By Karen Kelly

The first interview for our 75 for the 75th project was with Darrell Bricker, a Political Science alumnus and CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.

My mission was to find out how he went from running statistical analyses in a computer room in Carleton’s Loeb Building to working in the executive suite.

But then, something else happened. He started talking about his impressions of Canada after almost 30 years of polling.

“Canadians have a lot of misconceptions, such as our belief in the Great White North and the land of pond hockey,” he explained. “That’s the Canada of 1975.”

This sort of surprising revelation happened again and again in my conversations with alumni profiled in 75 for the 75th. Once they got going, they seemed to appreciate the chance to reflect on their time in their chosen field, as well as their careers, with a receptive listener.

Our discussions inevitably yielded bits of wisdom that stayed with me and changed my understanding of everything from the meaning of contemporary art (Jonathan Shaughnessy) to the diversity of Indonesian wildlife (Gail Steckley).

Allow me to share just a few of the themes that emerged along the way:

Perseverance pays off

Abdul Abdullahi came to Canada following the collapse of Somalia. He already had two university degrees, but he took an entry-level internship at a publishing company while pursuing an MA in Economics. That gave him a foothold that allowed him to resume his career and eventually assist Somalia in its rebuilding process.

Growing up, Justice Kimberley Crosbie lived in small-town Ontario and had a challenging home life. She struggled in Grade 13, but was accepted to Carleton and went on to earn a BA and masters in Law and Legal Studies. She now serves on the Ontario Court of Justice.

Jeremy Greenwood, now a professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, had no intention of attending university. But an early stint as a custodian led to second thoughts. That, and a professor who turned him on to the subject he loves. Which leads to lesson No. 2 . . .

One good professor can change everything

As a graduate student, Kiera Ladner wanted to explore why people didn’t view traditional Indigenous governance as legitimate. She considered pursuing a PhD in Canadian Studies, but a professor convinced her to “use the tools of political science to think through governance outside of the Western framework.”

Today, Kiera Ladner is the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance at the University of Manitoba. She consults with Indigenous groups around the world about governance, treaty implementation and constitutional rights.

Several of the economists in the 75 for the 75th group found mentors at Carleton as well. Jeremy Greenwood (above) and Timothy Lane, deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, remembered professors who “helped us master the content, but also encouraged us to look for the weak spots in everything we learned,” Lane recalls.

He was one of several among the 75 who thought they were on one career path (a university professor) but ended up pursuing another. Which leads to lesson No. 3 . . .

You can’t predict the future

Philip Reny, a professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, began his career as a keyboardist for a rock band called “Mainstream.’’

MP Scott Reid was an aspiring writer and novelist.

Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of PHS Community Services Society in Vancouver, spent 10 years as a paramedic before enrolling in the Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (BPAPM) program at Carleton.

“I discovered I loved going to school, chewing over new material and engaging with professors and students about ideas,” recalls Breakspear, who used her degree to transition into social services.

Of course, changing careers can be tricky. But the 75 for the 75th were willing to make bold career moves. Which leads to lesson No. 4 . . .

Be willing to take risks

Trina McQueen oversaw the launch of the 24-hour CBC Newsworld channel, greeted at first with skepticism by many of her colleagues. That dissipated after Newsworld aired the Oka standoff live in the summer of 1990. McQueen went on to occupy executive offices at the Discovery Channel and CTV.

Firdaus Kharas surprised his public service colleagues when he left a foreign affairs job in 1995 to start Chocolate Moose Media, a company that uses media for social change. He now produces public service announcements that air in 45 languages in more than 100 countries.

After Mark MacKinnon’s summer internship plans fizzled, he called up newspapers in South Africa and offered to work for free. Now he’s the senior international correspondent for the Globe and Mail.

And of course, do what you love

“Every day I come to work and think: ‘I’m doing something pretty amazing’,” says Secretary of the Treasury Board Yaprak Baltacıoğlu. “The idea that a foreign-born adult could come to a country and end up with this job would not happen anywhere else.”

James Duthie, the host of The Sports Network (TSN), is also humbled by his good fortune. “For me to be able to turn a career into going to great events and talking about them is still somewhat mind-boggling,” he says. “Once the show starts, it’s nothing but fun. I never feel like I’m working.”

Brian Tardif has been the CEO of Citizen Advocacy Ottawa, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, for 30 years. He still looks forward to coming into the office. “One thing that keeps me here is that I’m continually learning,” he says.

And for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, it’s the variety of challenges. “I love this job because every day is different,” says Watson. “One minute you’re greeting Princess Kate and the next you’re at a snowmobile banquet.”

A special gathering for Carleton’s 75th

Most of these alumni have been away from the Carleton campus for a long time. But on Sept. 15, 2017, many of them will sit down with their former professors and current students at a dinner hosted by the Faculty of Public Affairs in Richcraft Hall.

Although I’ve never met most of them in person, I look forward to welcoming them back to campus like old friends.

I learned something from every one of these alumni. I am sure you will, as well.

Read all of the profiles of the 75 for the 75th.

The FPA Currents Lecture will be delivered by Gregory Ip, chief economics commentator at the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Sept. 15. Register here.

Photo 1: Jonathan Shaughnessy, 2: Abdul Abdullahi, 3: Timothy Lane, 4: Jennifer Breakspear, 5: Trina McQueen, 6: Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, 7: James Duthie

Monday, August 21, 2017 in , ,
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