Wider Horizons

Eric Granson (Communication Arts – Advertising and Public Relations 2013) is not an origami expert. But he is the marketing manager for Lethbridge’s Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, and when the Wider Horizons team reached out to him for help creating this issue’s cover, he said yes faster than you could fold an origami bear.

“I’ve only been at the garden since November 2022, and I have tried my hardest to immerse myself in Japanese culture,” says Granson. “Part of that is learning origami and its importance to Japanese culture and history. I’m proud that this origami is something that links my time at the college, and that it’s kind of a blend of my passion for Lethbridge College and this amazing career.”

Granson is a big fan of serious fun. Whether he’s helping promote new events that bring visitors to the city, or reintroducing the gem of a garden to long-time residents, he sees real value in finding joy at work.

And he’s not alone. Throughout the Lethbridge College community, graduates, employees and students can all be found learning and thriving in a variety of professions that focus on serious fun.

Take Dr. Simon Schaerz, an instructor in the Centre for Business, Arts and Sciences at Lethbridge College and head coach for Kodiaks cross-country running and indoor track. His academic research focuses on physical activity as an essential component of childhood development, and he writes about how physical activity plays a critical role in promoting proper bone development and muscular strength, as well as protects against chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. “All of these benefits underscore the importance of physical activity during childhood as a foundation for lifelong health,” he adds.

Play, it turns out, is good for you. Schaerz says game-based physical activities that children naturally gravitate towards – such as soccer, tag and baseball – have shown the most substantial benefits for enhancing cognitive development. That’s due in part because they incorporate high-intensity exercise with open-sequential skills (elements that are unpredictable and complex). This combination helps to build better cognitive processing as the brain is challenged to adapt quickly.

Schaerz is passionate about play for people of all ages, and he says “to encourage children to maintain adequate levels of physical activity, it is vital to prioritize enjoyment and create opportunities for group participation. By ensuring that these activities are fun and engaging, we can foster a lasting interest in physical activity.”

In the following pages, four Lethbridge College alumni whose work is “serious fun” share their wisdom and words of encouragement in bringing more fun to everyone’s work and life – whatever the age. If you have a story about play and work that you’d like to share, email us at [email protected].



How do you bring “fun and games” into your work at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden?

I love this question! At Nikka Yuko, we have a ton of fun. We’re a very close group and spend time learning some of the traditional Japanese games, such as Shogi (a game like chess), or learning origami from our many origami workshops. On top of that, I tell the odd dad joke around the Bunka Centre.

Why do you think it’s important to have fun at work (and in life)?

Life is short. Having fun at work isn’t impossible, and in my opinion, it’s encouraged. Enjoying life and working don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you’re passionate about your career, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish, and it all starts with having fun!

What process did you go through learning to make the little origami bear on the cover of this issue?

I got lots of advice from other team members and amazing support from our current origami workshop leaders. As with most things in Japanese culture, it took time, practise and patience to complete this. Besides great colleagues willing to share their knowledge with you – tell us what else you love about your work.

During my time as a student and my time working in sales, I always heard that you can hear someone smile on the phone when they are talking about work they love. And all of the people that I’ve talked to on my journey so far in this past year have told me that they can hear the excitement in my voice when I talk about the garden – because it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to have that excitement when you want to leave a legacy somewhere – some sort of stamp for a new generation of people who appreciate the garden, which is what it deserves.

What advice would you give to young people considering coming to Lethbridge College?

My advice is to never give up. My biggest life goal was to make a difference in the community and to help people. I thought that meant going into justice studies. I learned that I never had a passion for policing, but the passion I had was to help support, nurture and give back to this amazing community that has done so much for myself and so many others. My life changed the minute I met with a program advisor and expressed my passions. The program advisor didn’t question my passion and never discouraged me. They nurtured and embraced my potential. The instructors were even better. They pushed us, helped us and cheered us all on; from day one and even 10 years after graduation, their support and care never wavered.

Before starting work as the marketing manager at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in 2022, Granson had worked in sales and marketing throughout Alberta. He still carries his 2013 Lethbridge College Convocation program with him in his camera case. Learn more about the garden at nikkayuko.com.

Learn to make an origami Kodiak bear

Even in the midst of serious and important work, it is possible to find fun. That’s what Eric Granson (Communication Arts 2013) finds in his work at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. And although he’s not an origami expert, he worked with colleagues at the garden to create this tiny Kodiak bear. This video gives step by step instructions on making the bear. We'd love to see your creations! Email us a photo of your origami Kodiak at [email protected].



From your experience as an educator (of people of all ages!), what is the value of play to help learning?

Play is invaluable for all ages. For young children, play is how they make sense of the world. It is how they learn about so many things – they play and try things out to see what the outcomes are. They are like scientists: they experiment with the materials around them to learn about what they are capable of. They experiment with their bodies to see what they are capable of – they are always playing and they are always learning. For children, play is serious business and it is something that they constantly are engaged in. There are few times in a child’s day when they are not playing. As we get older, we have less and less time in our day to play. School, work and life often get in the way. It is important that as adults, we make the time to play. When we offer ourselves those kinds of experiences, we can be more ready to engage in learning.

Do you have a favourite game, sport or thing to play?

My favourite way to “play” is to read or crochet or craft.

Is there anything about play (or fun, or games) that you wish more people knew about?

Play is not frivolous. Too often parents of young children think that once their child gets to pre-school, they need to learn their ABCs and 123s to get ready for school. Many parents expect to see evidence of their children’s learning in the form of worksheets or other tangible products. What children really need is time to play and be three or four. We do not need to prepare a three-year-old to be four, or a four-year-old to be five. We need to let them play. When we offer them thoughtfully prepared environments and materials alongside knowledgeable educators, they will gain everything they need to be successful at being three or four and eventually to be successful at life. Play is valuable in its own right.

Any advice you can give our readers on bringing more play (or fun, or games) into their lives?

It is something that you have to find time for. [Not playing] can make you unbalanced and can leave you open to becoming stressed. Find something that brings you joy and make the time to do it – even if it means scheduling it into your calendar. Children all over the world and across time always find time to play – no matter their situation. We need to make that time too.

Hatten is the chair of the School of Human Services at Lethbridge College. She has been teaching full time at the college since 2009, and earlier had run the college demonstration preschool program and taught online courses and did practicum supervision.



From your experience working in the therapeutic recreation industry and in teaching, what is the value or benefits of using leisure and recreation when it comes to health and wellness?

This profession is based on the benefits of recreation and using evidence-based activities to promote person-centred treatment, where assessment and intervention are systematic, individualized and based on patient needs, strengths and goals. The intervention leads to outcomes that are meaningful and relevant to the person.

I have personally had many experiences seeing the therapeutic value of recreation in my work. One that really stands out to me is an elderly lady with clinical depression, loneliness and social isolation who came to our day program. She was once someone who loved to draw but had lost that ability due to physical and mental barriers. It took a lot of encouragement to have her join an art group at the day program. She did not want to do it as she felt she was no longer “good enough.” After many weeks with her, she completely blossomed into a new version of herself as an artist. Upon discharge from the day program, she returned to her supportive living facility and was asked to paint a mural for one of the hallways at the facility. It was a magical transformation and one I will never forget.

What are some of the therapeutic recreation services that new grads are using in their workplaces that might surprise people?

Our grads have done some amazingly creative and innovative things in therapeutic recreation. Some of the evidence-based interventions they have recently been using include: reflective awareness photography; innovative drumming circles; creative arts and fireside chats with individuals facing homelessness; animal assisted therapy; nature-based practices such as forest bathing and more.

Any advice you can give our readers on bringing more recreation into their lives?

All recreation activity has specific benefits to people in different domains – not just the physical domain. For example, reading can help with our mental processes, playing cards with a group of people can decrease loneliness and improve social skills, and doing art allows for emotional expression.

Do you have a favourite game, sport or thing to play?

I play pickleball with nine other people every Saturday night. Some of the benefits I receive are: physical (improved endurance, improved hand/eye coordination); social (improved socialization and strengthened social connections); cognitive (increased attention span and improvement in memory – scoring is the hardest thing about this game!); and emotional (decreased stress and improved self confidence).

Anton is chair of Therapeutic Recreation – Gerontology at Lethbridge College. She started working at the college in 2009 as a casual instructor, and previously had worked part-time as a recreation therapist in a day program for seniors as well as a consultant with Alberta Health Services helping people caring for someone with dementia.



Your work sounds like a lot of fun. But before we dive in, can you give us the basics of extended reality (XR) technology and the college’s Spatial Technologies Applied Research and Training (START) Centre?

XR refers to both virtual reality (VR), which includes entirely computer-generated, immersive experiences; and augmented reality (AR), which combines digital and real-world elements. START is one of five research groups in the Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the college. We partner with organizations to apply VR/AR technologies to solve challenges in key Alberta sectors, including agriculture, energy, architecture, health care, cultural heritage and emergency response. The opportunities with spatial technologies are limitless. XR creates a perfect learning environment because people can gain important skills within a serious games atmosphere.

What do you mean by serious games?

The term “serious games” is used to describe games that are created with a primary goal other than entertainment, such as for training purposes. The START team uses tools originating from the gaming industry, such as a driving simulator platform and VR headsets, to create engaging training simulations for police officers, health-care workers, and various other workplace scenarios. Some of our past and current research projects include creating VR environments for caregivers to practise their responses to dementia patients; for utilities technicians to practise for high-risk scenario training; and for visitors to check out dinosaur tracks that are not accessible to tourists in Grande Cache, Alta.

How do you and your colleagues tap into technology to turn up the fun factor in your work?

In our team meetings, we are embodied in virtual avatars, which provide a higher sense of social presence over video conference tools. It also allows our team, which includes a senior developer who lives in Toronto, to feel connected. We are also taking a fun approach toward a serious topic by organizing an Alberta-wide XR hackathon in 2024. The XR hackathon will connect people in high school, postsecondary institutions and the technology industry with the goal of increasing the high-tech talent pool in Alberta and promoting XR as a career path for serious games. Keep an eye out for more information about the XR hackathon, which will take place in the spring.

Do you have a favourite game, sport or thing to play?

Although I devote much of my time to developing VR training scenarios, I have a deep appreciation for VR gaming. Titles like Demeo, Half-Life Alyx, and the ever-popular Beat Saber rank among my favourites. The immersive nature of VR offers a unique engagement, making you feel as if you’re truly a part of the game’s narrative. It’s an entertainment experience that’s simply unmatched.

McCready is an industry liaison and research advisor in the START Centre. One of his focuses is the social interactions made possible with VR, and he has planned and facilitated numerous social VR activities that have garnered national and international attention, including the world’s first full-day conference held in VR – Merging Realities. The START Centre gives students and employees the chance to work in virtual reality as well as in the state-of- the-art motion capture studio that provide digital media production capabilities to multiple industries.

Wider Horizons
Stories by Lisa Kozleski and Cathy Gibson-Epp | Photos by Rob Olson
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