Flying Solo with Paul McDonald

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Paul McDonald describes himself as a “singer, songwriter, poet, musician, and artist”. He was also a contestant in Season 10 of American Idol. Since then, Paul has been very busy. After being in several bands, he decided to go out on his own and create a solo album with the help of his fans on KickStarter (KS). His 6 song EP called Slow Rising is now available online.  “I wrote and recorded these songs in the summer of 2014 so I’m ready to get them out. I’ve already written 2 new albums since then” he laughed. “I’m planning on releasing this batch of songs in two different packages – the first one being a 2 song EP called Once You Were Mine that I released in early December – but for the Kickstarter crew, they get the original 9 songs that I recorded in the summer of 2014 when the goal was set to release a full length album.” 

Paul says that he “kind of fell into music”. Originally from Huntsville, Alabama, he attended Auburn University with a very different career in mind: “My major was Biomedical Sciences. The plan was to be a pediatric dentist but music kind of took over without warning. I always wrote songs and played guitar and piano as a hobby and one night somebody heard me playing at a house party and asked if I wanted to perform at a bar in town. She said she’d pay me whatever I made at the door and let me drink for free. I couldn’t believe it! So I invited all my buddies out to the bar and we sold it out and made the bar the most money they had ever made. From that day on, it was over. I was hooked.  I started a band and continued to tour around the country for a few years. In 2010, I auditioned for Idol on a whim and that took me out to LA for a few years. I got to experience some pretty interesting things on that run. While in LA, I ended up falling for a girl [actress, Nikki Reed] and started a band with her. We put out a few records and then split. Since then I moved back to Nashville and have been working on a solo project. I’ve been playing music and touring for almost 10 years now so sometimes I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I’ve been able to do what I love for this long.  I keep waiting for the day I wake up and they kick me off the stage.”

Reflecting on his musical career, Paul realized that he has had lots of memorable moments with some of the biggest names in entertainment: “That’s the beautiful thing about what I do. I thank God every day for giving me the gift of music and allowing me to travel around the world and meet so many phenomenal people. Some days I really have to step back and take it all in.  Just recently I was asked to perform at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions alongside Tim McGraw, Emmylou Harris, and a bunch of other really talented folks. I remember sharing a dressing room backstage with Emmylou and thinking, ‘how in the world did I get here?’ That was a pretty fun one.”

When the American Idol alumni was asked if he was sad to see the long-running series go, he replied, “I think Idol made an amazing run. How many other shows can say they dominated TV and pop culture for almost 15 years? But, all good things have to come to an end. I’m just thankful that I got to be a small part of the show. What a unique and cool experience. Getting to work with such gifted people that are producing a show on that level was such an invaluable learning experience. Looking back on it, I still can’t believe some of the things that happened on that show. I mean, I got to sing with Stevie Wonder, perform in front of Muhammad Ali, and since have become friends with some of my favorite musical heroes. The whole thing was, and still is a trip!” 

“….Before I did Idol I had actually had nothing but bad feelings towards the whole thing – it actually grossed me out a little bit – but the truth is, if you know who you and you’re confident in yourself as an artist and a person before the show, then you can use it to your advantage. You come out on the other side as the same person with a little more experience and a wider audience of people listening to your music.  The folks that end up being stars after Idol would've been stars anyway. If you look at Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, etc. they are stars. They work harder than anyone, can sing their butts off, and the songs are great. That sounds like a winning combo to me. (I love those girls by the way.) The truth is once Idol or any of those shows are over – the magical fairy dust settles and it goes right back to you picking up your guitar or sitting in front of the piano trying to write the best songs and make the best music you can make. If the music is good post reality show stardom, then people listen and if it’s not, then nobody cares, even if you were the winner. You can put all the money in the world into something that’s not good and people won’t care.”

As with anything good there is also the bad, but it’s what you make of it that counts. Paul has faced many adversities over the years and rather than give up, he chose to grow and learn from each situation. Regarding his solo project, the biggest obstacles were the “labels and managers and everyone” trying to pull him in different directions, while trying to create the music that he wanted to, not knowing in the end what kind of music that would be.  “Making the music is always the most fun and the easiest part for me, but I was flying solo for the first time in almost 8 years (musically & business-wise) so I had to figure out exactly who I was as an artist and the kind of music I wanted to make. I also had to go through a string of managers, PR folks, label showcases, attorneys, etc. and get the short end of the stick to understand that there actually is a business to the music I was creating. I had to learn some lessons the hard way. I missed out on those lessons earlier on in my career because people were always running it for me—but flying solo has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve grown more than ever over the past two years as an artist, businessman, and an overall human being.”

“The challenge was finding a common ground musically with my collaborators (especially because I didn’t really know what kind of music I wanted to make yet) and also financially—just paying for it”, McDonald continued. “The project ended up costing way more than originally planned and a very solid chunk of the KS money was immediately taken up from my old manager and the KS fees, so I had to book a bunch of shows and do some solid touring to finish paying for the songs along with the art and videos to give it a proper release. It’s all been a very large learning experience to say the least” he laughed.

Paul’s advice for those with similar struggles? “Don’t give up. That’s a lesson in all aspects of life. Hard work actually pays off. If you put in the hours, things will eventually change for the better. I can’t count the times I’ve been turned down by labels or folks have said my music isn’t in the box for radio, etc. It happens every day. You just have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Be confident in yourself and if you’re proud of what you’re doing they’ll come to you. Set goals and don’t stop until you get there. If you believe it, it will happen. I promise.”

Initially, Paul was hesitant to fund the album via online donations as he was uncomfortable asking for help. However, he was overwhelmed by the support he received. “In all honesty, I’ve always wanted to try a solo record, but I never was interested in getting funding from something like a Kickstarter or a Pledge Music [campaign] … but after my last band broke up, I was in a pretty dark place and a few people stumbled into my life and really pushed me to do the campaign. I did need help whether I knew it or not. Making music costs a solid chunk of change and the financial help with the KS supporters was more than I could ask for…but more than financial help, it was a personal confidence boost and a reminder that so many people love and support me as a person and the music and art that I’m making.” Paul wanted to thank everyone who has supported his journey so far and hopes to see them “out on the road”.

“Sure, I’ll probably always have American Idol associated with my name, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing,” said Paul McDonald. “Idol was just a small chapter of my life, just like me being a pre-med student at Auburn or a flying monkey in the Wizard of Oz in the high school play, or whatever other crazy roles I’ve played over the past 30 years of my life. I’m not trying to be a superstar. I’ve tasted that world and it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.  I’m just trying to stay true to myself and write the best music I can write in this exact moment in time and hopefully inspire some people along the way.” 





Knowing You Make a Difference in Someone’s Life: Jessica’s Nursing Story

By Abigayle Walker, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Ottawa

Jessica Cuco is a registered nurse at Montreal General Hospital in the Orthopedic and Trauma units. She encounters several different cases from minor to serious injuries and ailments.  Hearing her describe some of her cases, it would be safe to conclude that her job is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart!

Typically, Jessica’s shifts are either 8 or 12 hours long. At the beginning of a shift, she debriefs with the nurse who worked the previous shift to get updates on her patients and to find out what she has to get done.  She then checks her chart for medical orders that need be picked up. After this, Jessica starts her medication run – delivering and administering medication to her patients, as well as checking their vital signs.  Throughout the rest of her shift, she answers call lights, puts patients on bedpans, and gives out pain medication if needed. When her shift comes to a close, she passes her charts on to the next nurse who is clocking in. 

If another nurse calls in sick and is not replaced for the next shift, Jessica either teams up with other nurses on her shift to lighten the load for the next wave of nurses or works overtime to cover the next shift. As one may guess, hospitals have a constant flow of patients whether they are ICU (intensive care unit), emergency room, or post-operative patients. Nurses, like Jessica, are needed around the clock to tend to them. Jessica says that “there are two sides to unusual days.  There are days where it can be extremely busy, where there is no time to sit down for two minutes, and other days where we can sit for most of our shifts.”

Jessica loves knowing that she can make a difference in someone’s life. She says that the best feeling is seeing a patient from the start to finish…”being able to admit the patient and a week or two later being able to send them home or to rehabilitation to continue their care.”  

When asked about the path to her current role, Jessica described it as a long journey, but that she had always known she wanted to work in Healthcare. During high school, she volunteered at one of the local hospitals.  While at Cégep, she decided that she wanted to get a nursing degree.  Jessica did not get into the program right away; instead, she was placed on a waitlist for the intensive program. Happily, she was accepted into the program and studied for 2 years, even throughout the summer months. At the end of her 2 years, Jessica received her DEC (Diplôme d' étude collégiale), allowing her to be a nurse in Quebec.  She worked for another 2 years to gain practical experience in the field, then went back to get her Bachelor of Nursing ­–  studying online and part-time – while still working full-time. She completed her degree in just 3 years. Jessica had explained that going back to school for her degree expanded the opportunities in her nursing career.  For example, she can now be an assistant head nurse or a clinician nurse. For now, Jessica has decided to remain a bedside nurse, but has been thinking of teaching nursing at the Cégep level.

Jessica’s advice for those who are interested in entering the Healthcare profession?  She stresses that one has to have a passion for caring for others. She goes on to say that someone interested in nursing should not limit oneself to a single area of nursing as “there are a lot of different types of nurses out there and there is a fit for everyone”. Some find their fit right away, while “others need to use trial and error when looking for somewhere to work that fits. That is the beauty in nursing: there is a lot of opportunity to expand your learning.” 

Marketing Communications Specialist: “Very Chaotic…In a Good way!”

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University


Susan Mutterback is Marketing Communications Specialist at, a manufacturer of products for IT professionals. The company extends beyond the headquarters in London, Ontario to 14 countries worldwide!

As a Marketing Communications Specialist, Susan handles social media, public relations and general marketing communication such as ads and catalogues. This is a new role and is “very chaotic…in a good way!”  Because it is new, Susan’s responsibilities were built from the ground up which she finds an exciting challenge. Her favourite part of the job?   Susan emphasized her admiration for the people she works with…she really enjoys the collaboration and brainstorming processes that occur day-to-day at the office. 

Susan’s work journey began at the University of Guelph where she studied Psychology in her first year.  She didn’t really have a solid idea of what she wanted to do, just a vague interest in the field. After that year, she knew it wasn’t a perfect fit for her and decided to take a year off to figure things out.  She moved back home and took courses at the University of Windsor to keep her average up. The following year, Susan transferred to Western University and started thinking about public relations and marketing.  She graduated from Western in political science and sociology and then applied to Western’s public relations program. Of all her formal education, Susan found public relations the most interesting area of study. The final four months of the program involved an internship position. Susan particularly enjoyed this and found it extremely valuable in helping her gain real-world experience in the field.

After the internship, Susan had completed her education, but had received no job offers. She moved back home and worked at an unpaid internship for about 9 months. During this time, she remained persistent and applied to job after job, not receiving any replies. Finally, Susan was thrilled to receive a call from!  She moved right back to London, joined the company, and hasn’t looked back since.

Susan started out in a marketing role that was mainly sales focused. She enjoyed it, but was particularly interested in getting a position in her field.  When the Marketing Communications Specialist job opened up, she applied!

Susan has nothing but positive comments about working for, and is thrilled to be at such a wonderful company and working with such collaborative and supportive coworkers.   When asked what advice she’d give to those entering the job market,  Susan’s first words were “It’s hard”.  Then she highlighted the importance of taking jobs that aren’t necessarily in your specific desired field for the experience you will get from working.  She emphasized the “foot in the door” approach, the importance of starting off somewhere, and getting your name out there.  Lastly, she noted that unpaid internships can be good experiences. Susan was thankful for hers and believes that students entering the job field should not underestimate them.

Children’s Dreams Made Real: The Story of The Enchanted Cottage

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Caleigh Allen is the creator of Ever After Entertainment in Atlanta, Georgia. Together with Jenna Bell and several other actors and artists in Atlanta, Caleigh’s company creates an entertainment experience like no other. The goal is to create “The Enchanted Cottage” a fairy tale venue where children and their families can enjoy a magical experience with their favourite characters, without the high costs of a theme park. Currently, actors involved with the company spend much of their time in character and on the road driving to birthday parties, meet-and-greets and charitable events. After two successful years in business, they are ready to find a physical venue where children visit The Snow Queen and her sister or even a mermaid! Pirates, princes and superheroes are also part of the company where they strive to have “Children’s Dreams Made Real.”

Recently, Jenna participated in an “AMA – Ask me Anything” on Reddit to describe what it’s like to work as a princess. It snowballed to other websites including the Facebook page of fitness guru, Richard Simmons. “That was such a cool moment!” Jenna laughed, “Caleigh sent me a screen shot and I just couldn’t believe it. Even more amazing was that he posted an article, based off another article, based off my Reddit and I realized, ‘Wow…This is really spreading. People are actually interested in what we are trying to do here!’ I was afraid when I offered to do the AMA that I would get no questions at all, so to see the support has been so uplifting.”

“This project is very near and dear to our hearts,” both women explained. “…We realized there really isn’t a ‘home’ for this industry. People work out of rented office buildings, or their houses, and we thought, ‘what if we made a place where we can all come together, as a co-op and benefit?’ Everyone can be involved with events… and whatever fantastical things we think of, at a lower cost, to help cross promote and allow these small businesses to get exposure and grow.” Part of their mission also includes working with sick children and their families.

Essentially, the idea for Ever After Entertainment came from Caleigh’s childhood love of fairy tales and her father’s success as an entrepreneur.   “I have a degree in Musical Theatre and a love for all fairy tales …. Add those two together, and you get an adult who started a princess entertainment company! ….My father was always a role model for entrepreneurship. He [made] his own company that eventually was dissolved into Technicolor and Sony with him near the top. …When I was younger I didn’t realize he set the stage for me to succeed. His advice for me [was] ‘Don’t stop believing, never stop growing, and love what you do.’” she explained. As her dream becomes a reality, Caleigh finds it most rewarding that she can share the experience with her dad, and that she is able to represent women in the workforce.

“… As a woman especially, it’s so much harder for us in the world of business to be taken seriously and to succeed. The fact that I have been successful in this cutthroat world with a princess company means the world to me; and to have my father support me is everything. In addition to being a “full-time princess”, Caleigh also makes and sells her own flower crowns.

Jenna joined the company on a whim and describes herself as a “part-time princess” because her character work only takes place on weekends.  “During the week I work as a digital artist, doing graphic design and computer animation. On the weekends I am usually spending my time as The Snow Queen-- and sometimes as a few other princess favourites as well. I graduated with my BFA in animation, with an obvious interest in fairy tales, and a desire to be a Disney animator. I ended up moving to Atlanta to work for Turner Broadcasting, and during a huge Halloween parade I decided to dress up as The Snow Queen. Well, I couldn’t walk ten feet without people stopping me for pictures, and was eventually approached by someone holding children’s events at a nearby ice-rink. They needed a Snow Queen character for the parties. At first I was timid about it all. I’ve never acted in my life.and  kept asking my friends, ‘Is this weird? Do people do this?’ Finally my good friend Kyle urged me to give it a try, and I thank him for that push…I met Caleigh and other wonderful people in this industry and it’s become a part of my life [that] I don’t think I can live without now.”

Jenna even took her role as The Snow Queen to Thailand, which is also how the cottage came about. “I had planned to go to an underprivileged school to deliver school supplies, but when my guide found out what I did on the weekends she was ecstatic.… I put on a blue dress from my backpack, and she wrote ‘The Snow Queen’ in Thai on my name tag. The kids were shy at first, but soon as she told them ‘who I was’ they all came running toward me and basically tackled me with hugs and kisses. It was just wonderful. I wasn’t there long, but by the end of it our guide brought over the principal and translated his thank you to me. He bowed and told me those kids will never have a day like this again, and that I brought them an experience they will never forget. It meant the world to them. It was such an interesting perspective for me because I’m just me you know? [I’m] just playing this character. It’s amazing how you can bring hope in the simplest ways, and after that I was inspired to do more. I came home … and reached out to Caleigh and said ‘So I have this idea for a cottage….’ We’ve been working towards that dream ever since.”

Despite what seem to be very magical jobs and goals, there are many challenges as well. Caleigh notes that “Making magic for children is usually great [but] every so often, it’s not. Sometimes you have crazy parents or clients who try to make your job harder, but you can’t let them! I love to perform and I love entertaining kids, so that’s definitely not the hard part. Usually the scheduling and dealing with fussy clients is a lot worse than the children.”

Jenna finds that her biggest challenge is “commanding a room full of strangers” because “Some kids believe, some don’t. But if you can convince the non-believers that you’re ‘real’, then you’ll be leaving on a high note…and in the good graces of the guests, which means recommendations for more events.”

 “… Many parents ask for us to just come in with this grand entrance of singing and dancing, but we have to explain, even though we are the child’s ‘favourite character’ that will still scare them.... It’s better to ease into it, because the kids can be nervous too! From there we read stories, sing songs, take pictures, and participate in games. ….We may be there for anywhere from an hour to four hours, and we have to always be in character and make sure each family walks away with a smile” Bell continued.

Despite the challenges, most of their days end happily ever after, making it all worth it for Caleigh Allen and Jenna Bell.  For more information you can visit their website and like their Facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter (Caleigh / Jenna) on Twitter and for updates on The Enchanted Cottage.

Personal Support Worker Paves the Way for Brighter Future

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Since October 2015, Shelby Hamilton has been working as a Personal Support Worker at the Country Care Seniors Residence in Allenford, Ontario. This position also allows her to pursue an education via correspondence while working and raising her three children, Paige, Lexie and the newest edition to the family, Bryon. At the end of every day, Shelby goes home knowing that she has not only improved the lives of her clients but she has also paved the way for a brighter future for herself and her kids:

“I love helping people and I love how happy my work makes the seniors and how rewarding it is to see the smiles on their faces every day,” says Shelby. “I have been through a lot, and when I was pregnant with my son, I realized I wasn't where I wanted to be…. I wanted to help people and be happy and have a rewarding job that could also help me provide a better more rewarding life and future for my kids….” As a single mom who was left during each pregnancy, Shelby learned the hard way that she needed to be able to depend on herself, and her dependability has served her well in this career, knowing that the seniors count on her to be there as part of their daily routine.

Shelby’s work day begins at 7 AM and ends “after tea time” at 4 PM. “As soon as I get there I get the residents up and cleaned up, and dressed for the day, and get them all to the breakfast table.” She assists them with both their food and medication throughout the day. “After breakfast, I assist them to their rooms or the living room (or wherever they want to go).” Soon it is time for lunch, which she prepares, and then she helps the residents once again with their meal and medication. After the meal is over, Shelby cleans up once again and returns the residents to their room of choice. Before you know it, it’s time for tea!

Within the first few weeks on the job, Shelby realized that a lot of the people in her care did not receive many visitors, and there were hardly any young children coming in to say hello. With that in mind and Halloween coming up at the time, she took it upon herself to “brighten their day”. 

“On the Wednesday before Halloween I got off work, came home, got my kids dressed up and took them out to Country Care! All the residents were so happy! They all had smiles on their faces! The only male resident who is 96 years old put Lexie (my 3 year old) on his knee and talked with her and then took Bryon (my 3 month old son) … and started to give him a horsey ride on his knee.” Shelby recalls another resident in palliative care with Alzheimer’s Disease, who also had a positive reaction to her children: “[She] very rarely smiles and very rarely speaks and she was smiling ear to ear and talking to the kids! It brought tears to my eyes to see how happy it made them and warmed my heart.”

For Shelby Hamilton, positivity and passion are two key things needed in this line of work for both those who are giving and receiving care: “The one piece of advice I would give to someone entering this field is that you have to have a passion for it. You have to love what you do or else you won't be happy and that will also impact the seniorsbecause they will sense that and it will have a negative impact on everyone, but especially the seniors suffering with Alzheimer's and dementia.” As for her own success, Shelby credits her children for giving her a reason to keep moving forward and for becoming a better person. She hopes to inspire other moms along the way as well, knowing that the journey in life is not always an easy one, especially when raising a family: “For other hard working moms out there, I would just like to say, tough times make you stronger, dark times will get brighter and sad times will get happier. Keep pushing forward, keep your chin up, make goals and reach for them. It will make you feel amazing and will make an amazing life for yourself and your children! My kids are my rock and are the reason why I am where I am today. I don't know where I would be without them.”

Getting the Right People in the Right Job! Danielle’s Recruiting Story

By Craig Leonard, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University 

Danielle Giannattasio is a Recruiter for Aerotek, a leading company in the recruiting and staffing industry. As a recruiter Danielle’s job is to place suitable candidates in positions assigned to her on a contract basis. She specializes as a Technical Recruiter within Aerotek’s Engineering Services division. Specifically, she pursues engineers –  technologists, mechanical and electrical designers, and a wide range of specialized engineers.

This is far from the typical 9-5 job. Danielle’s schedule is mostly based around that of her clients and contractors. Typically, she begins the day by meeting with the other recruiters in her office to discuss the most urgent positions that they are working on. After prioritizing business, Danielle begins the recruiting process by using job boards and the company’s own database to screen for candidates, depending on the type of position she is trying to fill. Much of the workday is spent interviewing applicants to uncover what they themselves are looking for in a career and what their interests may be. Danielle also coaches selected applicants on their interview skills to help increase their chances of landing jobs.

Danielle thinks of herself as a subject matter expert in the engineering field, and because of this she is able to act as a consultant to her clients. While her primary objective is to provide the most qualified candidates, she also offers business and industry advice based on her daily interactions and findings in the market. Once she is successful in getting a candidate hired, her job is far from done. She continues to work with the contractor throughout their employment to ensure that they are satisfied, and moving towards accomplishing their own goals. When asked what it takes to be successful in recruiting, Danielle says, “A competitive and hardworking attitude…recruiting is about generating results under pressure.”

To get to where she is today, Danielle began by earning an undergraduate degree in Political Science at McMaster University. After completing her degree, she was unsure of what direction to head. She knew that she enjoyed working with people and had always excelled at sales, which fueled her decision to enroll in a Human Resource Management Post-Graduate program at Humber College. Danielle loved the one-year program but was not convinced by the end of it that she wanted to pursue a career in human resources. A requirement of her program was to complete an internship and she began inquiring about various companies and sections of human resources that she wanted to work in. She begun looking into recruiting companies and realized that given her interpersonal skills and passion for sales recruiting was a unique field that she could see herself working in. She then reached out to a number of individuals who were working as recruiters to learn more about what the staffing industry is like.

Funnily enough, after speaking with a number of recruiters she was approached by a recruiter at Aerotek for an opportunity to work in the company. The interview process for Aerotek is unique. It involves a 3-step interview, followed by a “half day”, during which the interviewees work at an Aerotek office for a half of a day to fully submerge themselves in the Aerotek way of life. After successfully completing this rigorous process Danielle was hired in June 2015. Although Danielle entered the staffing industry in order to complete a program requirement, she is fiercely passionate about her job and continues to love it and excel at it. When asked whether she would take the same educational path to her career in recruiting Danielle says, “Absolutely. While I don’t think that a background in human resources is necessary to do my job, I’m not sure that I would have ever entered the staffing industry and come across Aerotek if I didn’t get into it.”

What Danielle loves most about about her job is the fact that she is doing something different and learning something new, every single day. Although she was initially nervous to enter the engineering field without any prior knowledge of the industry, Danielle, as a naturally curious person, didn’t have a hard time networking with industry experts to gain some insight. “During any given week, I talk to at least 100 engineers, all from different backgrounds, with different educations and experiences.” One encounter Danielle remembers fondly is when she met one of the men who took part in designing the Mars Rover!

“Working in engineering has opened my eyes to so many things that I wouldn’t have paid attention to before. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn from simply listening to other people’s stories.”

Danielle explains that the most satisfying part of her job is hearing that a client is pleased with their employee. “People rely on employment for their livelihood and it feels good being a part of that for someone.” Staffing is a competitive industry, and Danielle loves the competition involved in hiring the best people to the best companies, along with the challenge that comes with the pressure to make deadlines. She states that staffing is a unique industry; “You are dealing with the most unpredictable product – people.”

Danielle’s advice for people searching for employment? “Recruiters look for people that know what they want from a job or an opportunity. Although this may be difficult with the vast number of opportunities out there, it is important that you begin with an end goal in mind.”


Leading a Customer Advisory Team: David’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

David Ennett is the supervisor of the customer advisory team at, a manufacturer of hard-to-find IT parts. The focus of the company is to make it easy for IT professionals to identify, find, and use the parts they require for their tech solutions. is a well-established international company, operating 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, in 8 different languages!  “It’s great to be part of a London company that has become a global business,” David says.  

David works with a team of 20 advisors who service customers via phone, webchat and e-mail. The majority of his time is spent working with the members of his team to provide them with the support necessary to help them be successful in their roles.

His day-to-day work consists of coaching the team and being readily available for assistance. David is very passionate about what makes exceptional customer service and makes an effort to put this at the forefront of how the team operates, “I believe that the best manufacturers not only create excellent products but also provide stellar service. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can do continue to enhance the experience for our customers.”

David says what he enjoys most about his job is “working with incredible people across the entire organization”. He explains that it is motivating to work in an environment where people enjoy what they do and work together to support one another. Everyone at is dedicated to their customers and is committed to succeeding in their work.  Along with this incredible commitment to customer service, the team also has a lot of fun.  “We celebrate Halloween like no other employer in the country (seriously it’s a big deal around here) and have employees who volunteer as fun ambassadors (that role is exactly as it sounds) who plan various events and activities throughout the year.”

Most of the fun, however, is experienced in the daily atmosphere of the organization. is a place where everyone cares for each other and enjoys being part of the team. This supportive attitude creates a great sense of community – “the passion that everyone has for the business and one another is palpable”. The team appreciates that collaboration is not only the key to being successful, but is also essential for creating this meaningful, rewarding and fun workplace.

How did David find his way to  He explains that his career path was not exactly “planned”. He, like many other students, was not sure what he wanted to do professionally.  As he sees it, however, this confusion and uncertainty, while at times uncomfortable, is actually very healthy. It forces you to really understand yourself better and come to understand what you are passionate about.

David pursued a B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Canadian-American Relations at Western University. He says that the liberal arts and social sciences are valuable as they teach students to “think critically, problem solve, write well and engage with a diverse set of ideas and people”. He argues that these are essential skills that are transferable to almost any workplace.

During his university career, David also took on various leadership opportunities, including president of his students’ council, where he learned to enjoy responsibility for projects and leading others. “I quickly found that the best leaders are consultative in nature and strive to empower and enable team members to play a large role in making decisions and sharing in success,” he says.

After completing school, David worked at Staples as a supervisor for a year, where he oversaw the service departments of his store, along with leading a team of 10 associates. It was here where he saw firsthand how great customer service can significantly impact the growth of a business. He has brought this passion for great service with him to

David’s advice for new graduates is to not fear entering the workforce and to take on roles that may not link directly to your education. University can only prepare you for so much. Wherever you end up, take it very seriously, work hard, and embrace the idea that “no task is too small”. These are the skills he believes are most important for his generation.  “As millennials we need to show other generations that we are capable of working with humility and respect. If we can do this I think we will succeed.”

For Steffen Marin, Heirloom is a Labour of Love that is Paying Off

By Kyle Rooks

Steffen Marin (Artisanal Culinary Arts ’14, Fanshawe College) didn’t know it at the time, but enduring a bone-chilling winter working as a junior sous-chef at an Italian restaurant in Saskatchewan planted the seed for what is now growing into a successful and rewarding career.

“It was a terrible winter. I’m talking a total accumulation of over 100 centimetres of snow and temperatures as low as -50 degrees with the wind chill,” recalls the 22-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario. “But it was a great experience because it pushed me to learn more and see beyond frozen boxes of meat ... to appreciate the importance of fresh food.”

It was that simple, yet powerful, recognition about the all-too-frequent lack of fresh food options that led Marin to realize his dream earlier this year of opening Heirloom, a Toronto-based food truck featuring a bold menu of fresh, locally-sourced food. “(Opening the food truck) is something I wanted so bad I could taste it,” says Marin, the sole-owner and chef, who had been working on the project for two years. “In the beginning I kept quiet about it because many people would have thought I was crazy.”

“I refused to let it go,” he says. “I wanted to pursue something that wouldn’t just help me grow as a cook, but also contribute to the field.”

His dream began to take shape when he enrolled in Fanshawe’s Artisanal Culinary Arts program, a unique one-year graduate program focused on a holistic farm-to-table approach to cooking that promotes local, seasonal and sustainable food production.

“When I came to Fanshawe, I didn’t even know how to hold a knife,” says Marin, who had previously graduated from Fanshawe’s two-year Culinary Management program and would later complete the Advanced Baker/Patissier program. He explains how daily field trips to farms around the region, getting his hands dirty working the on-campus vegetable garden and exploring his creativity in the kitchen – including a co-op at Calgary’s CHARCUT Roast House studying under one of Canada’s top chefs – gave him the knowledge, connections and confidence to pursue his passion.

“The faculty are like family to me because they showed me how to succeed,” he says. “I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without that program.”

Marin grows over 50 organic heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables in four garden plots – including a small plot in the backyard of his mother’s townhouse – and sources his meats, cheeses and other ingredients from local farmers and artisan producers around the Greater Toronto Area.

As a new entrepreneur committed to sustainable food, Marin’s focus is on growing strong relationships with those suppliers. “The most important aspect for me is connecting with local farmers and growing with them as I grow in the business,” he says.

While Marin admits his hands are full – between gardening, preparing the menu, and other day-to-day realities of small business ownership – he recognizes that it’s the quality of his food and the concept it represents that separates his product from traditional food truck fare. “At the end of the day, my customers can tell the difference,” he says. “Even though deep fried fish tacos are really good, there’s a big difference in terms of the quality and sustainability of the food.”

It’s a labour of love that’s paying off.

When he debuted Heirloom at the Field Trip at Fort York music and arts festival in June – serving up homemade chorizo sausages and braised lamb shank sandwiches – it took home the title of best new food truck. Aside from that recognition, Marin says what made the weekend special was seeing children run up to touch the carrots and other vegetables that adorn the side of the truck. “What I’m excited about is how the truck and my food can start a conversation, with people of all ages, about local farms and the importance of promoting sustainability within our environment,” he says. “I want to help further the knowledge of the great things that can be grown in Ontario.”

Heirloom’s early success has caught the attention of some festival organizers. Despite finalizing vendors months in advance, some organizers made last-minute exceptions after Marin sent a photo of the truck and an explanation of what he brings to the table. “They want to offer their customers something different,” he says.

In its inaugural season, Heirloom appeared at 35 events including an eclectic range of concerts and multi-day festivals. This fall, Steffen plans to spend three months backpacking around Europe helping farmers work their land and hopefully bring back ideas to improve his operation. “I still have so much more to learn,” he says.

Next year, he plans to hire his first employee and take Heirloom onto the streets of Toronto. He looks forward to what the future holds. “It can only get better and better,” he says, with a nod to his Fanshawe roots. “When I talk to the customers about my past and how I got here, Fanshawe always comes up first. That’s where this all started. It’s the best decision I’ve made yet.”


Reprinted with permission from Fanshawe College Alumni News.   All rights reserved.

Sarah Burke and the World of Rock Radio

By Nancy Delorey

Sarah Burke is a recent graduate of Fanshawe College’s Broadcasting-Radio Program. She spends her afternoons on London’s Best Rock FM 96 and the occasional weekend on 1021 The Edge in Toronto. She explains the love for her job comes from people – the people she interviews,  the people she connects with, and the people she meets. 


What is your current title? 

FM96 Afternoon Drive Announcer at London’s Best Rock FM96 / Part-time Swing Announcer at 102.1 The Edge Toronto

What exactly do you do for FM96?

I host the FM96 afternoon show weekdays from 2-6pm covering current events, music news, and sports to cater to a male dominant rock audience.  I often interview guests from the community or FM96 bands. For instance, Colin Mochrie from “Whose Line is It Anyway” was on the show before his “Improv All Stars” performance at Centennial Hall this week.  Monster Truck guitarist Jeremy Widerman was on the show, prior to the band playing before the Blue Jays versus Yankees game at the Rogers Centre.  The frontman and guitarist from Finger 11 came on the show live from Mount Brydges Rockin Wheel music festival.  The story is much the same with my content for 102.1 The Edge as I prepare for a role in a larger radio market.  On average I fill-in for one weekend a month in Toronto to help relieve announcer vacations and time-off.


What's it like working in radio?

Radio is kind of like day-camp.  Yes, you have somewhere you have to be everyday and you may need to prepare a lunch, but you always look forward to it.  Radio is really a daily conversation about what the people in your audience are already talking about.  When the Blue Jays are on a winning streak, across the country people are freaking out that their only Canadian baseball team could finally be making the post-season this year.  When 69 year-old Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister announces that he’s switching from Whiskey to Vodka, “for his health”…every guy who grew up on Motorhead is laughing. Everyday I ask myself these three questions: 1) What are people talking about today? 2) What can people relate to that’s going on in my life right now? 3) How can I make someone smile?


What is the best part of your job?

The best part of the gig is talking to people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the guitarist or the singer of the band.  Sometimes the best part of the gig is talking to a Londoner you’ve never met on the phone, who shares your same love for the Toronto Maple Leafs and calls to tell you how excited he is to have Mike Babcock as the new coach.  Sometimes, it’s a couple of guys starting the night shift in a factory that call to say they have the station blasting at work. Sometimes, you end up hosting a charity event and sometimes, you’re introducing a band on stage at a music festival.  It’s different every day and it’s always exciting.


Name the coolest thing you have been able to do?

I’m going to have to narrow it down to three

     Interviewing Dallas Green of City and Colour

     Watching Neil Young rock Budweiser Gardens from Tie Domi’s suite

    Doing live radio shifts on the radio station I grew up listening to, 102.1 The Edge.


How has your time at Fanshawe impacted your career?

The Fanshawe Broadcast-Radio program has always been noted as one of the best in the country and that’s the reason that radio stations are quick to accept your request to intern or look at your resume before others. They know you already have the necessary skills.  The program basically has you job shadowing as you conduct interviews, learn to edit them and make contacts in the community.


What has your time at FM96 taught you?

My time at FM96 has taught me that broadcasting is not about the host and being in the spotlight. It is always about the listener, your #1 client.  If you’re telling a personal story on-air, a listener MUST be able to relate or it’s not worth telling. If you can keep your listener informed, engaged and entertained, you’re doing it right.

Reprinted with permission from Fanshawe College Alumni News. All rights reserved. 

Healthy Balance with Tara Antle

By Mariana Hernández-Hernández, WorkStory Ambassador at Memorial University

Tara Antle’s work story is an excellent example of initiative, proactivity, and of how one experience (whether it be volunteering, work or school) can take us to the next one. Her work story also shows us how it is possible to do what we love as a job and even turn it into an entrepreneurial endeavour.

Tara is a Nutritionist whose weekly activities include private nutrition consultations, providing grocery store tours, hosting kitchen parties, giving cooking lessons, and organizing seminars and workplace wellness programs.

She’s also a regular guest on Rogers TV’s Out of the Fog (monthly segment called “Healthy Bellies”), Cross Talk on CBC’s Radio Noon with Ramona Deering, the CBC Morning Show with Anthony Germain, The NTV Evening News and Here and Now on CBC. Moreover, her articles and interviews have been published locally, provincially and nationally in The Telegram, NL Wellness Guide, The Downhomer, Fresh Juice Magazine, Atlantic Law Enforcement magazine and The Newfoundland Herald.

How did she get here?

When Tara graduated from high school in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, she didn’t know what type of work she wanted to do, so she took a few years to find herself. She devoted her time to volunteering with Helping Hands and The Community Services Council, working full time in retail, studying General Medical Sciences and taking evening courses at Memorial University of Newfoundland, which eventually evolved to full time General Studies.

Five years after being involved in these activities - and mainly because of her volunteer experience - Tara realized that she wanted to do something related to health care. She chose the Applied Human Nutrition program (BSc.AHN) at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax and was able to transfer all her credits from Memorial University. During her full time studies in Nutrition, she took elective courses in Business, worked as a Residence Assistant, and helped raise funds for scholarships and bursaries with the Alumni Association.

Every summer, Tara returned home to Newfoundland and held different jobs. The summer before graduation, she had the chance to work for the federal Public Works and Government Services as part of their student program, and after university graduation, she was offered a full time position. This experience led to an opportunity working in finance with the federal government in Newfoundland, and it, in turn, led to a government position in Ottawa as a Financial Officer! While working in her new role in Ottawa, Tara studied full time during the evenings at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and earned her Diploma of Natural Nutrition (Holistic Nutrition).

Later, Tara became one of the three Nutritionists that were hired by Shoppers Drug Mart for a pilot project.  She was responsible for the Ottawa region and her duties involved helping build a clientele, developing and delivering health and nutrition seminars in the community, acting as a liaison and team member with local physicians and pharmacists, creating in-store educational displays, and facilitating sampling of products.

After being away from Newfoundland for ten years, Tara decided to move back with the intention of eventually starting her own business. Once in St. John’s, she worked as a Nutritionist for a company for a couple of years and then left to develop the business plan for her own private practice. Seven months later, her dream became a reality as she began Healthy Balance. With more than 15 years of experience, six years of formal education in Dietetics, Holistic Nutrition and Health Studies, Tara’s private practice has been successfully flourishing for the past six years.

When Tara was studying nutrition as an undergraduate student, she was often questioned about her choice and was told by some that she was wasting her time. She stayed firm with her decision, however, and continued doing what she loved. Now, nutrition is gaining more and more attention and is even considered something ‘trendy.’ Today no one would question its importance as a field of study and interest.

When I asked Tara if she had any advice for students seeking the ‘right’ career path, she said: Do what you love and the rest will follow as long as you take the right steps to find an employment opportunity that works for you. Skill sets are transferrable to each new opportunity that exists. Be patient, persistent and keep a positive attitude. Her career path is good proof of that as Tara enjoys her job so much that it doesn’t feel like work!

To learn more about Tara and what she does, check out her website at



Plans Change, Opportunities Arise: Kerstin’s Story

Facilitated by Devin Gordon, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

My name is Kerstin Newman and I am 27 years old. I am German and spent the first 22 years of my life in Germany. Growing up, I always wanted a job where I could help people…in what way, I didn’t really care at the time. I used to envy people who knew exactly what they wanted to become and what they had to do to get there as I never had any specific plans. I was never confident in my abilities and didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue. I just knew I wanted to work with people my age or kids. So after graduating high school, I went to university to study German and English in the teaching program for German high schools (Grades 5-12).

During those university years, I went on an exchange and spent a year at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, where I completed my Master’s degree in German Studies. While everybody thought it was kind of strange that I left Germany to do an M.A. in German Studies in an English speaking country, I loved the experience of living in a different country, speaking English on a regular basis, but still studying German on the same level I would have back home.

I went back to Germany for 2 years after the exchange and completed my teaching degree at the University of Mannheim.  I knew at the time that I wanted to come back to Canada, especially since I had met my now husband (he is Canadian) in the German program at Waterloo. I knew the teaching job situation in Ontario was not great.  Also, the schools would not recognize my German teaching degree but would make me go back to teacher’s college, so I decided to switch careers while I was still in Germany. I did an internship at a John Deere facility in Mannheim, in the HR department for training and development. While the job was challenging at times (I had not really worked in office environments before), I loved what I did there, being exposed to people from all over the world, working with different people on different projects, being creative in scheduling, training or making materials available for people. My boss at the time was very supportive and connected me with the John Deere office in Brantford, Ontario, to see if they potentially had room for me. Since the office deals with all the finances, this didn’t work out, but the support of my boss encouraged me to pursue a career where I could do similar things to what I did at John Deere.

I decided to go to Fanshawe College for International Business Management to have better chances of finding a job with an international business. The program was only 8 months long and a post-graduate degree. While I was still a student at Fanshawe, they held a job fair in February and I talked to some people that represented businesses in London. One of the people I talked to ended up hiring me as a bilingual customer service advisor for after my graduation in April 2014. I started working in July 2014 and after completing the job training, I answered phones, chats, and emails for German and English speaking customers.

While customer service was never on my radar, I actually really enjoyed working with the team to help customers, talking to tons of different people all day, and learning new things every day. In April 2015, I was promoted to the role of team lead, meaning that I now am part of the leadership team for the customer service department. While I still talk to customers occasionally, I am now more involved in the operational reports, coaching people, and several projects designed to improve systems and processes.

My typical day is hard to describe as there are never two days that are the same. My main responsibility is to do some reporting on the teams’ performance the previous day in the morning, and then just be available for whatever questions the customer service advisors may have throughout the day. These might be process related, content questions, or system related, so most of the time, I function as a subject matter expert on anything regarding customer service. I approve one-off exceptions we might make for customers, I help advisors help customers in the best way possible, I try to help advisors succeed in their roles, and I am a point of contact for other departments that might have questions about customer service.

I love that every day is different. I love working with the people on the team.  I love being able to help people (the advisors and other departments within the company, and customers that buy our products). I love the challenges I encounter every day (figuring out an Excel formula, pulling meaningful statistics out of a mess of data, talking to people about odd customer situations that we need to figure out, etc.). I love being involved in cross-functional projects that will eventually help our customers have a better experience dealing with as a company. I love the support and encouragement I get from my colleagues and superiors, and I love the company in general for its culture and work environment.

While this is not at all the career (or the life – for that matter) that I ever thought I would have, I really enjoy working and living in Canada. When I was starting university at the age of 19, I was sure I would be a teacher for German and English at a high school somewhere in Germany by the age of 25. Instead, I am the team lead of a customer service team at a tech company in Canada at 27. Plans change and opportunities will come up that we never thought we would consider. I am absolutely happy with my career so far and I am sure there will be more planned and unplanned changes in the future.  I have learned to embrace change and unforeseen circumstances and to make the best of any situation not only in regards to my work life, but also as it relates to my personal life. 

Making Connections! Erika Faust’s Communication Story

By Erin Annis, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Guelph

One of the most inspiring quotes I have heard in regards to careers is “You’re most powerful where your passion is.” Erika Faust has followed this guiding light to grasp her personal career success.

Erika is currently the Corporate and Internal Communications Assistant at Toronto Community Housing.  She is also a freelance writer and editor.  The path to follow her dreams began with her love for reading and writing.  Throughout school – at the University of Guelph-Humber – she had recognized her passion for writing and began editing her friend’s papers (even later on, editing her friend’s university thesis!).   Recognizing her love for editing, Erika became the go-to editor for her friends and family for whom she reviewed reports, resumes and more.

Her writing and editing skills became a key part of Erika’s career journey during her fourth year at Guelph-Humber, where she took Media Studies. During that year, she landed an internship in the Advertising department of her hometown newspaper, the London Free Press.  Her boss recognized such talent in Erika that when she left to start her own communications firm, she hired Erika right away to do freelance writing and editing for her (and has been doing so ever since!)

Prior to working at Toronto Community Housing, Erika worked both as a staff writer for the Fanshawe College newspaper “Interrobang” as well as an Internal Communications Coordinator at Goodlife Fitness.  These roles gave her integral skills pertaining to her career.  Her job as a staff writer allowed her to gain management experience once she was promoted to editor, managing a team of 20 students.  Her experience at Goodlife was a refreshing change as it involved duties such as administering the intranet site and even some event planning. 

The game changer for Erika was the big move from London to Toronto after her husband found employment there.  Although this involved “abandoning” the place she grew up in and jumping into a situation of uncertainty, Erika viewed this experience as a “big adventure”.  During this time, she didn’t lose sight of her passion and continued to do freelance writing as she searched for a new job. 

Periods of unemployment are a major struggle for young people.  As Erika put it “It’s scary not knowing if you’re going to be able to find a job, and it can be really disheartening.”  Here is what she focused on to combat this period of unemployment:

• Networking with people with interesting jobs. “I set up informational interviews to get advice from different people. We chatted about my options and they told me what they thought I could do to shine as a job seeker.”

• Continuing education. “I tried to use the Duolingo app to learn French – I didn’t get very far with it, but I did practice every day during the summer! I also attended several communications-focused webinars and took an online class in WordPress through Udemy.”

• Doing some freelance and part-time work. “It kept my skills sharp, expanded my writing portfolio and gave me something to talk about in interviews.”

• Volunteering. “I signed up to help out at some local events, and I became a regular volunteer at a local museum. Volunteering helped me get acquainted with my new city, and I got to meet lots of like-minded people – people who just like to help out and get involved.”

Starting September 2015, Erika began her current communications role with Toronto Community Housing.  One of the most rewarding parts of her job is the non-profit environment.  “Toronto Community Housing serves about 6 percent of the population in Toronto.  I really like knowing I am part of an organization that helps so many people.”

Erika’s key to success?  Making connections!

“My boss during my London Free Press internship gave me my first paid writing and editing gig. Connections I made while working at Fanshawe College have hooked me up with freelance work. A reporter I met while attending an event in 2013 eventually became a managing editor at Metro newspaper in Toronto and gave me a part-time copy editor job. My mom – who is truly a master networker – has introduced me to some really fabulous people who gave me a ton of insight and helped prepare me for future job interviews.”

Reaching out can be the most difficult, yet beneficial, move that you can make to enhance your career- but it is 100% recommended.

“If you see someone on LinkedIn who works at a company you admire in a role you’d love, reach out to them! It may seem a little awkward at first, but I promise, it gets easier every time you do it. People are usually flattered when you ask them for advice, and they often want to help you out – maybe their company isn’t hiring, but maybe they know another great place that needs someone with your exact skill set. Even if the connection doesn’t help you find a job, it can be a really valuable learning opportunity.”

The ability to put yourself out there is integral for making the best out of your career journey.  Erika is an exemplary model having followed her passion, staying open minded and continually making important career connections.