Douglas 360°

This Social Work alum wants her master’s degree to help her create systemic change 

As a Bachelor of Social Work grad, Rachelle Wilmot is a social worker active in the Downtown Eastside core. She works in child protection on a family service team with B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, where she helps ensure at-risk children receive the support they need. Her role has given her the chance to improve the lives of many local children, youth and families. 

Despite her accomplishments, Rachelle wants to do more. This year, she begins studying remotely for her Master of Social Work at Dalhousie University. We spoke with Rachelle about her time at Douglas, why she loves social work and what her advice is for people who may want to become social workers themselves, through a master’s program or otherwise.  

Why did you become a social worker? 

I was always driven to work with, and advocate for, people. Initially, I was studying history so I could become a teacher. Halfway through my second year, I decided to transfer those credits to a social work degree at Douglas because I wanted to do something more hands-on with people, especially children. Don’t get me wrong: teachers do an amazing job and they’re all in. But I wanted to provide support in what I saw as a more marginalized setting.  

Why did you choose Douglas? 

Compared to other programs, Douglas’s was more affordable. That was huge because I pay for my own schooling. I worked all throughout my studies. That’s not to say I was completely unsupported, though. I got help whenever I could from applying for scholarships and other funding. My grandmother even used to help me pay for books. Tuition was stressful, but Douglas gave me the environment and resources I needed to manage it. 

What does it mean to work in child protection? 

We work with families who have been investigated and deemed in need of further services. They might need legal aid after a child was removed from the home, or long-term support in their household, or something else completely. Whatever the case, we facilitate the longer process of working with the family to keep the child safe and in the home. 

Child protection is something I have my own history with. My parents both suffer from substance abuse, so it’s something that’s close to my heart. 

What is your top priority when keeping children safe? 

The priority is always reunification with family, for the child to be able to stay in their homes with their families. As we assess the situation, we go down the priority list. If the parents aren’t an option, then we ask ourselves, “What are our choices to keep this child in their community? What family members can they stay with, what community members?” If all other choices are exhausted, our very last option is foster care and planning for permanency outside of the home. 

What did you think of the community at Douglas? 

My small cohort was Douglas’s very first class in social work, in 2017, and it’s always been close-knit and mutually supportive. Several of us are still in touch. That network of support included our instructors, too. If I was working double-shifts, I could say the next morning in class, “I’m really tired, please don’t call on me,” and that was met with compassion. There was an understanding that the students in the program were working professionals, and they held us to a high standard while recognizing that not every student has the same 24 hours.  

Read more: “A sense of community: How this Social Work student is advocating for students inside and outside the classroom”

How did you build experience while you were studying? 

The program gave me so many chances to do practicum work. That often led to casual work or full-time jobs with the same employers. I’ve worked for the Lookout Housing and Health Society, the Canadian Mental Health Association and Harbour Light. My last practicum was with the Ministry, which is where I really started to get a feel for this work, supported by the legislative knowledge I gained in class. That practicum eventually opened the door to my current position. I reached out to the district operations manager, who I’d worked with as a student, and they hired me after a panel interview.  

Why do you want to get your Master of Social Work? 

I’m in love with learning. I’ve read the syllabus for the program I’m entering again and again. It really focuses on our Indigenous partners and our Black community. As a Black social worker who was doing my undergrad studies not so long ago, that kind of focus is not something I’ve experienced before.

Above all, I want to create systemic change. I want to carve out a role for myself that lets me influence policy and shifts in practice. I want to work in our city and to help people who are the most marginalized. I’m going to stand a better chance of doing that after I get a master’s degree. 

That said, I want to acknowledge that the tools to push that systemic change forward are denied to so many people through the gatekeeping of education. Not everyone has the same access to schooling as me and others. Even as I pursue a master’s degree myself, I recognize that that in itself is another barrier we need to tear down.  

What is your advice to social workers who want to get their master’s?  

A Master of Social Work is competitive, and what you need to get accepted into a program is very specific. Keep an eye on your grade point average, as I found there is a B minimum across the board for entering graduate studies. You also need two years of post-bachelor work experience, because they really want people to have a firm foundation of experience on the frontline. Like any grad program, you’ll need reference letters, so keep those ties with your instructors. Finally, the application essays are lengthy, so set aside the time to write them well. 

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get in on the first round. It’s not a reflection of you or your work. Don’t be afraid to call the university and ask them, “What was missing?” Then you’ll know what to work on for next time. 

••• 

March 13–19 is B.C.’s Social Work Week, dedicated to the achievements of our province’s social workers. Learn more about our Bachelor of Social Work program, and the opportunities it opens.

This Physical Education and Coaching student is trekking over 4,000 km to support fellow sexual violence survivors

Content warning for mentions of sexual violence and suicide.

As a wrestling coach, certified personal trainer and Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching student, Alyssa Kroeker knows all about the intense drive behind any athletic feat. This spring, she will trek the Pacific Crest Trail, a famous cross-continental hiking trail that takes six months on average to complete.

Alyssa has spent 17 months preparing for the challenge this 4,270-km trail poses, and the journey means more to her than a simple badge of accomplishment. As a survivor of sexual violence, Alyssa is undertaking this journey to heal. She hopes to extend that healing to fellow survivors. During the hike, she’ll be inviting fellow survivors to connect with her and share their stories, as well as raising funds for two charitable organizations to support those affected by sexual violence.

“I’m not doing this to find myself. I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to create myself. To create a version of myself that makes me proud of who I am and what I stand for.”

– Alyssa Kroeker

Alyssa spoke to us about her upcoming journey, how she’s been preparing for it, and how she wants to provide support and resources for fellow survivors.

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the longest trails in North America, famous for the challenge of endurance it poses to hikers. You’ll be walking 10-20 miles a day through harsh weather and tough terrain. When and how did you decide to hike it?

It was about two years ago. At the time, I was in a very dark place. In 2015, I had been sexually assaulted by someone who I no longer accept as family. Then in 2019, I was assaulted again by a supposed family friend. I soon found myself questioning my will to live, and I did try at one point to take my own life. It was fight or die after that, but I still could barely get out of bed, shower or go outside alone – not even to walk my dog.

I’d always loved sports and the outdoors, but in that state, I couldn’t do them anymore. So I started reading and watching movies instead, because it let me escape without leaving the safety of my own home.

One day, my boyfriend threw on the movie Wild. It’s the story of a woman who faces personal tragedies that push her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While watching it, something inside of me just clicked, like a light in a dim room.

“I hope that my travels and my story can help students on campus feel a little less alone, and a little more like they can get support from their communities.”

– Alyssa Kroeker

The moment the credits rolled, I dove headfirst into researching everything I could about the Pacific Crest Trail. I wanted to see pictures, know what hiking it would be like, everything. Eventually I found footage on YouTube about the experience, and seeing those videos finalized the choice for me. I knew I wanted to take that hike on.

But I’m not doing this to find myself. I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to create myself. To create a version of myself that makes me proud of who I am and what I stand for.

Alyssa hiking in preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail this Spring.
To do this hike, you typically need a lot of training and practice with the necessary equipment. How have you prepared for your journey?

I studied the trail, gathered the gear I’d need and began training for it. It’s been tough, especially at first. There’s a heavy cost factor in finding the right gear, especially since you can’t return equipment that doesn’t work out once it’s used. And I’ve had an injured hip for over a year now. Before that injury, I had a whole plan to be in peak condition before the hike. But that vision was demolished when I learned just how much physio and rehab I needed. I would just keep re-injuring my hip by trying to force my body to train. I’m taking it a lot easier now, and I will get stronger on the trail.

“If I can inspire just one person to find the strength to keep fighting another day, then everything is worth it.

– Alyssa Kroeker
Did you ever want to quit?

All that labour and training actually helped solidify my resolve by making me reflect on my motivations. The days I was most exhausted, physically and mentally, were when I really realized that I’m not only doing this for myself. It’s also for the people who have helped me along the way, and most of all, for other survivors. If I can inspire just one person to find the strength to keep fighting another day, then everything is worth it.

Alyssa hiking in preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail this Spring.
What impact do you hope your journey will have for other survivors?

I hope it will inspire them and reassure them that they can take power back. There are far too many survivors like me, voiceless and denied justice. I am fighting for my own justice, and in doing this hike, I want to illuminate our power and our perseverance.

To put that into action, I’m working with two organizations – WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women), a rape crisis centre in Vancouver, and the South Okanagan Women in Need Society. I’m going to be raising funds for fellow survivors as I hike by calling for donations. I’ll be sharing my travels on my Instagram and opening my direct messages to people who want to share their story with me. And I’m starting my own website to help document the hike and get the word out there.

You’re also working towards your bachelor’s degree right now. As you plan your departure, what makes your journey valuable for students like yourself?

Being a college student in Canada is frightening. Look at the federal statistics on student safety, for example. In 2019, 71 percent of students in college or university witnessed or faced unwanted sexual behaviours at school, or in a school-related setting. Given those numbers, and my own past experiences, I fear walking around campus and being in a classroom. I know that I’m not alone in that.

That said, I’ve been fortunate to have an incredibly supportive environment at Douglas. In fact, more than one of my teachers and lab techs have walked me from my car to the campus building and vice versa. They made sure I felt safe in class and during labs and field trips.

With that in mind, I hope that my travels and my story can help students on campus feel a little less alone, and a little more like they can get support from their communities.

•••

Alyssa departs for her hike on March 26. Follow her journey at @thebcbackpacker on Instagram and at her website.

Five ways you can get involved in research at Douglas 

Four students present research project on urinary tract infection

By Nicole Chiu, Research and Innovation Office  

Every semester, hundreds of students dive into research projects at Douglas. Whether you want to conduct and present your own research, work alongside faculty experts on their projects, or promote the exciting research opportunities the College has to offer, there are many ways for everyone to get involved in research at Douglas. 

The benefits of incorporating research into your education are endless. You will gain critical-thinking skills, learn how to analyze and interpret data, meet other students who share similar interests and gain professional-level experience you can put on your résumé. You could also get hired as a research assistant or present your work at an academic conference.  

There are many ways to be part of the Douglas College research community. Here are five ways you can get involved in research this year.  

1. Student Research Days  

Student Research Days is an annual event where you can present a research project to the College community. You’ll get to showcase your research expertise and passion for research to our panel of faculty judges. Prizes of up to $500 will be awarded to the top projects. 

Student Research Days takes place April 13 at the New Westminster Campus.  

Apply to be a presenter. Applications are being accepted until March 9. 

Read more: Student Research Days returns to Douglas College on April 11 and 13

2. Research conferences  

If you’re already a researcher at the College and have a project you’re eager to share with a larger audience, then it’s time to take your research presentation skills to the next level at a research or industry-specific conference. You’ll sharpen your public-speaking skills, get practice presenting at an industry event and network with renowned experts in your field. Student Research Conference Funding can help cover conference fees and travel expenses. 

Apply now for Student Research Conference Funding. The deadline to apply is April 15.   

3. Become a research assistant 

Work alongside faculty – and get paid for it – as they do research and work with community partners and other institutions to apply their findings to solve problems in the real world.  

You will learn research techniques and gain the type of in-field experience and work experience that will help you stand out when you’re looking for employment.  

Look for Current Openings on the Douglas College Careers site by selecting “Student Assistant” in the posting category. 

4. Become a research ambassador 

Student Research Ambassadors work within their faculties to raise awareness of research and get their fellow students involved – and get paid to do it. 

You’ll work with other Student Research Ambassadors from across the College to promote research while developing your interpersonal, professional and leadership skills. 

Look for Current Openings on the Douglas College Careers site by selecting “Student Assistant” in the posting category. Look for positions that include the title “Student Ambassador.” 

Read more: Therapeutic Recreation grad publishes article on resilience research

5. Lead your own research  

Direct your very own research project with Scientific Research Skills (SRES 2100). In this self-guided course, offered by the Faculty of Science and Technology, you’ll learn how to conduct an independent study on a topic of your choice.  

If you want to continue doing research at a university, this course will equip you with the fundamental research skills, knowledge and the confidence to land a research assistant position at a research university. 

This course is offered in the Summer, Fall and Winter semesters. If you’re interested in registering for SRES 2100, talk to a Science and Technology instructor you are keen to work with to discuss your research interests. Once you agree on a topic, you can register for SRES 2100.  

To learn more about SRES 2100, visit the course information page on the Douglas College website. 


Learn more about research at the College by visiting the Research and Innovation Office page on the Douglas College website.  

Student Research Days returns to Douglas College on April 13

Graphic: "Student Research Days 2022" against white background with colourful science-related icons.

By Nicole Chiu, Research and Innovation Office

Student Research Days is an annual event where you can present a research project to the College community. You’ll get to showcase your research expertise and passion for research to our panel of faculty judges. Prizes of up to $500 will be awarded to the top projects.  

On April 13, Student Research Days will be back and rows of research poster presentations will span the Coquitlam Campus Atrium and the New Westminster Campus Concourse.  

Don’t just take it from us. Take it from past presenters who told us the benefits of presenting at Research Days.      

We spoke to Simran Bhamra from the Therapeutic Recreation Diploma program and Bradley Huddlestone from the Bachelor of Arts in Criminology Honours program to find out why they participated in Research Week, what they learned and their advice for this year’s participants. 

Simran Bhamra
Bradley Huddlestone

Why did you take part in Research Week? 

“I wanted more experience talking to different people about my research and speaking to the public. It also made me feel like my work was appreciated.” – Bradley 

“I wanted the chance to advocate for my field and share my research findings to inspire positive changes in long-term care.” – Simran 

What did you learn?  

“I learned what it was like to talk about my research in a more public setting. This is definitely a skill that will help me when I defend my Honours thesis.” – Bradley 

“It was amazing to see the responses from individuals outside my field regarding my research and learn about how their fields could improve long-term care. I had many rewarding conversations with my peers and with faculty members and felt like my work was appreciated.” – Simran 

Wise words to this year’s participants 

“Don’t be afraid to talk about what excites you about your research. The day is about you and your work. Take advantage of that.” – Bradley  

“Just do it! It was such a rewarding experience, and it’s a good steppingstone to potentially presenting at conferences and other events.” –  Simran  

•••

Watch Criminology student Bradley Huddlestone speak about his study during Research Week 2021: A content analysis of YouTube comments framing homeless criminalization. 

Watch Therapeutic Recreation student Simran Bhamra speak about her study: The perceptions on the role of therapeutic recreation in motivating culture change in long-term. 

•••

Applications to present at Student Research Days are open until March 9. Apply to present by visiting www.douglascollege.ca/research-days.  

Due to programming changes, Student Research Days will be a one-day event on April 13, 12–3pm at the New Westminster Campus Concourse. The event previously included an event on April 11 at the Coquitlam Campus. 

Seeing all the possibilities: How this Opticianry grad found more career pathways than she ever imagined

By Maggie Tung, Communications Coordinator 

Henna Ahmad was always interested in eye health care, and she knew the Diploma in Opticianry (OPT) program was the right fit for her. But she never foresaw just how many doors it would open. 

“This program helped me realize how many pathways there are in the opticianry industry. Throughout my career, I’ve got to be in different roles and positions, and I continue to learn.” 

Henna Ahmad portrait

Want to become a licensed optician? Learn more about the Diploma in Opticianry by attending an info session. douglascollege.ca/info 

Finding the right prescription 

Henna says the two-year Opticianry program – known as Dispensing Opticianry at the time – set her up for success. She started her career with solid foundational knowledge of opticianry and had hands-on experience thanks to her practicum placement in an optical store. After graduation, she landed a job in sales at that same store.  

In her position, she helped clients find the right glasses and contacts based on their visual and lifestyle needs. But after a few years, she wanted a change. She wasn’t worried, though – her credential had opened up a wide range of career options, so she was confident she would be able to move into a different position easily.  

“There are many directions you can take with a diploma like this,” she says. “You can do sales, work in a lab or move into the health-care side. You can even go further and study more if you want. The program is a gateway; it supports you wherever you want to go.” 

Henna moved into healthcare, as an ophthalmic technician for LASIK MD. In this new role, she is training to assist in LASIK eye surgeries.  

She has also come back to Douglas – as a guest speaker. The OPT program contacts her when students are learning a topic that correlates to what LASIK MD offers.  

“For example, if they’re studying cataracts, I’ll come in and talk about how we diagnose them and the different surgeries we offer to treat them,” she says. 

This has opened up yet another potential career path for Henna. 

“Speaking to students has made me realize that I love teaching, which I hadn’t even considered before,” she says. 

Read more: Keeping an ear out: Meet the instructor who wants you to turn down the noise 

The future’s so bright, she’s gotta wear shades 

In fact, she loves teaching so much that she’s set her sights on one day leading the Opticianry program at Douglas College.  

“I’ve actually spoken to the department head. And I’m like, ‘I want your job, so I’m waiting for you to retire. When you do, let me know, and we’ll work something out,’” she says, laughing. “It’s where I see myself in the future.”  

In the meantime, Henna continues to build a fruitful career that fulfills her desire for work-life balance. 

“This industry gives me constant stimulation, and it keeps me on my toes. But it’s not so tasking that I can’t enjoy my hobbies and spend time with friends and family,” she says. “I can come home from work and read a book purely for leisure or go on hikes to enjoy the outdoors without stressing about my job in the back of my mind. I love the work-life balance that I have.” 

Out of the shadows: How this alum is helping the LGBTQ+ community 

Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations   

For Alex Sangha, a Douglas College arts alum, his personal experience with mental health encouraged him to help others. 

“I used to be reluctant to speak about my own journey with bipolar disorder,” says Alex. “But as I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve realized sharing my own story is a way to reduce the stigma around mental health. It’s part of the resources I can provide people who are also vulnerable.”  

Alex’s goal of helping others has blossomed into a career of activism and fighting for justice. Over the last 30 years, Alex has built a successful career as a social worker, counsellor, filmmaker and speaker. He’s also the founder of Sher Vancouver, a registered charity for LGBTQ+ South Asians and friends in the Metro Vancouver area. 

Lights, camera, action  

Alex’s activism has permeated his entire career. Most recently, Alex has made the foray into filmmaking and producing two documentary films, My Name Was January (2018) and Emergence: Out of the Shadows (2021), both of which cover topics close to Alex’s heart. 

My Name Was January follows the story of January Marie Lapuz. She was murdered in her home in New Westminster in 2012. “As a transgender person who engaged in survival sex work, January didn’t receive the justice she deserved during the trial,” explains Alex. The killer was sentenced to only eight years in prison for the crime, where he claimed self-defense.  

January was Sher Vancouver’s Social Coordinator and Alex’s close friend. “I wanted to bring justice to January and remember her as the bright light she was.”  

Producing My Name Was January opened the doors to both Alex’s passion for filmmaking and the feature documentary, Emergence: Out of the Shadows, where he was both a producer and a cast member. The documentary follows three individuals, including Alex (credited under his birth name, Amar). They share their experience expressing their sexuality within conservative South Asian families and within the LGBTQ+ community.  

“I remember the few times I went to a queer support group and how marginalized I felt in the mainstream queer community. I was the only brown guy there. We had different cultural backgrounds, upbringings and traditions,” says Alex. 

Similar to how sharing his own mental health journey connected him to social work, Alex wanted to share his story of coming to terms with his sexuality as a cast member. “It was one of the reasons why I wanted to share the screen with other brown gay people like myself. We didn’t have to explain anything to each other. We had a sense of mutual understanding and acceptance.” 

The films received many international awards and recognition and reached others in the LGBTQ+ community who struggled just like Alex did in his youth.   

“Films like these create awareness and make people feel welcomed,” says Alex. “I want to continue to create safe spaces in the community.”  

Read more: Get ready to snooze: A student’s perspective on the importance of sleep hygiene for mental health 

Building a foundation at Douglas 

While few people excel in as many different worlds as Alex does, he didn’t know what he wanted to pursue when he first came to Douglas College. Alex credits Douglas with helping him discover his calling toward social work and learning more about himself and his sexuality.  

“Douglas College was the best two years of my life,” says Alex. He was able to connect with his peers – including other gay students – through classes and joining the Pride Collective. “I came into myself as a gay man and social work became my mission. I did well in my courses and made life-long friends! It felt like I could do anything.”    

Douglas gave him the academic foundation for his lengthy academic journey. After completing his Associate of Arts Degree at Douglas, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Social Work with a First Class Standing (UBC), a Masters of Social Work (Dalhousie University) and Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy (London School of Economics).    

Personal inspiration  

Alex traces his broad portfolio of accomplishments back to a single transformative, life-saving experience in his youth, and its memory spurs him forward to this day.  

“When I was 19 years old, I was very stressed about my sexuality,” he says. “I wasn’t sleeping, I was literally deteriorating and falling apart. I had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. But that’s where I had what I believe to this day to be a profound spiritual experience; I felt an energy leave my body like an out-of-body experience and I saw this amazing light of spiritual energy.”   

“Afterwards, I talked to a priest. He said that maybe God was trying to send me a message to love myself. Maybe God was telling me I should do what I wanted with my life.”  

Since this epiphany, Alex has worked hard to share the love with others. In 2017, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada for his service to his community.   

“My career – the counselling, social work, filmmaking, social justice – all goes right back to that spiritual experience,” he explains. “It’s my motivation. Whenever I’m feeling down or am struggling, I think about that light and the spiritual connection I had in that moment. And I want to be able to share that feeling of safety with others, too.”   

Emergence: Out of the Shadows continues to have community screenings across the Lower Mainland, both in-person and online. Check out the Douglas Student Union events page for upcoming screenings at Douglas.    

A fighter for justice: Minister Melanie Mark’s path to politics

Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations 

In 2016, Minister Melanie Mark (Hli Haykwhl Ẃii Xsgaak) made headlines after winning a by-election in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding, making her the first First Nations woman to serve in B.C.’s Legislative Assembly. Nearly six years later, she remains the only Indigenous woman to hold the title of MLA in British Columbia. 

Minister Melanie Mark with Dr. John Fleming at the Douglas College’s Coat of Arms unveiling in 2020. 

Since then, Minister Mark’s career has only grown. In 2017, she was re-elected as Vancouver-Mount Pleasant’s MLA and was also appointed as B.C.’s Minister for Advanced Education, Skills and Training. In 2020, she was appointed the Minister of Tourism, Art, Culture and Sport.  

Minister Mark’s career is informed heavily by her own experience. She is a survivor of childhood abuse, both of her parents battled addictions, and her siblings were in the foster care system. Today, she is known widely for her passion for social, environmental and economic justice.  

Read more: Not too steep: This alum’s passion for tea and education helped her grow into an entrepreneur

A path to a career    

Although Minister Mark has made a name for herself in politics, it wasn’t always her career goal. In fact, she wanted to become a police officer.  

“As an Indigenous person, we often hear of the injustices to Indigenous people. Whether we’re talking about the missing women and girls across the country, the over-representation of children in care and jail or women as victims of assault,” says Minister Mark. “All of those pieces together inspired me to be a fighter for justice. Being a police officer would’ve allowed me to be a first responder who could protect people and that was inspiring to me at the time.”  

To pursue this career, Minister Mark kicked off her educational journey with Douglas College and Native Education College’s joint Diploma in Criminology partnership. The Native Education College (NEC), which has supported Indigenous learners who have relocated to the Lower Mainland since 1967, has transfer agreements with many other institutions, allowing students to begin their education at NEC and complete it at other post-secondary institutions like Douglas.  

“I attended classes the first year at the NEC campus in East Vancouver and was at Douglas for the second year,” explains Minister Mark, who completed her diploma in 1999. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so having the opportunity to attend two different colleges was helpful because it exposed me to different learning environments.”  

Of her favourite instructors at Douglas was Dr. John Fleming, the current Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences.   

“Dr. Fleming taught a course called Sociological Explanations on Criminal Behaviour and I felt like he brought practical tools into the classroom. He really explored the dimensions of justice, which was very inspiring for me,” she says.  

Minister Mark went on to pursue a major in political science and minor in sociology at SFU and an Advanced Executive Certificate from Queen’s School of Business.  

Paddling together  

Ultimately, Minister Mark decided policing wasn’t her path. Instead, she applied her personal experience and education to build a career fighting injustice and advocating for youth through working and volunteering with community organizations. As a volunteer, Minister Mark served on the board of the Urban Native Youth Association, and mentored and supported youth with Big Sisters and Youth Custody Centres.  

In fact, she credits her volunteering as a key component of her success. “My education helped open doors and gave me a sense of confidence,” says Minister Mark, whose work today aims to provide marginalized youth with the same confidence. “But I got to where I am in my career because I volunteered with organizations that help young people. It’s that experience that helped build my understanding of governance and leadership.” 

Minister Mark has also helped build organizations that address gaps in the community. In 2006, she co-founded the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre Society (VACPCS). It works to decrease the over-representation of Indigenous individuals in the criminal justice system through advocacy, education and victim assistance.  

“When I was in school, there was a real movement for what was called proactive policing, where police were more present and visible so that people could see them as allies and community members. As an Indigenous person, I found this model fascinating as there isn’t the most positive track record between police and Indigenous communities,” she explains. “I helped found the VACPCS after an Indigenous man was left for dead in an alley in the Downtown Eastside. These are real stories and they’re real issues we need to fix.”  

A rising tide lifts all canoes 

Minister Mark strives to be part of the solution. With a personal understanding of how education can help make youth more resilient, equitable access is very near and dear to her heart.  

“Education is an equalizer, but not everyone has the same access as everyone else. So, how do we level the playing field? We create opportunities,” she says.  

Minister Mark’s work continues to make an impact on students at Douglas and across the province. In 2017, she helped introduce B.C.’s first Provincial Tuition Waiver Program (PTWP). It was designed to provide former youth from the foster care system with tuition-free post-secondary education. Today, Douglas College has the fifth-highest number of PTWP students in the province, of which 30% are Indigenous learners.   

The PTWP program creates opportunities for students who may not have otherwise had access to post-secondary education. Minister Mark is excited about the doors these opportunities open.

“Education changed my quality of life. It helped break the cycle of poverty that I came from,” she says. “No one gave me a free ticket, I had to work hard like everyone else, but the conditions that I came from may not have been the same. That’s the thing about social justice. That’s the thing about equity. Give a person a seat at the table and who knows what they can do with their ability.” 

When it comes to the next generation of learners, Minister Mark shared some words of encouragement as we persevere through the next phase of the pandemic: “First of all, I’m proud of you, you made it this far. Second, please don’t be too hard on yourself as we continue to navigate the changes due to COVID-19. Do your best and know you’re there for a reason. Stick to your goals and remember why you’re pursuing them – that’s going to help you cross the finish line.”  

A sense of community: How this Social Work student is advocating for students inside and outside the classroom

Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations 

The challenges Aly Hillaby has faced throughout her life have inspired her future career.   

“I became interested in social work because I’m a former youth in care,” says Aly. “Throughout my life, I must’ve had over 20 social workers. During that time, I knew I wanted to become a social worker so I could provide a stable support system for other youth in care.” 

Today, the Bachelor of Social Work student is not only preparing herself for a career of helping vulnerable youth at Douglas, but is already putting her skills to good use by supporting and advocating for her fellow students.    

Feeling connected at Douglas  

Douglas provided an ideal college environment for Aly. One which supported her desire to meaningfully connect with teachers and peers while equipping her with the skills to pursue her career. “When I was researching all the different institutions in the area, Douglas stood out to me. There were small class sizes and because it seemed like a vibrant place,” says Aly. 

Not only has her initial impression held true, but in her three years at the College Aly has become an important and supportive part of the Douglas community outside the classroom. As a Student Assistant with Indigenous Student Services (ISS), Aly staffed the ISS office five days a week starting in early 2020. She hoped to provide students with a place where they could social distance, but still study and interact with their peers during the pandemic.  

“The ISS room has been an integral part of my own student experience. It’s always been a place of the community. A place where students can connect with one another and talk about things going on in their lives and what is important to them,” says Aly. “Everyone was working from home during the pandemic and were more isolated than ever. I thought it was important to continue to have a space where students could work and interact safely.”  

Getting involved in the campus community   

In addition to pursuing her degree and working with ISS, Aly was also recently elected as the 2021-2022 Indigenous Students’ Representative at the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU).In her role, Aly helps execute the DSU’s campaigns, initiatives and events and advocates for the Indigenous student experience at the College.  

“The elections process was a bit nerve-racking because I wasn’t really sure what to expect at first,” Aly expresses. “But it was a great experience to work on my public speaking skills. It also gave me an opportunity to connect with the people I was campaigning with.” 

For Aly, the role with the DSU is another opportunity to foster community and provide support for students at Douglas. “The goal for the upcoming year is to not only have educational opportunities, but opportunities for self-care as well,” she explains. She also has ideas spanning from beading workshops to drum group performances. 

And Aly has enjoyed the experience so far. “It’s been great. Everyone is so passionate about everything. It’s nice to be a part of the planning and bring awareness to different issues and have my opinion heard.”  

As Aly continues to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker by honing her skills both inside and outside the classroom, she is also quick to offer advice for students who may need support:    

“It’s really helpful for students to know about the different resources and supports available at the College,” Aly advises. “It can be a bit daunting looking at all the departments and the services they offer, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re an Indigenous student, the ISS staff are always very communicative. They can offer support if you’re going through something or need to talk things through. They’ll try to help you the best they can.”  

In honour of National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day, Aly wrote a blog post on the significance of the month of June and her experience at Douglas as an Indigenous student. Read her story 

Not too steep: This alum’s passion for tea and education helped her grow into an entrepreneur

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations 

Marketing alum Nancy Prokosh didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. In fact, the idea came to her in a dream.  

“I had a recurring dream about Alice in Wonderland, with teacups spinning around and around. I didn’t know if it was a sign for my future, but it sparked my interest in tea,” says Nancy.   

And Nancy has run with it. Today, she is recognized as one of Canada’s top tea experts, and she owns a successful retail business, Tealicious Tea Company.  

In the tea leaves  

woman standing behind a chair posing

Nancy opened Tealicious Tea Company in 2001, which was a brick-and-mortar retail store until she branched out into the online sphere in 2015. Unlike many big-box tea brands, Nancy’s teas are fair trade and 100 percent organic, grown without the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  

It’s important to Nancy that Tealicious’s teas are good not only for Mother Earth, but for the producers as well. Tea farms can be exploitative for workers, their working environment rife with problems from poor wages to child labour to Indigenous land tenure. As an Indigenous entrepreneur herself, Nancy aims to be part of the solution. 

“I partner with tea producers who support women who have been cast out of their communities for one reason or another,” Nancy explains. She adds that such shunning is common if a woman doesn’t conform to a community’s gender norms and expectations. “In most cases, these women have no education, no money, nothing. But the tea producers I partner with will hire them on, train them on everything from tea cultivation to harvesting, as well as provide them with the opportunity to access education.    

“This access to training and education can be a catalyst for these women. This provides them with more opportunities and the ability to be self-sufficient. And it’s important to me to support these efforts.”  

Read more: Bamboo in the water: This International Business Management student clinched a $24 thousand investment on Shark Tank Mexico 

Quali-tea education     

Nancy’s passion for education has deep roots in her own personal journey.  

“When I got married to my first husband – which was an expectation for people at that time – I turned down my acceptance to SFU’s law program. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. I didn’t understand how much I would come to regret the decision,” she says.   

But Nancy hasn’t let her regrets hold her back.   

After opening Tealicious Tea Company, Nancy wanted to upgrade her knowledge to help grow her business and came to Douglas College to pursue a credential in Marketing. The program enhanced her skills in customer relations, selling, marketing, promotions, buyer behaviour and strategy.  

“Douglas College helped me a lot with my business. The program helped me build my foundation,” says Nancy.  

Since coming to Douglas, Nancy has also pursued training with the International Tea Education Institute, adding tea pairing to her list of offerings. Currently, she is in the process of launching courses to train others in tea pairing.  She hopes to branch out into public speaking and present to those also in the field one day.      

“We’re in a time when people are constantly reinventing themselves,” says Nancy. “I’m excited by the opportunity to grow my business and continue to challenge myself in new and interesting ways.”  

Bamboo in the water: This International Business Management student clinched a $24 thousand investment on Shark Tank Mexico 

By Zach Siddiqui, Communications Coordinator 

To Erick Rodriguez, modern fashion requires creating with care. When clothing lines fail to combine aesthetics and durability, they don’t just produce disappointing products – they feed into the global waste crisis. The world produces millions of tons of textile waste per year, a fact not helped by the widespread uptick of fast fashion.  

“If your goal is just selling a lot of clothes, that’s not sustainable,” says Erick. “There are already a lot of clothes in the world. Why would I want to make more garbage?” 

Erick is a student in Douglas College’s Post-Degree Diploma in International Business Management. Before that, though, he helped found Elementa, a sustainable clothing line that markets all over Mexico. He first enrolled in Douglas to gain the know-how he needed to expand across the world – and now he’s on track to do exactly that in 2022.  

Erick’s ongoing Douglas education is part of what enabled his most recent success: an investment deal earned on the infamous Shark Tank Mexico. Erick and his business partner, his sister Mishe, pitched their line of bamboo apparel to the “Sharks,” the show’s five wealthy investors. They received a whopping nine investment offers, ultimately securing a total of $23,800 CAD.  

We caught up with Erick about his company’s journey, his studies at Douglas and his future plans. 

“The small entrepreneur I was starting to be” 

In 2015, Erick earned a bachelor’s degree in international business from the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, and he and Mishe founded Elementa two years later. Despite the general administrative skills his degree gave him, what he needed was expertise in import-export. 

“Douglas College’s program really made sense to me. We already had a product in Mexico, but I was itching to move it into Canada,” said Erick, who had spent a year attending high school in Squamish, B.C. “And I wanted to make it happen myself, as the small entrepreneur I was starting to be. Coming to Douglas wouldn’t just teach me the knowledge I needed – it would let me immerse myself once again in the culture and market here.” 

In two semesters in Douglas’s PDD program, Erick’s learned even more than he’d predicted. Whenever he studies a new concept in class, he researches it further in his spare time so he can incorporate the knowledge into his business dealings at Elementa.  

“Studying here has surpassed my expectations, a hundred percent.” 

Read more: Down to business: This marketing student is taking on the new BBA Marketing

“Made to survive in nature, in rain and snow” 

By 2020, Erick and Mishe were attracting offers for Elementa to feature in magazines, such as the Latin American editions of ELLE and GQ. This was especially prompted by their newfound selling point: ultra-soft bamboo fabric, a textile seldom seen in the Mexican market.  

“To enhance our product, I started importing fabrics from around the world. I thought bringing in a new, untapped fabric and educating our customers about it would accelerate our growth,” he explains. 

“I remember being starstruck over merino wool and testing countless polyesters. But when I came across the bamboo fabric, I knew it was our breakthrough.” 

Eventually, Erick’s family suggested that demand might be even higher in Canada, where fashions are influenced by a chillier, stormier climate. For Erick, who cherished the time he’d spent in Squamish, the idea immediately took root. 

“Clothes in Canada are made to survive in nature, in rain and snow,” says Erick. “So fabrics are very important to the designs, and people are more likely to understand which fabrics they need.” 

Read more: Mechanic shifts gears to business owner with dreams of running one of the most successful auto repair shops in the Tri-Cities

“Like my baby was on the line” 

Getting the Shark Tank call stirred up a whirlwind of preparation for Erick and Mishe.  

“A producer found our digital advertising and called us. They said, ‘We love your product. We’d love to have you,’” Erick says. “I was hesitant at first. But if we were going to do it, we knew we had to be outstanding.” 

The pair threw themselves into researching the five Sharks and developing the right pitch. Throughout the process, Erick was grateful for his Douglas professors’ support – particularly from his Introductory Marketing instructor, Matthew Larson. 

“I wasn’t telling anyone at first,” he says. “But I had an exam the day I was filming, so I texted him, ‘I’m not usually like this, I’ll never try to escape a test! But I have to record for Shark Tank.’ After that, he gave me public speaking tips, video resources, feedback – I appreciated it so much.” 

Watching Erick’s Shark Tank pitch was a “truly unique” experience for Matthew, one which only reaffirmed his confidence in Erick’s talent.  

“At Douglas, faculty strive to support our students’ endeavours and be involved in what they love to do,” says Matthew. “Erick did something he was great at and passionate about: He built a company and brought his vision to life. He’ll be a great entrepreneur and marketer.” 

The pressure spiked, however, when Mishe tested positive for COVID-19 a week before filming. In the end, Erick pitched the Sharks alone. 

“It was make-or-break,” he says. “Let yourself get destroyed on camera, and it takes a toll on your business. You become a joke. So it was like my baby was on the line, you know? No margin of error.” 

Video is in Spanish with English auto-generated subtitles.

“The birth of the brand” 

Ultimately, Erick secured an approximately $375,000 MXN investment ($23,800 CAD) from one of the Sharks, Rodrigo Herrera, in exchange for a 20 percent stake in the company. Featuring on Shark Tank felt like their brand’s second birth, Erick says. 

“Lots of eyes are now looking at us, expecting big things,” he says. “With that audience comes the potential for better quality, more products and going international.” 

Even as his career takes off, Erick hasn’t abandoned his studies. He’s on track to complete his International Business Management program this fall, and he’ll be starting his Post-Degree Diploma in Marketing next year. He plans to balance his studies with beginning his first exports to the Canadian market, with the intent to start marketing to the U.S. as well. 

“People have asked me why I love studying so much,” he says with a laugh. “The truth is, I need to have the knowledge in order to perform.  

“Without those tools, I don’t feel like I can create.”