Nikki Zwaagstra

SE-Change and Special Projects Administrator

Faculty of Management
Office: EME 4145
Phone: 250.807.8869
Email: nikki.zwaagstra@ubc.ca


 

Story by Jess Werb

Read Susana’s story
Read Ryan’s story

Life after graduation can take many paths, as careers blossom and opportunities unfold. Sometimes, those paths lead to new shores and experiences—and for Bachelor of Management (BMGT) alumni Susana Baez and Ryan Conneely, their journeys turned out to be round trips, leading back to where their post-secondary experiences began.

Susana at her graduation from the Faculty of Management in 2013.

Baez, a 2013 graduate and an Associate Recruiter in Student Recruitment and Advising at UBC’s Okanagan campus, arrived in Kelowna in 2009 as an international student from Ecuador—thanks to a high-school visit by a UBC recruiter. “I had never heard of UBC before that, but she gave a presentation and it left a lasting impression,” she recalls. “I remember thinking how beautiful the campus was, and being impressed by the university’s rankings. My dad is in business, and that always interested me, so I was drawn to the Bachelor of Management program at UBCO. I liked the size of the campus. It was a really good size, not super overwhelming, but big enough that it felt like a great opportunity.”

A peer mentor to other international students during her undergraduate studies, Baez threw herself into the university community, even running for student council and taking part in university governance as a Senator at Large for the UBCO Board of Governors. After graduation, she landed a position with international corporate-apparel firm Cintas, where she had taken part in a previous summer internship. Over the next seven years, she explored a number of different roles within the organization, moving from Kelowna to Langley, and back again.

Susana attending and supporting a Heat sports event in the gym on campus.

“I went from being a management trainee to a sales rep, I did some customer service, I was an HR assistant, and then my last role there was in their catalogue and marketing department,” says Baez. “I really enjoyed it, but during my last year in that role, I realized that my interests were somewhere else, and I missed the university atmosphere. I knew that I wanted to go back to university either to pursue a master’s degree or to work there.”

“I really enjoyed it, but during my last year in that role, I realized that my interests were somewhere else, and I missed the university atmosphere.”

Perusing career postings at UBCO, one, in particular, caught her eye—recruiter. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have any recruitment experience, but I’ll go give it a try, and hopefully my other experience will help me.’ I’m grateful that it did end up being a great fit for me.” She was hired in August 2019, and hasn’t looked back since.

Susana as a Jumpstart Student Leader during an outdoor session with new first-year international students.

For Ryan Conneely, Event and Project Manager with UBC Okanagan Aboriginal Programs and Services, life at UBCO has been an almost seamless transition from student to employee. The 2018 BGMT alumnus first arrived in the Okanagan from Abbotsford, where he joined the Aboriginal Access program to upgrade his credentials before entering the Bachelor of Management program.

Ryan Conneely photo in a suit.

Ryan’s 2018 Ch’nook Scholar official portrait.

“I was looking for a degree that could technically be applied to any sector or niche,” he explains. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I went into it open-minded, not really knowing where I wanted to go. I was hoping that the university would kind of direct me on a path that I wanted to go.”

What ended up steering Conneely’s path, as it turned out, was the vibrant Indigenous community he discovered at UBCO. “I’m a member of the Métis Nation of B.C., and I was heavily involved in the Aboriginal community on campus,” he recalls. “Aboriginal Programs and Services always had events going on, and opportunities to get involved. I would hang out at the Aboriginal Centre in between classes, volunteering and helping out.”

In his third year of studies, Conneely was invited to become a peer mentor, and never looked back. “The Aboriginal Center was probably the reason that I was able to graduate, and it’s definitely the reason I was able to be successful in my first couple of years as a student,” he remarks. “I felt becoming a peer mentor was an opportunity to give back to other students, so I jumped into it.”

Photo of Ryan Coneely with baby in a backpack.

Ryan and his son Kylo, out for a walk.

As a peer mentor, Conneely worked with incoming self-identified Aboriginal students, hosting social events, building community among the students, answering their questions and providing support. Just as the Aboriginal Programs and Services had provided him with a place of connection with his own Indigenous heritage, Conneely found himself doing the same for others, and through this work discovering a sense of purpose.

A 16-month co-op education experience with TD Canada Trust took him off campus to learn and apply his skills and knowledge between his third and fourth years. “That provided me with the opportunity to learn more about my passions and explore what career path I wanted to go down,” he says. “The co-op term also provided me the opportunity to enhance my professional skill set, learn from professionals in the workforce, and build to my network.”

He resumed his peer mentorship role and close connection with the Aboriginal Programs and Services throughout his final year of studies. Then came graduation—and, two months later, another opportunity. “Someone from Aboriginal Programs and Services reached out saying, ‘We have a position open and I think it would be a good one for you to apply to.’ At the time I was working part-time at TD, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I know UBC and the department, I know the benefit to students to get them through some of the barriers they face. To be part of that, and to give back to students, was very appealing.”

Conneely admits that a career in post-secondary wasn’t an option that had crossed his mind before. “I don’t know if anyone goes to university thinking they’re going to work at that university at the end of it,” he says, with a laugh. “It was never anything that I thought was even possible. And here I am, just over a year later, and it’s the best job. You connect with students all day and share opportunities.”

In addition to supporting Aboriginal students through workshops and social events on campus, Conneely’s role includes connecting with the wider Indigenous community through events such as regular Elder circles, and helping organize a summer camp for Aboriginal youth in grades seven to 12. “It’s just so rewarding,” he says. “As a former student who was able to personally benefit from the services and resources, I’m really grateful to be able to provide those resources and opportunities to help others.”

Ryan carving a canoe, with the local school district at Westbank First Nation.

The full scope of his journey, he says, was brought home when he hosted the Aboriginal student graduation ceremony this year. “Being at the graduation ceremony in 2019 as a student, to than hosting the graduation ceremony in 2020, felt surreal,” he says. “It felt like a full circle, coming back around. It’s definitely been great being back, and being able to help the community that allowed me to succeed in my education.”

“It felt like a full circle, coming back around. It’s definitely been great being back, and being able to help the community that allowed me to succeed in my education.”

As for Baez, who now spends her time connecting with prospective students across Canada (these days remotely), she finds herself regularly drawing on her own experiences when sharing all that both UBC campuses have to offer. “I’m super proud of graduating from here, and when I make presentations, I often start out saying that I’m an alumnus and that I graduated from UBC Okanagan with a management degree,” she says. “I love opening with that sentence.”

 

Story by Jess Werb

On a recent fall evening, UBC Okanagan Bachelor of Management (BMGT) alumnus Dustyn Baulkham found himself making a speech to a group of entrepreneurs, artists and leaders from across the country. In a November 6 virtual gala ceremony that included remarks from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alongside performances from the likes of Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka, Baulkham was announced as the winner of Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce Young LGBT+ Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

The award was well-deserved recognition for Baulkham’s tireless efforts in leading positive change in the Okanagan by curating inclusive events, experiences and programming—including the development of a new streaming platform hitting digital airways from Kelowna. Unicorns.live launched in June 2020 with a lineup of artists ranging from the outrageous to the poignant and has been growing steadily in popularity ever since. The platform is just the latest endeavour undertaken by Baulkham’s company, Rebellious Unicorns, which has quickly established itself as the Okanagan’s leader in the creation of community-building events and entertainment for, and from, the LGBTQ2+ community.

“We streamed all the Kelowna Pride events, including the drag competition,” says Baulkham, noting that Unicorns.live has attracted viewers from across the U.S. and Canada, including Texas, California, Ohio, New York, Missouri, Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta. The success of the platform doesn’t just extend to Baulkham; Unicorns.live operates with a revenue-sharing business model that supports the artists as well. “Thirty-five per cent of our subscription revenue goes back out to different creatives,” he explains. “The performers get rewarded based on people watching their content on the platform so that it’s not just us benefiting in the long term. It also benefits the community.”

While it may appear to be the result of careful planning and coordination, Unicorns.live was the result of fast thinking on Baulkham’s part, as the COVID-19 pandemic looked set to jeopardize a new Rebellious Unicorn music initiative. “About a week before the big shut down in March, I’d received provincial funding from Creative BC to create QUSIC, a music series elevating the voices of LGBT2Q+ musicians across the province,” he recalls. “I had the cheque and thought, ‘Well, what do I do with this?’ Everything we had planned for, we couldn’t do.

We started with a model that was part in-person and part streaming, and as we were going through that process, I thought, ‘Why are we only streaming this? Let’s create something bigger.’”

That type of bold thinking and business savvy is a thread that runs through Baulkham’s career, beginning with his time in the Faculty of Management’s BMGT program, from which he graduated in 2010. Baulkham enthusiastically got involved in a range of extracurricular activities, including several marketing and business competitions like JDC West and the Manitoba International Marketing Competition, while also working at BMO Bank of Montreal in Kelowna as a financial services manager.

Following graduation, Baulkham worked in talent acquisition and, later, as a team manager for TD Bank, positions which took him from Kelowna to Chilliwack, Vancouver, and London, Ontario. In 2015, wanting to return to the Okanagan, Baulkham took a position as the workforce development officer with the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, before moving on to the role executive director of the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan. Baulkham stepped down from the arts council role in 2019, to focus his efforts on Rebellious Unicorns, the production company he founded in 2017 with the launch of Peak Pride—an annual winter LGBTQ+ weekend hosted at ski and snowboarding resorts around the province.

“I’d always kind of done some event planning and organizing, especially in the LGBT community, and it was just a very natural fit for me,”

Baulkham says of launching his first Peak Pride event in 2019, at Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna. “At first, we didn’t realize how expensive it was going to be, so we started doing our monthly FruitCake club nights, which were very profitable.”

As the events grew in popularity, Rebellious Unicorns flourished as well, gaining fans in the local community, as well as support from government grant programs to produce more LGBTQ+ events in and around the Okanagan. Today, the company’s offerings include Peak Pride, now at Sun Peaks Resort, Silverstar Mountain Resort, RED Mountain Resort and Big White Ski Resort; FruitCake, the Okanagan’s only monthly drag show and inclusive club night; The MX, Kelowna’s monthly LGBT2Q+ community networking event; the online resource Kelowna.lgbt; as well as the new QUSIC and Unicorns.live initiatives.

While COVID-19 has forced FruitCake, The MX and, likely, Peak Pride into temporary hiatus, Rebellious Unicorns is galloping forward, focusing on expanding its virtual events, and continuing to support the LGBTQ+ and the arts and entertainment community. “I always want to feel good about what I’m doing, even with business,” notes Baulkham. “When you have people come up to you, genuinely thanking you for what you do, it really means a lot.”

As Baulkham,  reflects on his career trajectory to date along with this recent award of Young LGBT+ Entrepreneur of the Year, he offers some advice for new BMGT students as they embark on their journeys through school and beyond.

“Take as much as you can from your time at school,” he says. “Take part in those extracurricular activities, because that’s where you can start applying some of the education that you’ve learned. And, also, follow your gut and follow your heart. Do something you’re passionate about, not that’s just going to pay your bills. Enjoy what you’re doing.”

And, he says, there’s one more thing: “Try to make the world a better place.”