Gregg French’s Story: The History of His Story

As told to Brandon Pedersen, WorkStory Ambassador

I suppose that I could argue that my life as a historian has been far from linear.  I began my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Western Ontario in September of 2005 with the full intentions of finishing my degree, entering law school, and practicing law for the remainder of my career.  The problem was, I didn’t know why I wanted to practice law; heck, I didn’t even know what type of law I wanted to practice.  All I knew was that some lawyers made a lot of money, they got to wear fancy dress clothes, and they held a position of power in society.  So, like most individuals that aspire to go to law school, I took the advice of my guidance counsellors and I enrolled in a program that I was interested in, and I knew I would excel in.  Luckily for me, the program was History.

From a young age, I have been interested in the past.  My grandparents were my first history teachers and at the age of eighty-seven, my lone remaining grandmother is still my oldest history teacher.  Growing up, I was inundated with a broad range of historical stories ranging from life in rural Ontario during the Great Depression, to the legendary stories of the Portuguese discovery of India in the late fifteenth century.  However, at the time, these were just stories from the past, not a possible lifelong career.

I guess that you could say that the cliché of “finding yourself” at university applies to me.  By the time that I had completed my third year of my undergraduate degree, I knew that I no longer wanted to become a lawyer (Side note: Spending a bit too much time with my friends, instead of studying for my LSAT, may have played a role in this decisions but I think that things like this happen for a reason).  However, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  I enjoyed studying history and I enjoyed interacting with fellow students but I still didn’t think that studying history was a realistic or viable career goal.

I really enjoyed my undergraduate years at Western, so when I was faced with the decision of either coming back and doing my Masters or entering a job market that had recently been hit by the recession of 2008, it was a no brainer for me.  Essentially, I was forced to ask myself, “Let me get this straight, you’re going to pay me to study history and I get to teach undergraduate students in a tutorial setting, where do I sign?”  Little did I know, conducting my Masters research at the University of Western Ontario was going to introduce me to several influential people that were willing to show me that a career as a historian was both a realistic and a viable career that I could excel in.

I guess that brings us to today.  Presently, I am a fourth year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario.  Under the supervision of Professor Frank Schumacher, my dissertation examines American perceptions of Spain and the Spanish Empire from 1776 to 1914 (For more information, check out my website http://greggfrench.wordpress.com/).  Sound like a bunch of theory and historical jargon?  Well, to a certain degree, it is.  However, at the root of the narrative is a story about the past. Historians are story tellers, and it is important for us all to remember that.

At the moment, I just returned from three months in Washington, DC, where, on behalf of a Doctoral Research Fellowship from the German Historical Institute and a Harris Steele Travel Fund Award from the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario, I was conducting research at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress.  Currently, I am working on a body chapter of my dissertation, applying for future fellowships, working on a few publications, and preparing to teach my first course during the Winter Semester of 2015.  So life is busy but that keeps things exciting. 

I hope to finish my dissertation by the Fall of 2015 and at that time, I hope to either acquire a post-doctoral fellowship or be teaching at a post-secondary institution.  My career goal is to acquire a tenured position at a post-secondary institution that will allow me to continue to conduct research, as well as continue to teach university students.

Advice for an individual that is interested in becoming a historian? 

Surround yourself with a strong support group.  Friends, family, and mentors help with the long hours of solitary work. 

If you intend to do a Ph.D., be prepared that your friends will be getting married, buying houses, having children, and making more money than you until you finish your dissertation, and perhaps for several years after.

Block out the noise.  Not a day goes by where I don’t see an article where a Ph.D. candidate or a recent graduate is writing about his/her difficulties in finding gainful employment.  Yes, I feel for these individuals; heck, I’m in the same boat as them but reading too many of those articles will often cloud you mind with negative thoughts.  My advice is keep your head down, get your own work done, help other people as much as you can, and remember that you volunteered for this.  Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor gave me that advice when I started my Ph.D. work and now I’m passing it on.

Be organized and focused. 

Remember that every day is not going to be filled with sunshine and roses.  Sometimes, you’re going to have a lecture that doesn’t go well or you’re going to have a day where you can’t find what you’re looking for in the archives.  Don’t block those days out, learn from them.  Also, make sure to remember the day when you saw that light bulb go off over one of your student’s heads or remember the day when you found exactly what you were looking for in the archives.  Those days keep me going; hopefully they will keep you going too.

Elite student kept in tune with industry

By Paul Mayne, Western News

Koen Tholhuijsen, a recent graduate of Western’s Piano Technology Program, recently started an internship at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. The Netherlands native said the program at Western taught him all he needed to know about tuning and repairing pianos.

While growing up in the Netherlands, Koen Tholhuijsen spent countless hours in his father’s workshop.

“As an electrician, he had a lot of tools hanging around. As a kid, I was extremely good at breaking stuff,” said the 25-year old. “I would always try and fix things before my parents figured it out. Playing with all those tools was when I started enjoying working with my hands.”

Today, Tholhuijsen uses this curiosity to get ‘in tune’ with his internship as a piano technician at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. And he gives credit for his ear for music to Western’s Piano Technology Program, which has been training students from around the world for 14 years.

The one-year intensive program has seen students arrive more than a dozen countries – Australia to Ireland, Germany to Cuba – to learn the fine art of piano tuning, repairs and findng that perfect pitch.

Formerly located at Toronto’s George Brown College, the program was revamped and brought to where it belongs – in a music school, said program co-ordinator Anne Fleming-Read. It remains the only piano technology program offered in North America.

“It’s like its own laboratory. This is the perfect location,” she said of the program, tucked neatly in a corner of the Don Wright Faculty of Music Building.

“This is a niche market – and a very small market. There have been several schools throughout the world that are no longer operating,” Fleming-Read said. “Apparently, word gets out you can come here and, in eight months, have what you need to go out and start making a living, and continue your learning.”

With just 14 students in the program each year, Tholhuijsen saw Western as the perfect opportunity for him, despite the fact he was already enroled in a similar program in Amsterdam.

“It was a three-year program. After I did the first half-year, I pretty quickly figured out it wasn’t the right school for me,” said Tholhuiijsen, who quickly began googling piano technology programs. “Western was one of the first ones that popped up right away. The website was good and I got a lot of great information. So, I got in touch with Anne and made my decision.”

Coming to London was delayed as he spent the next year-and-half saving up the $16,000 program tuition. But it was worth the wait, Tholhuijsen added.

“I just wanted to go to a good school and reach my goal of working in the business,” he said. “They teach you the basics of what you’re going to need to be successful. And to be sucessful, you spend on average of 60-70 hours a week in school. That’s a lot of time to put in. But if you do that, there’s a big chance you’ll learn so much.

“They push you to succeed, which is great. My personality needed that pressure.”

Fleming-Read said students appreciate the individual time they receive, with such small classes, thanks to senior technical officer Don Stephenson and resident technician Paul Poppy.

“It allows for a lot of individual and personal attention,” she said. “It’s not just them sitting at a desk. You are working right there with them. You get to see their ‘up’ days, and their ‘down’ days, and respond accordingly. Sometimes, you take risks when you push them harder, but they need to know they can do it.”

While the main program will not be growing, a summer session in Piano Technology is offered to graduates and practicing technicians. A similar one-month program will also be offered for residents of China, an area desperate to educate technicians.

“This will be for those who already have some experience and want to take it to the next level,” Fleming-Read said.

Tholhuijsen joked that despite waiting the year-and-a half to begin at Western, he still graduated before his former classmates in Amsterdam. And a few months into his internship, despite all his training, he admits the learning never stops.

“You are always developing your listening skills,” said Tholhuijsen, who, while not a pianist, dables on the piano. “Everybody has it, everyone hears it, but you really need to develop it, which is why it’s important to put those 60-70 hours in.

“Most people who listen to music will hear different things we hear, as tuners. At the beginning, you barely hear anything, but then you slowly start developing your listening skills and begin hearing more and more. It takes time and, still now, it’s improving for me.”

Posted with permission, Western News

Reigniting an Old Passion: Gareth, CHRW, & the Argonauts

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

In high school, Toronto Argonauts reporter Gareth Bush had always seen himself as a Canine Police Officer. However, in mid-pursuit of his Criminology degree at Western University, his passion for the world of sports media was reignited. Gareth attributes the re-ignition to his time spent volunteering with the campus radio station CHRW: "My time at CHRW Radio completely changed my life.  They gave me so much freedom to explore the sports broadcasting world.  I started hosting my own sports show, colour commentated the football games, and covered many mainstream sports events for the station.  It's the reason why I'm where I am."

After the rediscovery of his passion and the completion of his undergrad, Gareth went for his Masters in Journalism, which helped him attain his position as Digital Media & Communications Assistant with the Argonauts. While Gareth has always known that his passion has been within Journalism and the world of sports, he also has a passion for music.  He admits that both passions have been closely intertwined, as his music gigs helped pay for his education.

A day on the job has never a dull moment, and when asked what his job entailed, Gareth had this to say: "Every day is different.  If it's during a regular day of practice I'm with the team.  Putting together videos, interviewing players, filming lots of stuff.  Also running the social media accounts and our website.  If it's a game day I'm writing the recap, making/printing all the stat sheets, and a bunch of other little jobs."

Although Journalism isn't among the highest paying of jobs, Gareth says that the experience is priceless: "You meet new and exciting people with new stories to tell every day.  In my case being a sports-focused journalist, you get to see some of the most exciting and historic sporting events take place worldwide.  Plus you get paid to watch the game and tell the world about it.  It's great."

His current position with the Argonauts is the beginning of a long and rewarding adventure, and Gareth says he's on the right track.  He's where he wants to be, covering pro games and athletes every day.  And, like every newcomer to a career, he looks forward to climbing the ladder.

For those interested in joining the field, Gareth shared these words of wisdom: "Get as much experience as you possibly can.  Whatever it is you want to do, just stick your feet in as many doors as possible.  Volunteer like crazy.  Sports journalism relies very heavily on young and aspiring interns to do a lot of the dirty work.  Take on as much as you can.  When I started, I was hosting my own show, reporting, producing, colour commentating, writing, etc.  All for free. But it got me tons of experience and built up a heck of a portfolio.  Also, shake every hand you can find in the business.  Word of mouth is strong in journalism.  The more contacts you make, the better your odds are of getting in."

Catch Gareth in action at
www.argonauts.ca
Listen to his other passion here: www.youtube.com/gareth9

Western grads marry fashion and social responsibility

By Adela Talbot, Western News

Western graduates Bianca Lopes, left, Sonja Fernandes, centre, and Samantha Laliberte are the founders of Ezzy Lynn, a business that manufactures trendy hair accessories and merges their three common interests – social entrepreneurship, fashion and wildlife conservation.

Three common passions brought this trio together.

Western graduates Sonja Fernandes, Samantha Laliberte and Bianca Lopes met during their studies through the campus business incubator, immediately forging a connection. This spring, they launched Ezzy Lynn, a business that merges their three common interests – social entrepreneurship, fashion and wildlife conservation.

The trio handcrafts trendy hair accessories, including scrunchies, headbands and flower crowns, which they sell online at ezzylynn.com and in-store through retail partnerships, including Moksha Yoga in London. For every 25 units sold, Ezzy Lynn ‘adopts’ an endangered animal through the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“We knew we wanted to come up with a business model that combined our many passions. We came up with the idea, but we didn’t know what the product would be. Then we realized we all wore scrunchies and that was something we could make ourselves. And it blossomed from that idea,” explained Laliberte, who graduated in 2011 from Western’s Management and Organizational Studies (MOS) program.

“It started from the idea of us being socially conscious, from conception to delivery of the product. It was really important to us to not just be another for-profit corporation, but that part of our proceeds go somewhere else,” added Lopes, also a MOS graduate.

Having just wrapped up their first quarter, the trio has sold more than 1,000 units and has adopted 15 animals, including the Amur leopard, gorilla and great white shark.

Ezzy Lynn employs a local female seamstress who handcrafts every product. The materials she uses are all vegan and ethically sourced, Lopes explained. The product designs are partially inspired by the animals they’re supporting – for instance, a scrunchie with rhinestones is inspired by the rhinoceros.

“As a consumer, you can be conscious about the planet you live in. With us, it’s more than just a purchase – you can do some good,” Lopes continued, noting she hopes the business continues with a social conscience that has an international scope.

Ezzy Lynn was recently selected as the region’s first recipient of a $5,000 Starter Company grant. The Starter Company Program is a key component of the Ontario government’s Youth Jobs Strategy, aiming to help young adults (under 29) find jobs and start their own businesses.

The funds will help Ezzy Lynn grow its brand and manage inventory. The trio is looking at exploring new socially conscious manufacturing avenues, including partnering with Goodwill Industries, not only to grow business, but to also help and contribute to the local community.

Fernandes, Laliberte and Lopes see Ezzy Lynn as a vehicle to empower female entrepreneurs and women in the community, they explained. And this is something they want to foster going forward.

“There weren’t too many female entrepreneurs that came in (to the campus business incubator). So when they did, I made sure they were my new best friends,” Laliberte said of the first time she met her business partners, when all three were pursuing a business venture through BizInc.

They hope to employ local women as they grow their business, she added.

And the name? It’s expressive of two sides of a woman’s personality, explained Fernandes, who graduated from Huron University College in 2012 with a Philosophy degree.

“We feel like each girl has two sides to her personality – a free spirit – that’s Ezzy – and a polished poised and professional side – that’s Lynn,” she said, adding the products they make are meant to express both sides.

As the women grow their business locally, they are launching a 50 drinks campaign, taking 50 different community members out for a drink to pick brains about their business model and see what kind of insight others might provide. 

“We’re open to mentorship and collaborating with anyone who wants to be part of our mission and help. To someone who might read this and want to give us advice, we’d love that. We absolutely encourage them to reach out to us,” Laliberte said.

Posted with permission, Western News

Achieving one’s childhood dream…

By Alexandria Friesen, WorkStory Ambassador

Do you know any people who have achieved their childhood dreams? I am being honest when I say that I don’t know many  who are in that boat. But to make all of us feel better, I’m going to tell you the story of a girl who has done just that.

Meet Mlle. Catherine Peraino – a Grade 3 and 4 French Immersion teacher at Gregory A. Hogan Elementary School in Sarnia where she has worked for three years. Inspired by her kindergarten teacher to fulfill her wish of having “a great impact on someone’s life” as she did on hers, Catherine pursued her post-secondary education immediately following high school.  

While she has always wanted to be a teacher, Catherine can say for certain that it was not always the easiest of paths!   After high school Catherine attended the University of Windsor and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French Honors and a Bachelor of Education. In addition to her University of Windsor education, she participated in a summer exchange at Université Québec à Trois Rivières and a third year exchange at Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis.   She says her first year of university was the hardest as her marks were not where she hoped they would be. While she may have been fluent in French, she was not prepared for the level of French she needed to study in University. “I was almost ready to drop out of my program after I had received a C on my first French test”, she says, “...but with the support of my parents, I had decided I was going to continue working hard to finish my first year.” And she is very thankful she did!

As I’m sure you know, obtaining a teaching job is not always the easiest of tasks. In fact, after graduating Catherine  had planned on moving to Alberta with her brother, where lots of jobs were available. She explored the career fair at the University of Windsor while applying to various school boards in other counties. Catherine was very lucky to be hired quite soon after she began applying for jobs, but her fear of the unknown made her nervous for when she would secure something permanent. Her determination to find a permanent job within the school board she had applied to paid off and she finally got one and has been working there ever since! Catherine adores her job and says that it is “a career I will definitely have for the rest of my life; it truly makes me happy. It’s great when you can go to work and love what you do so much that it doesn’t even feel like work”.   

Interested in being a teacher? Mlle. Peraino’s advice is definitely valuable. Open-mindedness is important in any career, especially teaching. “It is necessary to stay open to the idea of moving”. Catherine works two hours away from her home, but says that if she had decided to only stay local, she most likely wouldn’t have a job yet. “If you really want to be a teacher, you need to be willing to move,” she says, “because there are jobs, just not necessarily in ideal places”. She encourages you to always remain hopeful and to not give up – always try to better yourself as an educator so you can become noticed. Her best advice - “Stay positive and don’t give up!”