Category Alumni
 

Chris Lesanko

Founder of First Steps Wellness Center
Class of ’17

Being a student-athlete means a lot more than just balancing school and sports. It embodies life lessons on team spirit, commitment, and time management. But life doesn’t always go as planned. When a fluke accident caused Bishop’s star lacrosse player Chris Lesanko to become quadriplegic with an incomplete spinal cord injury in 2005, he turned around with renewed purpose to make a difference in both his life and those around him. Founding the First Steps Wellness Centre in Regina, Lesanko is a true testament to the importance of recognizing potential, not limits.

Owning a gym had been a long-time dream of Lesanko’s. “I was always doing exercise and fitness. I had two older brothers, so they got me into It when I was very young,” he remembers. “When my injury happened in 2005, it put me a through a little bit of a mindset check.” Determined to get back on his feet, Lesanko quickly found that good treatment for people in his situation were very minimal and he felt there was little hope. That’s when he discovered Project Walk in California. “I enrolled there a year after my injury, and it opened up my eyes,” he explains. With rigorous treatment and work, he went from being paralyzed from the neck down to regaining the mobility to move both his arms and get himself around in a manual wheelchair. This renewed hope sparked his mission to open the First Steps Wellness Centre.

Specializing in rehabilitation for people with neuro-muscular disorders and helping clients regain function through the use of leading-edge intensive exercise-based rehabilitation programs, the First Steps Wellness Centre’s slogan quickly became recognize potential, not limits. “You never know what somebody’s potential could be,” says Lesanko. “If you ask anyone around the facility, everyone is kind of compliant when they first get hurt. Then they come to the centre and it just opens up their eyes to knowing how much more they can achieve and can do.”

Back in 2005, just three days before Lesanko’s life was flipped upside down, votes had been cast for Bishop’s Men’s Athlete of the Year. He became the first lacrosse player to win the prestigious award. Lesanko continues to be involved in lacrosse now more than ever. When he isn’t at the centre, he’s busy working for the Saskatchewan Lacrosse Association, being a casual lacrosse program coordinator for Standing Buffalo Lacrosse, acting as Commissioner of the Prairie Gold Lacrosse League, as well as sitting on the Regina Field Lacrosse Board.

Lesanko’s involvement in sport doesn’t end there. Every year, he holds a golf tournament to raise funds for his rehabilitation. “Even though I founded First Steps, I still have to pay to go to First Steps as it’s a non-profit organization. We really rely on client fees to stay open and operating, and we provide the best rates we can for them,” he explains. Last year, one of the board members challenged Lesanko to swing a golf club. “At first, I thought it was impossible, but with technology now they have golf carts that actually seat up. Through quite a bit of training all winter, I got my technique down and then I actually tee’d off and did the opening drive at my last year’s golf tournament.” Though this year’s tournament happened quite differently with the pandemic, “it was pretty awesome, to say the least.” Golfing from their nearest golf course, 8 teams joined in virtually from both the US and Canada. “We actually had an alumni team from Bishop’s that golfed in Montreal,” he shares.

Bishop’s was the last of leg Lesanko’s journey as a student-athlete. “My first year I went to college in Vermont on a NCAA lacrosse scholarship, then I went to the University of Regina, and then I went on to Bishop’s. Between the three schools, Bishop’s was the most comforting, and had that sense of welcoming amongst everybody – the teachers, the students, and my teammates.” The sense of community that Lesanko felt was only amplified when he was injured. “My teammates came to the hospital. I was in a French speaking hospital and I knew three words of the language, so just having that comfort there until my parents and family came over speaks to what Bishop’s is. It’s a tight-knit community, close and supportive. Everyone is there to help out each other.” Though his injury set back is original graduation date set for 2006 or 2007, Lesanko persevered with the same determination that has pushed him in all aspects of his life and obtained his diploma from Bishop’s in 2017.

Kirsten Dobler

2020 Young Alumna of the Year
Class of ’17

The Young Alumna of the Year Award was designed to recognize contributions by an individual in their field of endeavour, whether through community service or professional achievement. The goal was to recognize a recent graduate who continues to embody the spirit of Bishop’s in their corner of the world and celebrate them with their fellow alumni and current students.

This year’s Bishop’s University Young Alumna of the Year is Kirsten Dobler who earned her BA in Education from Bishop’s in 2016 and her Bachelor of Education in 2017. Upon graduation she moved to Kitkatla, in northern British Columbia, to teach at Lax Klan Independent school in the Gitxaała Nation. The Gitxaała people have lived in their village for over ten thousand years and Kirsten was quickly welcomed into the community to model the education skills that she learned while at Bishop’s through her practicums and her work with Transformative Praxis: Malawi. This experience led Kirsten to understanding the importance of teachers learning the Indigenous language of where they are teaching and using it in their everyday classroom routines. She decided to move to Liǧ ʷiłdax̌ ʷ territory (Campbell River, BC) to learn her language, Lik̓ ʷala, teach in a Kʷak̓ ʷala/Lik̓ ʷala Kindergarten bilingual program, and become an active member of her community.

Kirsten is currently pursuing her Master of Education, with a focus on Indigenous Language Revitalization, at the University of Victoria. Additionally, she is the head of the Kʷak̓ ʷala/Lik̓ ʷala bilingual program at Ripple Rock Elementary School in Campbell River where she, along with other language teachers, teach kindergarten children in their languages, Kʷak̓ ʷala and Lik̓ ʷala. Kirsten is also taking classes and participating in the Mentor Apprentice program to fully learn the language herself. In the coming year the program will be expanding to Kindergarten and Grade 1 in Kʷak̓ ʷala/Lik̓ ʷala.

Despite her busy schedule, Kirsten is extremely involved in protecting Indigenous rights, combating racism, and educating those in her social circles about what it means to be Indigenous. Amanda Moore ’16, who nominated Kirsten for the Young Alumna of the Year award commented, “Kirsten’s dedicated to making the world a more inclusive place and to protecting her heritage and the heritage of others. She has opened my eyes to the injustices in the world and I have been incredibly inspired.”

Bishop’s University teaches that it is important to stand up for what one believes and to make positive change in the world. Kirsten Dobler’s entire life is dedicated to preserving her culture, which is actively being erased by the colonial structure of Canada. By teaching younger generations about their heritage and creating a safe space for them to be proud of being Indigenous, she is strengthening her culture and keeping it alive. Moore concludes, “This is something Kirsten firmly believes in and will always protect.”

Alex Demers

Former Director of Logistic and Material Management
Class of ’07

At just over 11,000 feet in length, 200 feet wide and 500 feet high, the new Champlain Bridge is truly a marvel (not to mention a refreshingly smooth delight to cross). Construction was a mammoth undertaking, given its location spanning the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and its southern suburbs, Quebec’s epic winters and the fact that its predecessor was still in use just a stone’s throw away.

“There were over thirteen hundred oversize pieces coming in from all over Quebec and from Spain, but no way to get them to the site,” says Alex Demers ’07, who was Director of Logistic and Material Management for construction company SNC-Lavalin, and Director of Procurement, Contract, Logistic and Asset Management for Signatures-le-Saint-Laurent, the consortium that led the project. Unforeseen constraints surrounding the transport of materials and equipment to the site meant that Demers and his team had to devise new ways to move materials to the site and establish a multi-model logistic strategy.

“It was like assembling a giant Lego set,” he says. “We had to use boats, barges, trains, modified trucks and unique cranes. And once we finished with the big Legos, we had thousands of trucks coming in with the smaller pieces. We needed to build a team of crazy guys who could work with crazy ideas.”

And work they did. Demers and his team managed to pull off a transportation miracle, coordinating the concrete prefabricated deliveries from Drummondville with the steel structure from Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Terrebonne whilst handling the massive pier caps and main span pieces from Spain, and ferrying materials across the river.

It was a grinding challenge. A seemingly never-ending series of mishaps and problems. And one of the highlights of Demers’s career. “That bridge has brought me so much joy,” Demers says. “It’s a legacy I’m proud to be part of. My son was born halfway through the project. And now, as he grows up, every time he crosses that bridge it will be ‘Dad’s bridge.’ The amazing thing is that there were over 1,600 people working on this at one point in time, and for their families it will also be ‘Mom’s bridge,’ or ‘Grandad’s bridge.’”

Demers has always had a talent for getting things done. With a Bachelor in Business Administration (double major Management Information Systems, Marketing) and a minor in Economics, organization and foresight came naturally. He returned to Calgary following graduation and began working in logistic and warehousing. A short time later Demers was managing the logistic and warehousing team, and as well as taking on other warehouses. “I think they recognized the skill set that Bishop’s had given me,” he says. “I learned how to adapt to changing situations, challenge the status quo and find a balance between work and personal life.”

It’s been a steep upwards trajectory ever since. Demers participated in projects in Australia and Turkey before settling in Montreal to tackle the Champlain Bridge project. After working grueling hours without much of a break for over two years, Demers moved to Florida with his family and took one year off while looking for the next big adventure. “Just before moving, I was asked to assist on starting a project at the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport,” he says. “It’s essentially the construction of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) airport station. The REM is a new integrated network linking downtown Montreal, South Shore, West Island, North Shore and the airport. It’s an interesting circle for me after the bridge, because it’s another entry point to the city.”

Demers remains connected to his roots at Bishop’s. He has fond memories of playing Gaiters rugby, and remains in touch with some of his former instructors. “It wasn’t just one professor who made a difference,” he says. “It was many of them. I’m still connected with them on Facebook or LinkedIn, and I know I could pick up the phone and reach them if I needed anything. They’re still very much active, directly or indirectly, in my life. You never hear about something like that at other universities. Bishop’s is unique in that regard.”

From the Bishop’s University Magazine, No. 53, Fall 2019.

Melissa MacCoubrey

Director of Narrative Design at Ubisoft
Class of ’16

In the midst of helping her parents move, Melissa MacCoubrey was surprised by an old find: “We found old, very embarrassing diaries and fell on one from when I was eleven and it was written ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and it says, even as young as eleven years old, that I wanted to work in video games.” Today, MacCoubrey is living her childhood dream creating overarching stories and narratives as a Narrative Director at Ubisoft Quebec for games such as the newest Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

As creative and exciting as MacCoubrey’s profession can be, especially attending motion capture shoots, it’s not necessarily always about fun and games (pun intended). The highlight of MacCoubrey’s career so far has been pushing and helping her team make AAA games (which is the video game equivalent of a movie blockbuster) more inclusive. For the first time in Assassin’s Creed history, players can choose to play as a female character for the entirety of the game. “I always pushed really hard for it and helped my team get to a point where we could be making decisions like this,” explains MacCoubrey, “I think that’s the proudest moment of my career so far.”

It was during her time at Bishop’s that MacCoubrey landed a position with Ubisoft Montreal as a scriptwriting intern. Having studied English and Drama, as well as being heavily involved in the arts, she believes that, “it was the combination of life skills and school skills that really helped me get to where I need to be.” Her advice for students looking to break into the gaming industry? “I know people hate being told to be themselves,” she laughs, “but honestly, that’s what gets you in. We can teach you the structure, as long as you have the ideas and the passion. That will be recognized.”

Alexandra Bachand

Perfumer and Olfactory Artist
Class of ’97

Has a smell ever plunged you head first into an old memory? Perhaps your favourite picnic spot as a child, or the familiar perfume of a loved one? Playing on the power of our olfactory sense, it could be said that Alexandra Bachand is a bit of an expert in this field. An independent perfumer and olfactory artist, both of which are rare professions in Canada and around the world, Bachand is the in-house perfumer of the artistic perfume house called La Grange du Parfumeur, which she co-founded with her husband in 2015. There she formulates, composes and fabricates in her own laboratory; “the process usually takes me a year or two. In one formula, there are about 30-50 ingredients.” Being that there is no formal perfumery training offered in Canada, Bachand studied and graduated from the Perfumery Art School in England.

Her journey to perfuming has been anything but typical. Having studied Fine Arts at Bishop’s, she says, “chemistry wasn’t my gateway, it was through the arts.” Bachand remembers the smells of the paints and solvents swirling in the air of the Molson Arts building, and to this day, “these smells will still plunge me right back to that time. It was a very important learning period in my life.” A love of history plays another huge role in Bachand’s life, having felt right at home studying within the walls of Bishop’s historic buildings. These two interests have married together perfectly in her work as an olfactory artist, where she creates olfactory art installations, combining visuals and scent to provide an immersive narrative for a public, and, “bring people back to different eras in time.”

Her latest project on the Italian Renaissance has brought back many memories of Bishop’s. “It was a period in my art history classes that marked me. I was so in love with everything that was Italian art.” At the time, Bachand had the idea of composing something inspired by the Renaissance Era; a dream she kept for many years. This year, after an artistic director approached her with a project proposal to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death, her excitement peaked. Travelling to Italy, she went on the hunt for the fragrances of Mona Lisa’s life. Bachand recalls that during her university studies, she “took a class about women in western art that made a huge impact on my life. It all came back in this particular piece as it captures the woman behind the art; Lisa Gherardini.”

Coincidentally, Bachand had recently returned to Bishop’s to show her children where she had gone to university. “I was really emotional because I was on this little journey connecting the dots,” Bachand laughs. “It’s amazing when intuition and the creative process finally find their way over the years, completing their own circle, and everything comes together. Bishops provided me with a springboard into artistic learning in the most beautiful way, and I’m really proud of it.”