Whether coming from across the city or across the globe, Lethbridge College’s students, instructors, mentors and friends all take diverse routes to get here, and the college is a more vibrant community as a result. The following showcases the stories of six people whose journeys have led them to Lethbridge College – and highlight how the college and community are richer places because of them.
PETER WEASEL MOCCASIN
“Eventually, we’re going to have to talk about it; eventually we’re going to have to share those stories with each other.” - Peter Weasel Moccasin
When Peter Weasel Moccasin was a young boy, he and his father would leave their home and head for the wilderness. The elder Weasel Moccasin knew where they were going. His son would learn. Following close by, the younger Weasel Moccasin attentively listened to the lessons that have been passed down through generations of Blackfoot people. When they reached their destination, they would dig. As the soil gave way to stone, they would put their hands into the ground and search for what they knew was hidden below.
“There’s a process you have to go through,” describes Weasel Moccasin. “The stone itself is grey, you have to dig it out of the cliff and it comes out raw.”
Weasel Moccasin vividly remembers and describes the rock that goes into the making of an Ohkotoki’aahkkoiyiiniimaan – the Blackfoot name for a stone pipe. Stone pipes are used in sacred ceremonies of the Blackfoot people to make an offering to Iihtsipaatapi’op, the Source of Life. The pipe, he says, kept and keeps the Blackfoot people at peace.
That personal connection to searching for the rock to form a stone pipe provided inspiration for Weasel Moccasin when it came time for him to give the gift of a Blackfoot name to Lethbridge College. He chose Ohkotoki’aahkkoiyiiniimaan, or Stone Pipe. And this name – and the story and meaning and memories behind it – is just one of a countless number of ways that Weasel Moccasin has had an effect on the college.
He has served as the college’s Kaahsinnoonik (Grandparent) since 2013, acting as a mentor, leader and advocate for students, employees and community members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. “When I was asked to do this work, I told them I had other commitments to other groups,” remembers Weasel Moccasin. “But they told me that they really needed help with the students and the staff. They told me they would feed me and buy me coffee, and that’s the reason that I’m here.”
That sense of humour helps illustrate why Weasel Moccasin has become a kind-hearted and popular figure on the college’s campus. He has been instrumental in making Indigenous education a priority. He sits on the President’s Indigenous Advisory Council and the internal Indigenous Committee. His leadership has helped to make recent events, such as the permanent raising of the Blackfoot Confederacy flag and the college’s Blackfoot naming, a reality. He can often be found sipping a coffee in the Niitsitapi Gathering Place, ready to lend an ear and advice to anyone who seeks his counsel.
For all of these reasons and many more, the college community chose Weasel Moccasin to receive this year’s honorary degree. “Peter makes true connections with those he speaks with,” says Dr. Paula Burns, Lethbridge College President and CEO. “He has taken an active role in improving the lives of our Indigenous learners and has helped to connect the college with the local Indigenous community.”
Weasel Moccasin’s wisdom comes from a traditional way of knowing. Raised on the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta, Weasel Moccasin grew up listening to the stories of the Kaahsinnooniksi in his community. His childhood was also hardened by being forced to attend residential school. He now visits classes at the college to speak about the past with an honesty and truth that is both humbling and eye-opening to the hard realities that have occurred.
“Eventually, we’re going to have to talk about it; eventually we’re going to have to share those stories with each other,” says Weasel Moccasin. “That time has come, through the young people. Slowly, they’re coming around to learn about our culture.”
Weasel Moccasin has proven to be a memorable teacher to all who interact with him. “He truly is a loving soul who so many feel instantly connected to,” says Shanda Webber, Lethbridge College manager of Recruitment and Indigenous Services. “He educates without the learners even knowing. He has shared so much knowledge and wisdom.”
Weasel Moccasin will receive a degree in Bachelor of Applied Science – Ecosystem Management at Convocation in April. It’s a reminder of the lessons learned from the land that the Blackfoot have called home for centuries, and the stone pipe that has been part of his life since childhood.
“The pipe brings us peace, it brings us harmony, it makes us be able to work together and function together,” says Weasel Moccasin. “(The stone) is down in the coulees, so anyone can go dig it. But there is a process. You have to be patient. You have to persevere. It takes a lot of work.”
“I don’t think people realize how many opportunities our students have available to them.” - Clair Fitzpatrick
Clair Fitzpatrick’s path to teaching in the Agriculture Sciences program at Lethbridge College started on the rodeo circuit.
Fitzpatrick, who grew up in a ranching and farming family in Wood Mountain, Sask., competed in rodeo throughout high school, winning university scholarships thanks to his skill in saddle bronc riding. Excelling in an event where the goal of staying on a horse that is working hard to buck the rider off, Fitzpatrick rose to the top in his sport while travelling throughout North America and making lifelong friends.
“Then the worst, and perhaps oddly, the best thing happened while I was competing on the rodeo team at Dickinson State University in North Dakota,” he says. “I suffered a serious injury and I had to basically take a year away from the sport and really decide what’s more important – the rodeo or the education – and I stuck with going to school.”
Eventually, Fitzpatrick made his way back to the chutes and continued competing, winning major competitions around western Canada and the U.S. “It opened so many doors for me,” he says, “including providing scholarships for my undergrad and grad school. To get an education through rodeo isn’t something most people would consider even being possible.”
And the love for learning and the land stayed with him, too. After earning his Masters of Science in Animal and Range Sciences from North Dakota State University, Fitzpatrick worked as a research agrologist for Alberta Agriculture for six years before moving on to do environmental work for private industry in the oil patch. Last summer, ready for another change, he applied for a job as an instructor at the college.
“It’s been a little terrifying,” he says of moving from industry to the classroom. “But typically, the students in the Ag program come here from some sort of ranching or farming family. Basically, it’s like you’re working with and teaching younger versions of yourself. The students are instantly relatable. And I am really fortunate that the program I came into was so well set up when I got here.”
Fitzpatrick teaches animal sciences courses, including animal health, nutrition, monogastric production (hogs and chickens), beef cattle production, animal physiology and more. He says he is grateful to colleagues who have made the transition seamless and helped him adjust to life in the classroom.
“I don’t miss the uncertainty of being in the oil field or working in private industry,” he says, but he is grateful for the industry experience he had prior to teaching. “Part of my job is to keep them interested in the industry, to see there are options.” And being able to draw on experiences from growing up on a ranch, working as a researcher and working in private industry – as well as from being an advocate for the ag industry in general – can benefit his students.
Fitzpatrick says Lethbridge College is the ideal place to study agriculture – and there has been no better time for it as well. “I don’t think people realize how many opportunities our students have available to them,” he says. “Lethbridge is in the centre of pretty much every type of agriculture production there is in North America. I don’t know if there is any place in Canada which can provide the learning potential associated with the various ag-industries we have around us.”
But it’s more than proximity that distinguishes the program – it’s the partnerships as well. “We have partners (direct production and industry services) involved with every single class,” says Fitzpatrick.
“Our plant majors are able to tour 19 different partners’ operations, and our animal majors go out to 13. Those experiences are the things that keep the students engaged, and when we talk about it later in the semester, that’s what they recall – when they were on the farm or in the field.”
“...I walked into New Student Orientation for the Envi Sci program, and they said most of the first month will be field trips and I thought ‘I am REALLY going to like this!” - Danielle Crawford
It was a bad day at the restaurant where Danielle Crawford had worked for 15 years that led her to Lethbridge College.
“Basically, I said I am so done and over the drama that comes with working in a restaurant,” she recalls. “It was 2013. I was almost 30 and starting to think about my life and decided to bite the bullet and apply for the Environmental Assessment and Restoration program at the college. The classes seemed manageable, and I figured the worst thing that would happen would be that I would figure out it wasn’t for me.”
What she found was a perfect fit – one that led to a diploma, a degree and now, with the support of the college, graduate studies and the career of her dreams.
Crawford faced some serious nerves in the days before starting at the college as a mature student. “But I walked into New Student Orientation for the Envi Sci program, and they said most of the first month will be field trips and I thought ‘I am REALLY going to like this!’ The fear backed away, and I realized maybe it will all be fine. And after we got through that amazing first month and we got to the classroom, I thought this isn’t too bad either. It’s heavy but it’s manageable. I thought ‘maybe I can do this,’ and I did.”
Crawford juggled part-time work with her six classes and five labs, completing the program in two years and earning her diploma with honours. “But just as I graduated, the oil industry started tanking, but that’s also when the college started its new Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Ecosystem Management, so I applied and decided to stay at the college.”
Crawford was one of two students who completed the environmental management stream of the new degree program, which was designed with input from environmental industry partners and prepares grads to work in environmental management and restoration, or fish and wildlife management (another nine graduated from the fish and wildlife stream of the degree). She continued to thrive in the new Ecosystem Management program.
During her third year at the college – and first year in the degree program – she also got a job as a research assistant at the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence doing water quality analysis. She was able to extend that into a summer job between the third and fourth years, working with Dr. Willemijn Appels, the Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science at Lethbridge College, and continued working with her during her fourth year.
After graduating last April, Crawford stayed on in Appels’ lab doing research. At one point – just in passing – Crawford mentioned maybe working towards a master’s degree one day. This fall, Dr. Appels asked Crawford if she was serious about it. And before Crawford knew it, she was accepted into the Master of Science in Agriculture program at Dalhousie University. She left on Jan. 8 for a four-month semester on campus with the support of a NSERC Discovery grant, and she will undertake her research back home in Alberta this summer and fall.
Crawford credits the well-designed Ecosystem Management program, the abundant applied research opportunities she had as a student and new graduate, and the support of Appels and Dr. Kenny Corscadden, the college’s Dean for the Centre for Technology, Environment and Design and former associate dean of research and graduate studies in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, with making the dream of graduate school a reality.
“When I started at the college in 2013, I assumed I’d get my diploma and a decent job in the oil patch, making good money and then would be done,” she says. “Instead I am getting a master’s degree, which is one of those things I wished for but never thought would happen. I’m pretty excited to start the graduate level stuff and to be a part of that academic community.”
“There are tons of job opportunities, whether you want to work out in the field, work with people or crunch the numbers – there is really something for everyone in agriculture.” - Mandy Gabruch
Mandy Gabruch, an instructor in Lethbridge College’s new Agricultural Enterprise Management (AEM) program, has spent nearly 20 years in school as a student. But come this fall when she steps into the classroom, she will be leading in the learning of others.
Growing up on a cattle ranch near the small town of Consul, Sask., Gabruch had an interest in agriculture from an early age. The BSE crisis of 2003 was the turning point that drew her to the business of agriculture. Gabruch’s parents raise commercial angus-cross cattle, so when the borders closed to Canadian beef, her family was directly affected.
“I remember listening to a lot of conversations in my family about what happened and why, and how long it was going to be before the market recovered,” recalls Gabruch. “I was a kid at the time and I really didn’t understand why the prices had fallen and what effect it would have on my family and neighbours. I didn’t really get it – but I wanted to.”
And that desire to “get it” spurred a clear vision of the future. After high school, Gabruch went to University of Saskatchewan where she studied Agricultural Economics. Once she completed her bachelor’s degree, she immediately began her master’s in the same field.
While at university, Gabruch provided both formal and informal tutoring to her peers, and, as a grad student, was a teaching assistant. “So when a job came up at the college teaching, not only was it interesting because it was in my field and I like teaching, but it was also quite a bit closer to home than Saskatoon.”
Being a part of the team of college staff members, industry partners and other subject matter experts building a new program has not been simple, but Gabruch has met the challenge with optimism. “It’s been a balance between structure and flexibility, especially when I won’t be teaching some of these courses until 2020,” says Gabruch. She has focused on developing courses that are flexible enough to incorporate current trends and issues down the road while still delivering the foundational knowledge students can build on when they enter the industry. For Gabruch, “It’s not about memorizing facts, it’s about developing skills,” which will ultimately help graduates stay relevant in the industry and responsive to the market.
It is that relevancy to industry that spurred the development of this new program. “We brought together stakeholders and identified which parts of the agriculture industry were missing from current educational opportunities,” explains Dennis Sheppard, interim Dean of the Centre for Justice and Human Services, “and it became clear very quickly that there was a void in terms of education about the business side of agriculture.”
Lethbridge College’s Agricultural Enterprise Management program’s balanced curriculum will fill that void, bringing together economics, management and production to give students a strong foundation in the business of agriculture. “People tend to think agriculture is just farming,” says Gabruch, “but it’s so much more than that. There are tons of job opportunities, whether you want to work out in the field, work with people or crunch the numbers – there is really something for everyone in agriculture. And it’s a great industry to be part of.”
Sheppard adds, “The numbers tell a lot of this story. Agriculture is a $110-billion per year industry in Canada. It represents more than seven per cent of the national GDP. Compared to other developed or developing nations, Canada ranks eighth in terms of export, and primary production operations – the people whose lives and livelihoods revolve around the world of agriculture – continue to transform into large-scale enterprises responsible for employing 2.3 million Canadians.” Ensuring there are enough qualified individuals to maintain and increase those jobs is another story. The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council’s latest Labour Market Information report projects that by 2025 nearly 114,000 jobs will be at risk of going unfilled.
Students who fill Gabruch’s classes this fall will gain the skillset required to step into those jobs. And while the start of the semester – and those first AEM classes – is still a few months away, Gabruch’s excitement for the current opportunities within the industry is palpable. “Agriculture is a great industry to be going into right now. There are tons of job opportunities and it’s a great industry to work in. So having an ag-specific credential is going to give you a big leg-up in the job market.”
ASHTIN HALMRAST AND KARLI TREMEL
“In research we need to be challenged to be successful. Being able to work with students gives me a chance to justify my learning.” - Sophie Kernéis
Two students from Lethbridge College nursing programs presented their research findings to a national audience, not only sharing the science, but also the benefits of applied research. Ashtin Halmrast, a student in the bachelor of nursing After Degree program, and Karli Tremel, who is in her final semester of Practical Nursing, presented at the CICan Symposium on “Accelerating Innovation through Applied Research” Feb. 12 and 13 in Ottawa.
In addition to attending sessions at the symposium, Halmrast and Tremel took part in a student showcase on Parliament Hill where they shared their research and experiences with parliamentarians and federal government officials. Neither student realized the opportunities for research at Lethbridge College when she enrolled, but both now speak passionately about the satisfaction derived from their work, and how much their learning has been enriched through lab work.
Halmrast had already completed a general science degree when she came to Lethbridge College to begin an accelerated bachelor of nursing degree. She had some experience in research from university, but it was at the college with the guidance of microbiology instructor Sophie Kernéis that her interest in research blossomed.
Despite a full course load and a part-time job off-campus, Halmrast took a short-term research assistant job working with Quarical Products Inc., a southern Alberta company testing the efficiency of ozonized water at removing E. coli bacteria from surfaces. Halmrast says the research has real-world implications for the environment. The current standard is to sanitize cattle liners with bleach, which kills E. coli and other potentially illness-inducing bacteria but is harsh on the environment.
With guidance from her instructor, Halmrast reviewed existing literature then set up a series of experiments. The results demonstrated how the ozonized water reduced the bacteria and how it compared to bleach and to the bacteria growing naturally without any treatment.
“It was just really nice to be involved with something from the very beginning,” Halmrast says. “(Sophie) put me in charge of looking through the literature, following that all the way through to the actual experiment. You run into issues that you wouldn’t have seen on paper and you’re solving those as you go.”
Tremel conducted daily experiments from May through September 2016 to measure the efficiency of a biosand filter, designed by Manz Engineering Ltd. in Calgary, in removing coliform bacteria from water. Water came from the fish tanks in the college’s aquaponics facilities, mimicking the kind of untreated, bacteria-rich water one would find in underdeveloped communities with no water treatment facilities.
Tremel’s research day started by drawing 18 litres of water from each of the six fish tanks in the basement of the Andrews Building. She then started pumping the water through the sand filter at various flow rates. Depending on the flow rate, it would take two to four hours to filter. She’d then collect the filtered water samples and return to the lab to plate samples on Petri dishes. After incubating the plates for 24 hours, she compared unfiltered to filtered bacteria counts.
The filter was made up of multiple levels of fine and progressively coarser sand to a final layer of rocks. “I was quite skeptical going into this but the filter is very efficient, and so, by using the fish water, it replicated the natural water that the filter would be used for,” she says. The biosand water filters are already used in more than 100 countries, giving a small-scale or mobile option for safe drinking water in communities without other access to sanitized water.
Kernéis says working with students on research is a learning experience for instructors as well. “I think that students can challenge us and this is a perfect way to continue the improvement of our knowledge,” she says. “In research we need to be challenged to be successful. Being able to work with students gives me a chance to justify my learning. We have the responsibility to share what we are learning to bring our knowledge one step further.”
Tremel is in her final semester of the Practical Nursing program, and has already completed the college’s Emergency Medical Services program. Her ultimate goal is to become a registered nurse, and she hopes to continue research work in whatever direction her career takes. Halmrast is pursuing registered nursing, after having travelled to Tanzania and Guatemala, where she saw opportunities to see different cultures while also helping deliver health services.