Building a Greener Future: Crystal's Solar Story

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

Crystal Allsop originally went to Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning to study Interior Design with the belief that it was the perfect mix of art and the science as applied to building. She learned much from the program, but soon discovered that not all aspects of the program aligned with her values: "It was great, but I quickly realized how big an impact that industry can have on our earth so I continued my education afterwards by taking a post-grad in Sustainable Building Design and Construction. I had a few jobs along the way before I found the ones that made me feel satisfied".

Although she moved in a different direction from Interior Design, she still found the lessons learned to be useful, and credits the Sustainable Building Design and Construction program at Sheridan with giving her the confidence and know-how to take on a job: "My Building Code and Architectural Drafting courses from the Interior Design program are very useful to me. Every day, I read building plans for homes and/or solar systems in order to be able to make the plan a reality; I am very happy that I have an in-depth knowledge of how to create and read plans. From the Sustainable Building Design program I am grateful for the hands-on education that made me familiar with tools; this allowed me to feel comfortable on a job-site before I even got there. This knowledge also allowed me to be prepared and quickly climb to a position of leadership.

 Crystal installs solar panels on the roofs of homes and buildings within communities.  A day on the job is always different for Crystal and she is proud of the work she does.  "A sample day on the job could include a drive to a client's home/farm/or commercial building. Unpacking tools, setting up safety gear on the roof. Analyzing the site roof access points to bring solar panels and materials; assessing whether we can use a ladder or whether we will require a machine to lift  material. A quick peek in the attic to see if the structure is sufficient to hold the solar array (if it does not we visit the attic again later in the project to add sufficient supporting members to the roof structure). I analyze the construction plans and layout the roof with chalk; I have my workers begin to drill and add the required fasteners for the racking system which I will prepare based on the construction drawings. Once the racking is in place we begin to prepare the electrical components (which is either strings of PV wire or Micro-Inverters) then we are ready to install the panels. We install one panel at a time paying close attention to keep the array 'square' and complying with ESA electrical standards when plugging placing wires from the solar panels. A Junction box is created on the roof and the panels are plugged into this. From here tech cable is run from the junction box to the inverter and/or the meter base of the home/building then our job is complete! An electrician comes to finish all wiring connections and connect the system to the grid! We pack up our tools, clean up the site, and thank the client before we leave."

 Crystal did not always know this was the path for her. She took opportunities as they came, and hopes to eventually expand her skills in carpentry, design, and the solar industry, to build small off-the-grid homes, for average and not-so-average home owners.

 She admits that it can sometimes be difficult working in severe weather conditions of  -50° weather, or dangling from a harness on the roof, but it's the difference she makes that keeps her going: "Sometimes I work in remote Northern communities that cannot  be accessed by roads. The people here do not live on electricity generated by hydro lines but rather diesel generators; this is extremely expensive and harmful to the environment. It also limits the communities to a  certain energy consumption. Last winter we flew to a First Nations community and spent 1 month installing a solar array on the roof of their school. This took the school off the grid which had several positive effects in the community! They were able to use that extra power to connect 5 new homes, out of 25, that were abandoned and boarded up in the community. They were able to keep the school open longer for the kids to participate in extra-curricular activities (and the kids were so excited about that!). It saved them $30,000 a month in diesel and shipping costs, and it helped them to reduce their environmental impact. The "Thank you's" I get and just the sheer thought of how many people I am able to positively impact makes me feel so happy about what I do."

 Crystal had this to say for those interested in the field of solar work: "My advice for working the field is to consider job stability. Government incentives and a good sales team can generate demand for solar work; Government incentives vary in different provinces and countries. The work is contract based so it's not for those who need a regular, steady schedule and are made uncomfortable by unpredictability in job stability. I have been lucky to work so steadily in this field of work but just moved out of province to continue working as I had no contracts this winter. However for anyone who is passionate about solar power there are many positions which can be help on-site and off the site. The electrical engineers and sales teams all work full-time, all year round."

Painting a Different Path

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador 

Self-employed artist Alicia Wishart always knew her career path would be one that accented her creativity. Her original interest was Animation, so she started her journey with the Art Fundamentals program at Sheridan College, in order to prepare. After finding that the program wasn't for her after all, she took time to re-evaluate, and then pursued Graphic Design.

Though Graphic Design is not a main focus, Alicia says the techniques taught are still very useful: "I can do many of the things that cost people a lot of money. Steve (her husband), designed my website, but I maintain it and do any changes. I do all my own promotional materials, can scan and prepare all my art for reproduction for many other products. I am also able to layout large projects like my book and make it print ready. I tend to follow colour trends that I think people would enjoy in their art."

Alicia had never really considered turning her love for art into a profession, in spite of loving it since high school. She recalls being told that making a living as an artist was an impossible feat,  but she decided to take a chance and try it after she knew her position at the time,  in graphics, was coming to a close.

For Alicia, there are two types of work days - days at home and days at art shows. Days at home usually involve being fully immersed in painting, with a current show of interest playing in the background. Up to 7 to 8 hours can be spent painting; and the process can get so intense, that needs like showering can easily be forgotten.

Alicia described the various elements of a show day: "When I'm at a show, I have to drive to the show and set up my tent. Good situation will mean I can drive up to my spot and unload there. Bad situation means I have to find a parking spot, unload my stuff into my wagon, drag it two blocks and then down a ravine to my spot. Repeat about 5-6 times until all is unloaded and then set up the tent. Takes about two hours to make the tent nice. On show day, I get up and put on comfy clothes that are also decent looking. I'm usually set up in my tent in a park so I have to consider the weather will I be cold, is it raining, will I be sweating like a pig and likely get heat stroke again? It's not much different than working retail I talk to tons of people and sell my gear. When the show is done, I have to take everything down, pack it up and drive to wherever I'm sleeping. It can be a very tiring end to an already long and tiring day."

When asked what she found most rewarding about being an artist, Alicia had this to say: "The most rewarding thing is seeing how much I can accomplish. I did 6 paintings in a 6 month period for school and I thought that was insane. I worked so hard! Now I have done somewhere around 225 paintings in 7 years and feel like I need to work harder. I've made some really great friends from being on the show circuit and feel like I've gained an extended family. Everyone wants to help each other succeed so having that community is very helpful when you need advice. Most people have no idea what our life is like other than fellow show people. I have also had opportunities to do things that I wouldn't have had the chance to do if not for meeting my fans. They treat me well and send me greetings or come to see me whenever I'm in town. I got a behind the scenes tour at the Calgary Zoo and got to pet my favourite hippo, Sparky."

Although Alicia is happy in her work, she admits she does well when the economy does. She will continue painting, but also hopes to expand her artistic talent with cake making. Aside from artwork, Alicia has a fur/shell family, consisting of two dogs, a cat, and two tortoises. They keep her life just as colourful and busy as painting does; and she hopes to one day establish a tortoise sanctuary.

For those interested in the world of art, Alicia stresses the importance of being able to adapt. Art is always evolving and, if you can't evolve with it, it will be hard to last. If you plan to be a self-employed artist, Alicia recommends taking some marketing and business courses, as they will teach you how to sell the art you produce. She also has some advice on art in particular: "As for producing art, go with your own voice and not what others tell you. You have to make it, not them. Art doesn't have to be overly introspective and deep. It can be fun or beautiful or just something awesome. When you follow your own voice, it will show in your work and others will see your passion too.

Check out Alicia Wisharts work here:

Meet Waffles & Mango






Capturing Moments of Beauty

By Vanessa Grillone, WorkStory Contributor

Two cousins who didn’t have a lot in common sat together at a family function. Magically, a deep conversation began where they discussed their wildest dreams and greatest ambitions. By the end of the evening they promised each other that they WOULD reach their goals. Amy Miranda, my cousin, kept her promise. She is currently a Photographer and Assistant Manager at a high-end studio where she shoots everything from children and families to pets and fashion. Besides her studio work she has done small events, landscapes, and fashion shoots for promotional use.

Amy realized her love for capturing moments on film when she received her first camera as a present. She took pictures of everything, however at that time it was still film so she was limited. Years later her dad purchased a digital camera and she remembers being the only one to use it and being overjoyed by the freedom of taking as many pictures as she could fit on a memory card.

With her passion for photography peeking it’s head, Amy took a photography class in high school and loved it. She enjoyed learning about the history of photography and how it evolved to the craft it is today. With her interest heightened Amy, decided to go to Sheridan College for their two-year photography program, where she received a diploma. “It was an amazing program, very hands-on and very detailed. We had classes everyday and when we weren’t in class we were doing assignments in the studio or in the lab. My favourite class would have to be portraiture. I love interacting with people, making them feel comfortable and using my skill, creativity, and knowledge of lighting to capture their beauty in one photograph. The thing that I love the most about photography is making people feel good. Especially women, we are so hard on ourselves and never feel beautiful enough. To see women look at their photos and realize how beautiful they actually are and then watch them walk off with more confidence than they had walking in with is definitely a rewarding part of the job.” After receiving her diploma, Amy travelled to Argentina, taking photos and emerging herself in a different culture. Upon return, she went after her dream in full force, applying to various jobs and eventually landing at the studio she currently works.

Amy’s passion for photos gets her through her day, which she ensures is never a dull moment. Eventually she hopes to have her own studio and be her own boss. But Amy is focussed on the now, she is a firm believer in living in the moment and to enjoying life. She believes in doing what you love and paying attention to all of the beauty that life has to offer. Her advice for aspiring photographers is simple: “Don’t ever give up, push forward, and be as creative as you can. Be different. Try new things, take criticism, and always improve. People will always think that they can do what you do and that being a photographer consists of having an expensive camera, prove them wrong. Prove to them that it’s so much more than that!”