ – or I could get my foot in the door with recruitment in general.  

After graduation, I landed a Recruitment Internship with a recruitment company focusing on the legal sector.  Definitely not where I envisioned I’d be, but it played a major part in my career growth.  I took a leap out of my comfort zone into an environment where two great supervisors took me under their wings and showed me the recruitment ropes in an agency setting. Agency recruitment is closely linked to sales (as opposed to HR) and it involves  lots of prospecting and cold calling.  So this choice was especially surprising, since anyone who knew me growing up knows that I was the shyest kid ever!   However, I truly think that being in the hospitality industry and working in it since high school ­ – everything from McDonald’s to serving to working as a Reservation Agent ­ – has helped bring me out of my shell and improved my ability to think on my feet. 

For over a year now, I have been working as a Recruiter at Global Hospitality Inc, a hospitality recruitment company.  Every day is different…thinking on my feet, being personable, and understanding in-depth what motivate others.  These are all musts! 

Most rewarding parts of the job?  

There are several rewarding aspects of my job. What stands out to me is its variety and unconventionality – being exposed to the full spectrum of hospitality, working on roles ranging from Line Cook to CEO, and for a wide range of respected companies across North America! 

One of the accomplishments I’m very proud of is getting to work on a search for a high-profile restaurant opening before it was released to the public, and placing the General Manager there. I never thought at the age of 22 I’d be able to say that I’ve done that. 

Another would be the overall feeling that comes with any successful placement, when you know you have made a great match for the candidate and the client.  There are a lot of moving parts that go into a successful  placement  – after all, these are peoples’ careers we are dealing with and things are never taken lightly.  It is always great when you hear that your candidate is happy as the job goes on.  I've received lovely thank-you notes and Christmas cards and I keep them on the desk to remind myself of my accomplishments.

Biggest job challenge?

When I began recruiting and was working on more junior early-career roles, I thought I would have a way easier time connecting with those younger candidates since I’m younger myself.  What I quickly realized was pretty blatantly clear – there are a lot of older people who are currently employed who still have no idea what they want to do! There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.  However, when you are a recruiter representing a candidate who cannot commit to an interview or the idea of a new job, it can b e challenging.  This has made me greatly value transparency and clear communication at work  ­– and this  carries over to everyday life as well. 

Best advice to anyone entering the workforce?

How I got my first “real” job out of university was by proactively reaching out to companies that I wanted to work for.  After completing my internship, I knew  that I wanted my permanent full-time role to be a step into hospitality.  So, I reached out to a few hospitality-specific recruitment companies and landed this role!  That was purely from conducting my own research on what’s out there, then connecting and expressing interest.  

Advice to anyone starting out in the workforce …?

  • Make a list of some places you’ve always wanted to work.  
  • Do a search of companies that fall into a similar realm – and send an email expressing your interest in working there!  Whether there is a job opening or not, they will know your name and most likely remember you when a suitable opening does come up.  
  • Do anything you can to expand your network.  Research companies, attend events, even just talking to people in your own network about your career goals could lead somewhere

It never hurts to be proactive!


Fashion forward: Erin Kleinberg, BA'06, takes entrepreneurship and keeps it cool

By Angie Wiseman


Erin Kleinberg’s resume reads like the glossy pages of a fashion magazine: glitz, glamour and ingenuity. Yet, her success as a designer, publisher and advertising executive is the pinnacle of her hard work, tenacity and a little inspiration from her grandmother.

“My favourite thing to do is take something from nothing and make it cool, build brands and tell stories.”

It’s something Kleinberg, BA’06, has been doing since her early days at university.

“When I was at Western, I ran a fashion show. Through that, I gained confidence to be a leader. I was running the show, taking minutes and sending out emails. Essentially, I was a 20-year-old learning how to run a business and help raise $20,000 for charity. All of it helped me understand what I wanted to do,” she said.

Around that time, Kleinberg visited her grandmother – a woman with an “obsession with fashion.” During the visit, her grandmother pulled out a collection of vintage scarves. In them, Kleinberg saw opportunity – make the scarves into shirts and showcase them at the fashion show. The scarves were a hit with other students and the orders poured in.

Erin Kleinberg Inc. was born.

“Western prepared me for everything I could have asked for in life. It taught me so many lessons. It taught me what capitalism meant and what consumerism was and how to see the world through a critical lens,” she said.

After a chance run-in between Kleinberg and Mischa Barton, The O.C. actress was photographed in one of Kleinberg’s shirts. That photograph convinced a pair of large Toronto retailers to pick up the line.

“I found myself in Holt Renfrew and they said, ‘What’s the lead time on these tops?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what lead time is.’ It was all naiveté and I didn’t care. I was fearless. When you are that age, you aren’t scared of anything,” she said.

Kleinberg used the money she made selling her line to Holt Renfrew to move to New York for an internship at W Magazine with fashion director Alex White.

“She (White) taught me everything I know about how to handle chaos and how to get everything done. On Day Two of my internship, I was dropping off underwear (for a photo shoot) to George Clooney. I got to go on all the ad campaigns, including ones for Celine, Oscar De La Renta and French Connection and really see how a vision comes together from start to finish in advertising,” she said.

After not being able to obtain a work visa to accept her dream job at Chanel, Kleinberg moved back to Toronto to revisit the clothing line she put on pause.

“I got great experience and went home and tried to get a job in fashion. But the pool in Toronto isn’t that big and that’s partly why I’ve had to create my own jobs. I thought, ‘OK, I can’t get my own job. I know how to make clothes. Maybe I should do that again.”

Although Kleinberg has no formal fashion design training, she has a knack for seeing gaps in the market. This time it was embellished T-shirts. With her sights set high, she went directly to Barney’s New York and convinced them they needed to buy the shirts. To her surprise, they agreed.

“Once again, I was fearless. They purchased the collection and I was in complete shock. It was the highlight of my life,” she said.

From there, she sold to Intermix, Neiman Marcus, Lane Crawford and Harvey Nicolls. From 14 accounts, she grew the business to 80 worldwide.

Around the same time, the Facebook movie, Social Network, had just been released and Kleinberg felt inspired to brainstorm some new ideas with a friend at brunch. “I was thinking we should start a website because there’s no overhead,” she laughed.

That website turned out to be the highly successful Coveteur, an online fashion magazine.

“We loved street-style fashion – when people take photos outside of the shows and you can see what the editors are putting together in a cool way. We felt like it had become infiltrated where anyone could get that photo. So, why don’t we go into these tastemakers’ homes and show not only what they had on that day, but also show them in their environment,” she said.

“It was a crazy idea and it was for fun. We got a bunch of people together and went to New York and we did it and the content was really compelling. It was right time, right place and nothing like that existed at the time.”

Kleinberg was able to get the support of Vogue and Elle simultaneously in advance of launching the site as well as style.com and vogue.com. “We had no idea how forward-thinking it really was,” she said.

Kleinberg and her partners photographed closets in high-profile people’s homes and told the stories of their individual style. Once they got some traction, they reached out to Chanel and partnered with them on a number of projects. They had the support of their favourite brand, and Chanel became their first advertiser.

“Chanel flew us to Paris and we interviewed Karl Lagerfeld and toured Coco’s apartment. We had never been to Paris before so it was an absolute crazy story,” she said.

With an eye on expanding the website, Kleinberg and her team hired Janet Bannister, HBA’92, as their CEO and started to look for investors.

“We were on our way. We were in over 500 of the most epic individuals’ houses and it was an experience, but I missed my clothing my line. It was the right time to move on,” she said.

Kleinberg went on to work with big names such as actors Lena Dunham and Jared Leto on her clothing line but started to see another gap in the market. This time, she wanted to bring all of her experience together into an advertising agency. Along with partner Stacie Brockman, Métier Creative was established.

“I’ve tapped into the very popular movement of ‘girl boss’ and feel grateful to have all these women around me – women who are fundraising and building businesses and being moms and doing everything that they can,” she continued.

“Being an entrepreneur, you always feel like there is more you can be doing, there’s never really a time where you feel like you are done.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Western University’s Alumni Gazette. Reprinted with permission.

Living Every Day to The Fullest: Grad Turns Life Lessons into Consulting Business, Advocacy Efforts

Story by Rob O’Flanagan

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    His dog , Sawyer, in the lead, Drew Cumpson motors down the back  roads near his home, with personal support worker Matt Crosgrove alongside.

His dog , Sawyer, in the lead, Drew Cumpson motors down the back  roads near his home, with personal support worker Matt Crosgrove alongside.

Drew Cumpson books it on the back roads of Loyalist Township in his power wheelchair, an Invacare TDX SP model loaded with features. He steers, brakes and guns it with subtle movements of his head and neck. His T-shirt reads “Eat. Sleep. Travel” – the slogan of his former school at the University of Guelph.

Cumpson’s dog, Sawyer, takes the lead as Cumpson motors down the blacktop, alongside hayfields north of Amherstview, in the rolling landscape upcountry from Lake Ontario’s northeastern shore.

The young man’s personal support workers have trouble keeping up. One lags well behind, preserving her energy, while another quicksteps alongside. The chair goes just fast enough to give Sawyer a workout and Cumpson a breeze.

A graduate of the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, Cumpson, 26, is a determined, stubborn and resilient person who is on a mission to live life to the fullest. As a quadriplegic, he wants to help others with disabilities do the same.

His life over the last six years, he says, has been one big learning curve – a difficult process of learning to live well after suddenly losing the use of his arms and legs. He has lots of experiential learning to share.

Earlier this year, Cumpson launched his website www.drewcumpson.com, the centrepiece of his H & D (Hospitality and Disability) Consulting business. He advises restaurants, hotels and airlines on improving accessibility, while coaching people with disabilities in everything from travel planning to obtaining post-secondary education to maintaining a healthy attitude.

He also advocates for better health services for people with disabilities, and for changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program so it provides more support for those wanting to get o the program, earn a living or start a business.

“Yes, my life has changed,” he says, sitting in the open-space living room of the rural home built specially for him by his family, close to the medical services he needs in nearby Kingston.

“I cannot do all the same things that I used to do, but I try to do as many of those things as possible, in order to continue living a life that is comparable to what I would be doing if I did not have my accident. I have to go forward in life, no matter what. I am not giving up.”

A few days before the 2011 swimming accident that altered his life, Cumpson was looking out over Peru’s Andes Mountains from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, among the seven wonders of the world. He vowed then to visit the remaining six. It was one of his last experiences on foot.

Unaccustomed to world travel as a person with a disability, he nevertheless visited Mexico’s Chichen Itza in early 2016, another of the world’s wonders. He did it because he promised himself he would.

He encountered many obstacles and inaccessible places. It inspired him to work to make travel easier for those with a disability.

“I’ve always been someone who, once something is in my mind, I am going to focus on completing that task, no matter what.”

In May 2011, Cumpson was part of a University of Guelph humanitarian trip to Peru, helping to improve the lives of local people living in poverty.

On the last day of the volunteer trip, he was swimming in the Pacific Ocean. One especially powerful wave drove him headfirst into the rocky ocean floor. The impact fractured the fourth cervical vertebra in his spine.

“I don’t really recall the first two or three weeks after the accident,” he says.

Paralyzed from the armpits down, he spent 16 months in intensive care at Kingston General Hospital. There were many complications. He was transferred to the former St. Mary’s of the Lake facility for complex continuing care, where he spent three years.

Now, Cumpson lives at home in a decidedly non-clinical setting. He requires round-the-clock care. Medical specialists monitor his health. He needs a ventilator to breathe and a pacemaker to ensure his heart rate remains above 60 beats per minute.

It was at St. Mary’s that he decided to resume his studies at U of G. He had been away for ve semes- ters. The option of transferring to Queen’s University in Kingston was suggested, but he said no. He would stick with what he called U of G’s “best in the nation” hospitality program.

“I wanted to show that even though you have a disability, you can still do everything from an educational perspective,” says Cumpson, whose tattoo of a leaping Moby Dick on his left bicep is a symbol of his own story of strength and survival.

After starting back at the University in January 2013, he learned that his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She fought a strong battle, he says, but died on July 17 that year.

Cumpson persevered. He took all the distance education classes he could. Skype allowed him to attend further courses remotely. Other students took notes for him. Faculty and sta did whatever was necessary to make it happen. “They were just amazing,” Cumpson says.

Mike von Massow, now a professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, was teaching in the College of Business and Economics when Cumpson made his return to his studies.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” says von Massow. “His commitment to finishing the program – and the support he got from other students – was admirable. It really was amazing. It was inspira- tional when he came across the stage to graduate.”

Cumpson’s body is confined, but his mind is unconstrained. It darts and dashes, keeping him awake at night.

“My brain never shuts off,” he says. “It does not shut off at all.”

He is bombarded by thoughts about his future, his consulting business, the challenges he faces and how best to overcome them. There is a connecting thread of optimism running through it all.

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    Cumpson’s optimism, and his smile, shines through.

Cumpson’s optimism, and his smile, shines through.

 “I’ve honestly never seen him have a negative day,” says Madison Simmons, a best friend. “He’s always positive. He’s just so driven. When he sets his mind to something, he has to see it through.”

Before his accident, Cumpson had no idea of the challenges facing people with disabilities. “As someone who went from being able-bodied to disabled in an instant, I realized very quickly how inaccessible it is, and how many barriers there are in this world for people living with disabilities of any kind.”

Yet Cumpson doesn’t think of himself as disabled. “In terms of my disability, I look at it more as not really a disability, but something along the lines of just having different abilities now than what I had before. My abilities in life have changed, but I still have these other abilities to push forever and work through in life.”

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in The University of Guelph’s Portico Magazine. 

H & D Consulting, Cumpson’s consulting practice offers practical guidance for people with disabilities on

  • the dos and don’ts of world travel
  • the pursuit of higher education
  • the art of self advocacy
  • sex and relationships


Alumna fiddles while career burns bright


By Paul Mayne, Western News

From creating and running her own website, social media and booking gigs, to acting as agent, promoter, musical director and performing, Celina Di Cecca is a hands-on CEO of her ‘mini corporation.’

“It is hard work some days. But I love it and wouldn’t want to do anything else,” said the Don Wright Faculty of Music alumna. “Music is my religion. It moves me; it’s very cathartic; it’s therapeutic to get you through good times and bad times. You always have music with you.”

And that’s true for Di Cecca who, at age 4 growing up in Hamilton, Ont., picked up her first violin.

“I was the youngest of three kids, so I was kind of the showoff of the siblings,” she said, adding her brother, mom and grandfather are musicians themselves. “It’s a big part of my family and just felt normal to me. I guess it’s in the blood. Every Christmas, or at family gatherings, we’d have our musical instruments out. And we still do to this day.”

After attending her first fiddle camp at age 12, and being exposed to the toe-tapping rhythms of fiddle music, she fell in love with Canadian Celtic music. Having wowed audiences now for more than 20 years performing both classical and fiddle music throughout Canada – including creating the Great Canadian Fiddle Show, the Greyhound Riders and her solo work – it wasn’t until Di Cecca came to Western that she knew music was her going to be her life.


“The music program at Western is well known and respected in Ontario and Canada and I had known some folks who had gone through the program,” said Di Cecca who, while in first year, put together a string quartet with some fellow students to play weddings and corporate gigs to help pay for her schooling.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually making a pretty good wage compared to your regular student job,’” said the 32-year-old. “I started to gig more, was building my confidence, putting groups together and playing at Scots Corner (in London). Although I always wanted to be a musician, I never knew being a musician was really a job.”

Along with teaching private lessons (fiddle, violin, viola, mandolin and piano), Di Cecca’s talents and stage performance makes her a highly sought after live and studio musician in Toronto. She has performed with such notable musicians as Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies), Heather Rankin (The Rankin Family), Shane Cook, Mark Sullivan and Jake Charron (East Pointers).

Her most recent creation is producing, directing and performing in The Great Canadian Fiddle Show, which has played Canada’s Wonderland, the Canadian National Exhibition, the Grey Cup and countless tours over the last five years.

Di Cecca is also in a variety of bands including the Toronto based folk-roots duo Greyhound Riders, with her husband Tony Nesbitt-Larking, The Amores and has recently joined Toronto rock band Sirens of Shant. She’s also a founding member of Steel City Rovers and has performed with the Tartan Terrors.

It was during her time at Western where she first started to dabble in songwriting, having written dozens of songs over the years. With plans to record all of the music she wrote, Di Cecca recently released her debut single, Waiting.

While the life of a musician can be one filled with many lows and few highs, Di Cecca said she is “all in” when it comes to her music.

“I jumped in, set goals and, like my mom always taught me, I never took ‘no’ for an answer and dug my heels into the ground,” she said. “If you want something hard enough, you need to work for it. I’ve always done that. Being at Western, while the music program is challenging, at the same time, it builds your skills. Western really built my confidence as both a player and teacher. It has played a key role in my music career.”

Di Cecca will be bringing her Great Canadian Fiddle Show to London’s Aeolian Hall next March for a pair of shows and looks forward to sharing what she calls “a musical journey from coast to coast” of traditional Canadian fiddling.

“We show them (audience) fiddling is alive across the country; it’s not just an East Coast thing,” she said. “There are different dialects and accents across Canada, so too are there different styles when it comes to fiddling. It’s our traditional music and we want to keep it alive.

“It’s fulfilling putting smiles on so many faces, from little kids mesmerized by seeing the fiddle for the first time, to the seniors who know all about its history. It’s wonderful to share music with everyone.”

Reprinted with permission from Western News

Finding Her Voice: Rachael Courtemanche’s WorkStory

By Erica Pulling, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University & Rachael Courtemanche


Rachael Courtemanche is the Communications Coordinator at the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC). LEDC is the lead economic development agency for the city of London, Canada. Rachael’s role focuses on content creation for the LEDC and local small-to-medium businesses to help tell their stories, as well as implementing communications, marketing, and social media strategies.

With a strong desire to help others, Rachael completed the Social Service Worker (SSW) program at Fanshawe College (2011-13). During the program, however, she realized the hands-on, high stress environment an SSW can face was not the right fit for her. Rachael was up for a challenge, but felt this wasn’t the kind she was looking for. It wasn’t until Rachael took a step back and re-evaluated exactly what she wanted to study and what she felt she could excel at that she realized what her calling was: writing.

At the time, Western University was one of the only nearby educational institutions that offered degrees in Creative Writing. With a love for living in London, it was a clear choice for Rachael. From 2013 until graduation in 2016, she studied English Language and Literature and Creative Writing at Western. While at first Rachael  didn’t know exactly where the program would take her career-wise, she knew pursuing her passion for writing was worthwhile.

During her time at Western, Rachael took part in the work-study program where she worked as a Copywriter for the Faculty of Science. In this role, she interviewed faculty, alumni, and current students and created articles about their research and initiatives. With no science background, it was a true test for Rachael to take complex, scientific information, and boil it down to what mattered most: why what they were doing is so important.

It was this opportunity that opened her eyes to the field of Communications and Marketing, which to her was the perfect fit for leveraging her writing talents and helping others better share their stories. It’s where she found her voice and discovered how it could be used to help others.

Following her work-study role, Rachael began her current role as Communications Coordinator at the LEDC during the summer of 2015. The role was a summer student position and Rachael had one final year of school left, so she knew her job search wasn’t over yet. However, the skills gained from her work and educational experiences proved valuable to the corporation, and they wanted to keep her on the team. Rachael continued her role in a part-time capacity during the school year which evolved into full-time upon graduation.

Just over two years later, Rachael continues leveraging her writing, editing, communications, and creative skills every day at the LEDC. A typical day for Rachael starts with a media scan for interesting stories about local businesses in London to share and promote.  She also spends her mornings focusing on any big, on-going projects or high priority items. Her day changes often, which keeps things interesting and keeps Rachael on her toes. 

One of Rachael’s favourite parts of the job is that she has learned so much about London, the businesses here, and can help many different companies share their stories within and beyond London. It has reignited her love for the city in which she lives and makes her appreciate the innovations grown right here in London.

Rachael’s advice for current students is to start thinking about what you want to do as soon as you can!  Once you know, you can start gaining relevant experience in the field you are interested in pursuing, which will help you find a job after graduation. Whether it be through work or volunteer experience, Rachael recommends getting involved through school programs and faculties.

“Seek volunteer, work-study, or committee experiences that will build your resume and give you hands-on skills you may not gain in your program. And of course, study what you love and love what you study – and let that approach spill over into your career choices too” said Rachael.

Associate Account Manager: Tanner Fryfogel’s WorkStory

By Erica Pulling, WorkStory Ambassador  at Western University

Tanner Fryfogel.jpg

Tanner Fryfogel is an associate account manager in commercial banking at RBC.  He is responsible for maintaining positive relationships with business owners, and introducing them to other bank employees to help with their specific needs.  In addition to working with existing customers, he also tries to meet new clients and bring them over to RBC. 

Tanner completed a two-year diploma at Fanshawe College in Business, followed by an advanced diploma in leadership and management.  During his time at Fanshawe, he realised that getting a university degree would open more doors in the field he was interested in, so he decided to use the credits he had already earned towards a degree at Nipissing University.  With those, he studied another one year and a semester to complete a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

While completing his last semester of university, Tanner learned about The RBC Career LaunchTM Program offered through RBC.  Each year, this program hires 100 recent graduates from around Canada for a one-year contract.  Because of his interest in commercial banking, Tanner felt this program would be a good fit for him.  Initially, he applied for the program online.  He was then contacted for a phone interview, followed by a Skype interview.  After successfully completing the first three steps, Tanner was brought to Guelph for a panel interview with other applicants from the area.  During the interview, applicants were put through a variety of tasks designed to test how well they could think on their feet.  After successfully completing this interview, Tanner was accepted into the program. 

In late January, Tanner and the other new employees in the program were brought to Toronto for a three-day conference.  During these three days they were given the opportunity to hear a number of speakers and get to know the other members of the program.  After the conference, Tanner returned to London, where he completed the program.  The first six months of the program were spent working in a branch.  During this time, he spent four days a week working as a bank teller, helping clients, and doing tasks around the branch.  The fifth day was spent on training and personal development, where he was able to develop skills like communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. 

Next, Tanner spent three months working at Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). YOU is a not-for-profit organization located in London, Ontario dedicated to helping youth in the community by providing them with the skills, confidence, and independence they need to succeed.  During these three months, Tanner was responsible for helping with business development.  This involved taking care of marketing activities, selling products created by young people in the program, creating and pricing gift baskets, and helping in any other way he could. 

After his time at YOU, Tanner spent the remaining three months working at a regional branch in commercial banking services. He was put in charge of a special project investigating how best the branch could open up communications and get better wealth management referrals.  RBC noticed that clients who used RBC for their business banking often used a different bank for their personal investments, and Tanner was responsible for investigating why this disconnect existed, and how they might be able to solve the problem.  According to Tanner, this was a great opportunity to learn more about commercial banking, as well as to network and meet people who he may not have otherwise met. 

At the end of the 12 months, Tanner and the other employees were brought back to Toronto for a final conference that signalled the end of the program.  Shortly thereafter, Tanner was called back in for his current position as an associate account manager.  

Tanner’s favourite part of the job is working with a variety of people, and getting to know clients.  Since every business owner is different, he enjoys figuring people out and getting to learn about people. 

When asked his opinion regarding how current students could be successful in finding a job after graduation, Tanner stresses the importance of networking.  He recommends taking the opportunity to get out and meet new people, and to keep in touch with them.  He believes the Career Launch Program was very useful because it allowed him to meet so many people in his field of interest.  According to Tanner, knowing people makes it that much easier to find a job! 

The Road to Radio: Rachel Ettinger’s WorkStory

By Michael Slipenkyj, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Most young people begin post-secondary education with some idea of what they want to do for the rest of their lives. But many quickly discover that the career they dreamed of won’t actually be a good fit for them.

Rachel Ettinger is one of these young people. As a horseback rider she dreamed of following her passion for animals with career as a veterinarian. She attended St. Francis Xavier University on a scholarship to study biology, but during her second year, after genetics and botany classes, Rachel realized that she was no longer enjoying biology the way she thought she should be. She then made the difficult decision not to pursue a career as a vet.

While contemplating switching her major to business she talked to one of her professors who explained how she could take her electives and a couple summer classes -- and graduate with a double major resulting in two degrees!

Rachel followed this advice and took all her spare classes in business. After her fourth year she graduated with a Bachelor of Science along with her biology classmates.  And after her fifth year she graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration.

One summer, wanting to stay in Halifax with her friends from school, Rachel got a job working with Virgin Radio Halifax as part of its Summer Cruiser program. A friend-  who had previously worked at the Summer Cruiser program - recognized what a good fit Rachel would be for the job and recommended she apply. Rachel loved working for the Cruiser Program as it gave her the opportunity to see a lot of the city, meet new people, and attend many fun events!

Toward the end of the summer, Rachel was offered a job filling in on the morning show at 101.3 The BOUNCE in Halifax. Even though she had little experience as a radio host, she took the opportunity and loved it!  By the end of the summer she was offered the job.  Valuing her education, she declined the first full-time job offer as the morning show co-host. But after she finished her fifth year at university and graduated with her B.B.A she was again offered the job as the morning co-host at 101.3 The BOUNCE in Halifax. This time, without any hesitation, she took the job.

At first, it was not easy. Rachel began with very little knowledge about how to be a radio and television host. But she did not let the stress bring her down. And, as she looks back on it now, she notes that “In one way it was good, because I didn’t have any bad habits.”

Rachel started off working solely on the radio but, after a couple of months the 2015 World Men’s Curling Championships in Halifax gave Rachel her first television opportunity.  Working as the lead correspondent for CTV News, she proved her capabilities and got her foot in the television industry door, so to speak.

Rachel worked in Halifax for a year and a half before being promoted to the morning co-host at 97.5 Virgin Radio in London, Ontario.  She doesn’t know where her job will take her next, but she hopes the skills she learns from her current role will help her evolve along with the drastically changing radio and television industry.

Rachel’s advice?   While a university degree is not a prerequisite for a career in radio and television, Rachel observes that people with post-secondary education are often successful in their career because “they build certain skills, I believe, through education. They learned how to be on a team and how to do projects together and all those things will help with any job”.

One reason Rachel loves her job is that it’s a great fit -- with both her education and her personality. Her education provided her great life skills on how to handle teams and show up prepared. And her outgoing personality really meshes well with her co-host, Jeff Kelly, making them a relatable duo for their listeners. In Rachel’s own words, “Somewhere in a car, somebody will relate to you, and that’s the entire point”.

Rachel also loves working in the media industry because of the many opportunities it provides. She loves being part of community events and has met many people and made many friends.  And these interactions provide her a great way to connect with the people who she is actually trying to speak to on her radio show. While she is by no means the biggest fan of early mornings, Rachel absolutely loves scanning through all the social media, figuring out what’s popular and important, and getting that information to her audience in the morning.

Overall, Rachel loves working in television and radio because it provides her an outlet to communicate issues that she cares about. She loves learning about current issues and telling more people about them. While degrees in biology and business may not seem like ideal path for a radio host, Rachel’s education taught her important life skills which really help her connect with her audience. As Rachel puts it, “It doesn’t really matter what your background is for certain things…it’s based on foundational skills…and getting where you want to go”

Check out Rachel every week day on Mornings with Jeff and Rachel from 5:30am-9:00am on 97.5 Virgin Radio!

Creating Your Own Path: Nimra’s WorkStory

By Rija Choudhry, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Stepping into the real world without work experience can be discouraging for any university graduate.   After graduating from Ryerson University with a degree in Accounting and excellent grades, Nimra Choudhry had a clear idea about what her life was going to be like after she walked across the stage and earned her degree.  

Clear, but not necessarily accurate…

“All my life I was told that academic success will open doors to many opportunities. What you realize is that - without any experience - you’ll have to start at the bottom”. 

Currently, Nimra works as a Strategist, in the Strategy Group at RBC’s corporate office.  As part of her job, she makes critical decisions regarding the corporation’s future by working with colleagues from various divisions and creating strategies for the next 5 to 10 years.  “When you work as a Strategist you’re not only managing accounts and looking at numbers. You make those numbers come to life and tell a story. You engage in problem solving, creativity and present a solution. Solutions that impact the entire corporation. It is a position I genuinely enjoy, but I didn’t get here in the most conventional way. Sometimes you have to create your own path and the rest will follow”.

Nimra expected to land her dream job straight out of university, but reality had something else in mind. Success was a reward that came with great dedication and hard work, and it definitely did not come right away.

“After I left Ryerson, I applied to more jobs than I could keep track of! Eventually, I took a job at a call centre for a small collection agency”.   Although the call centre job was not in her field - or what she had hoped to do - Nimra worked hard and took the initiative to collaborate with the Human Resources (HR) team to create a training manual.  By thinking outside of the box, she was promoted to a Business Analyst position, where she provided training and delegated assignments to her team of 80 employees.  What Nimra initially thought was a dead end presented her with a huge opportunity! 

“Never let your past limit your future,” says Nimra. “I didn’t have a degree in HR, but I saw a problem and formulated a solution. Creating a training manual wasn’t something that I was familiar with. But it opened doors for me which I never knew existed”.

After Nimra concluded her role as a Business Analyst at the collection agency, she applied for an entry-level position at RBC in fund accounting, a position she held for two years. Despite having earned a degree in Accounting, she decided to follow a different career path.  As she puts it “Just because you liked something in theory, doesn’t mean you’ll have a similar experience in practice.”

So, next, Nimra applied to an event planning and client retention role, a position that had been newly created at RBC. “I didn’t know anything about the role, but I decided to take it anyway. I realized the position wasn’t for me, but I would have never known had I not tried something different”.  Nimra experienced many challenges that she attributes to working as a woman in a male dominated field.  She believes, however, that it is important to not be discouraged and that “when you work hard others will not hesitate to vouch for you”.  She continued to work diligently and let her performance speak for itself in every role she pursued.

By exploring different roles and responsibilities, Nimra developed a greater understanding of herself and realized her true passion for being part of RBC’s Strategy group and shaping the future. When that position opened, she applied, but she refused to be “just” a job applicant. She had to stand out. “After graduating you come to learn that it’s not only what you know, but also who you know. Networking is crucial to advance your career, because the last thing you want to become is just a number in the system”.

Nimra’s experiences prove that trying to explore different fields can take you out of your comfort zone. Yet, that is where the magic happens!    Her efforts were recognized and earned her a referral and placement in RBC’s Strategy Group.

Nimra believes that self-exploration doesn’t end when you earn your degree.  Her advice?  “Don’t say no to any opportunity” even if it means you start your career in a position unrelated to your field.  By having the right attitude, that position can get you where you need to be.  And, according to Nimra, success will surely follow! 

Taking his shot: Simu Liu, HBA’11, brings entrepreneur skills to Hollywood

By Angie Wiseman   

Becoming an actor on a popular new Canadian TV show or a stunt double on a Fall Out Boy music video was not at all on Simu Liu’s radar when he was working as an accountant in Toronto. Until he was laid off – and his world opened up.

“I remember feeling oddly free in that moment. I was without a job, but I thought I can do whatever I want. This is my one chance to really just try something. I owe it to myself to really give it a shot,” said Liu, HBA’11.

This past year, Liu’s acting career has gained momentum, with the success of his roles on CBC’s Kim’s Convenience and NBC’s Taken. Despite his respect for Toronto’s strong film industry, his ultimate goal is to move to Hollywood. On a recent trip there, he met with agents and casting directors in Los Angeles, including doctor-turned actor Ken Jeong (best known for his role in The Hangover) about a possible buddy cop movie that Liu hopes to write.

“I started talking to him (Jeong) on Twitter. When I got to L.A., he said come by the set and we can hang out more. So I ended up spending a lot of time with him. His advice was that you can’t wait. I joked that we should do a buddy cop movie for both of us and he said, ‘If you write it, I’ll be in it,” Liu said.

While there is no formal training to show actors how to network, Liu credits his networking and soft skills courses at Ivey Business School with giving him the tools he needed to push forward in his career and not be afraid to reach out.

“The hard part is to think of it (your career) as a start-up and think of yourself as an entrepreneur rather than an artist that waits for the phone to ring for opportunities,” he said.

“I spent so many years struggling as an actor. Then suddenly, I’m in demand. The only thing actors want to do is work. It was amazing – tiring, brutal and amazing,” he said of his recent schedule shooting two television shows at once.

In a long list of acting credentials Liu also includes stunt man, writer, director and producer – all skills that round out his already full resume.

Following his layoff from his accounting firm, Liu started out by looking at TV and film opportunities on Craigslist. In amongst some of the more unsavory ads was a posting for the movie Pacific Rim by director Guillermo del Toro. The movie was being shot in Toronto and they were looking for extras. The role paid just $10 dollars an hour, but it was the stepping stone Liu needed to start his acting career. As soon as he arrived on set he knew he was home.

“I ended up falling in love with everything I saw. People have careers devoted to the movies. It wasn’t just the actors – the assistant director, the gaffers working the lights – it was everything. It was such a big production.”

While Ivey attracted him to Western, Liu credits one of his first experiences as a frosh with giving him his first taste of fame and one he would reflect on often as he launched his acting career.

“The three sciences do O-Week together. So they had this big talent show where each of the sciences would audition one champion. Then on the final night of O-Week, they compete against each other on stage – and I won,” he said.

Liu used his dance, gymnastics and martial arts skills to put his routine together, all skills he would later draw on to expand his acting offerings.

“I had a very interesting first few months because everyone knew who I was,” he laughed.

While Liu majored in accounting, he was always involved in extracurricular activities that fed his interests and would later act as experience as he built his resume for acting.

“I loved that I could find a group of people that were passionate about the same things as me and when I did graduate and found myself laid off a few months later, it was really great to have those other skills,” he said.

Although he didn’t always recognize acting as his future career, when Liu thinks back to the first spark of interest in acting, he harkens back to his childhood when his parents dropped him off at the movie theatre for the day. “I don’t think I even entertained the thought of bringing that up to them. I was raised by movies, musicals and TV shows. And I loved all of it. Of course, it’s totally natural that I would want to go into that eventually,” Liu said.

Despite his passion for the craft, growing up, Liu didn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject of acting with his parents, Chinese-born immigrants determined to provide the best life for their family in Canada.

“I never really gave myself permission to fully pursue it. For me, my parents, above all else, wanted stability because their life, coming from a different country, had been anything but stable,” he said.

Liu’s drive, determination and his ritual of checking Craigslist every morning enabled him to build his resume and gain experience. Some days he was paid as an extra on a movie or a TV show and some days he worked for free in a music video.

“Looking back through it all, at no point did I say, ‘I’m going to give up or call it quits.’ I was still convinced this was something I loved enough to keep going. It’s not just about getting a degree and conforming to someone else’s idea of success,” he said. “You need to be honest with yourself about what your interests are because if you do have something that you are truly passionate about but don’t pursue then you run the risk of waking up one day and realizing that you don’t actually like your life. Take the time and know yourself.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Western University’s Alumni Gazette. Reprinted with permission.

The art of newspaper design

By Andrew Vowles

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  Photo Credit:  Lindsay Lapchuk

Photo Credit:  Lindsay Lapchuk

Matt French tells stories not with words but with design.

An award-winning page designer and assistant art director for The Globe and Mail newspaper, he aims to create eye-catching page layouts that give readers a clear idea what the story is about before they read a sentence.

“The designer is there to make the message as clear and effective as they can,” says French, adding that a skillful design draws attention to the article rather than to the design elements, including graphics, photos and typography.

Take the Globe’s front-page coverage of last fall’s final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The story was illustrated by oversize numerals that punched out the key points: numbers of victims, witnesses and deaths associated with the country’s former residential schools.

“The story was the numbers, and the numbers are the impact,” says French, B.Comm. ’07. “It’s not about any highfalutin’ image or fancy colour.”

Most days, French, 30, helps design the newspaper’s front page, working with a “cast of many,” including editors, headline writers and the paper’s creative director. Over the past year, he’s designed more than 300 front pages and thousands more inside.

French’s design skills are self-taught, but his career path started at U of G. Always driven to do creative work, he pursued a commerce degree thinking he could “make a living doing something creative in business” such as working for a marketing agency.

During a summer job in a marketing department, French took a stab at creating promotional material for trade publications. Back on campus during third and fourth year, he then worked at Guelph’s student newspaper, The Ontarion, as photo and graphics editor, and layout editor. Recalling those days, he says, “You were able to cut your teeth doing what you wanted. Learning from your mistakes gave you the freedom to make mistakes.”

Following graduation, he worked at the Woolwich Observer. After three years there, he worked for 24 Hours, a Toronto commuter newspaper, and the Toronto Sun, among others.

French got called up to the “big leagues” in 2011. Up to 400,000 people read The Globe and Mail’s weekend edition.

Among his notable Globe projects, he points to an “Unremembered” series of articles last year about the suicides of Canadian soldiers and veterans who fought in Afghanistan, as well as the 11th-hour package of reports covering the 2015 federal election that vaulted Justin Trudeau’s Liberals into power.

Another favourite was the 2012 Remembrance Day cover, with the word “Remember” stamped over a soldier’s image. “It did what it was intended to do: cause the reader to pause and reflect.”

A fan of the Washington Post and the Guardian, French brings what he calls a simple and subtle but graphic approach to his work, as well as a refined sense of visual literacy — all without getting in the way of the story.

Sitting down to assemble a page, he knows that reporters and editors might have put months of work and passion into the article. “At the end, I’m the person responsible for taking it over the finish line, making it sing so that people connect with it.”


This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in The University of Guelph’s Portico Magazine. 

Allison Day: Blogger, food stylist, photographer, and cookbook author

By Susan Bubak

Beets are an often overlooked vegetable, but Allison Day, BA ’10 (University of Guelph) is trying to change that with her Yummy Beet food blog. Aside from beets, you’ll find almost every type of produce presented in a rainbow of colours along with “vegetable forward” recipes to prepare them yourself.

Now living in Hamilton, Ontario,  Day studied Sociology at the University of Guelph  and then completed a postgraduate program to become a registered holistic nutritionist, specializing in natural foods. “That inspired me to get in the kitchen and start experimenting,” she says. “I grew up in the country surrounded by farms and tons of produce, and that really inspired me to learn more about where my food came from and pay more attention to what I was eating.” She admits that beets aren’t her favourite vegetable, but decided to name her blog after them as a pun on a news beat.

When her younger sister was diagnosed with celiac disease and lactose intolerance, Day began experimenting with recipes that were gluten- and dairy-free. “It helped me understand there are people who can’t eat certain foods, and they still want to have foods that they enjoy and love,” she says. “It shows people with food allergies or intolerance that they can still eat really tasty food, and it doesn’t need to be expensive or from a box.”

Aside from her blog, Day has published two cookbooks: Whole Bowls features gluten-free and vegetarian recipes; and Purely Pumpkin features recipes using the gourd in everything from pies to pizza. She is also a regular contributor to Food Network Canada and has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Prevention and SHAPE.

Preparation can make or break a vegetable dish, she says. Despite her background as a nutritionist, “it took me a long time to learn how to prepare things properly.” Roasting vegetables, she adds, brings out their flavour more than boiling or steaming them.

Seasonings, especially salt, are key ingredients in her recipes. “I use more salt than normal,” says Day. “I think salt is a good thing. It really brings out the natural sweetness and savouriness of vegetables.” She also uses acidic ingredients such as lemon, lime and vinegar to make flavours pop.

Miso noodle bowls created and photographed by Allison Day.

When she isn’t working on her own cookbooks, Day spends most of her time on her blog. She does her own food styling and photography, making each meal look like a work of art. She also works on sponsored content for various brands, which involves testing recipes, taking photos and promoting them on social media.

She says photographing inanimate objects like food can be challenging. “Setting the ‘scene’ for a shoot can take longer than the actual photography process,” says Day, who also photographed all the images in her cookbooks. “Styling dishes makes a mess. From start to finish, a photo shoot for one dish can take two hours before post-production.”

Presentation can make even the blandest foods look mouth-watering. People eat with their eyes first, she says, so she tries to make each photo “inviting and warm, so someone wants to reach into their screen or into the book and grab it.”

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in The University of Guelph’s Portico Magazine.