Former WIL Students - Where Are They Now?

Madison Chapel

BSc, Microbiology, University of Manitoba

CanCOGeN  Database Manager, Public Health Agency of Canada


When does that first spark that ignites a career begin? For Madison Chapel of Winnipeg, it was when her Mom bought her a book called "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston. It was a nonfiction thriller about the origins of viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers.  Although it was an unsettling read, it put Madison on the path to study viruses and microorganisms in university.


Madison graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology in the fall of 2020. She completed three co-op work terms as part of her degree, but before joining the co-op program, she received a lot of conflicting advice from people as to where she should work.


In the end, Madison decided to strategically use her three work terms to explore these opportunities for herself with her first work term in government with the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnipeg; her second work term in academia with the Bioinformatics Institute in Singapore; and her third position in industry with Cytophage Technologies in Winnipeg.


As a genomics training materials developer with the Public Health Agency of Canada, she studied genomic read alignment tools that were then used to create a self-directed online course that would be provided to laboratory scientists and future staff during onboarding. She also disproved one of the pieces of advice that she had been given - that working for the government was slow.


Madison's second work term in the summer of 2019 proved to be a fantastic experience. She received the Singapore International Pre-Graduate Award (SIPGA), which gave her the opportunity to work internationally at Singapore’s Bioinformatics Institute. At the Bioinformatics Institute, she worked on a computational project and a wet lab project.


For the wet lab project, she worked on optimizing a new method for visualizing cells under the microscope. This new method, called iterative indirect immunofluorescence imaging (4i), allowed more parts of the cell to be visualized simultaneously, which saves time, effort, and resources in the lab.


Madison secured her third work term with Cytophage Technologies prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. While many of her classmates had their work terms cancelled in the summer of 2020, Cytophage was able to accommodate in-person work at their facilities.  The position required her to work in their lab where she spent the summer optimizing a genotyping technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). She also helped prepare vials of bacteriophage for long-term storage by lyophilization (freeze-drying). 


Madison's previous supervisor at the Public Health Agency of Canada knew that she was nearing graduation and approached her to see if she would be interested in returning to work with them full-time after she graduated. When a patient tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the virus sample may be selected for whole genome sequencing, and the results sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. In her current position as Database Manager for CanCOGeN, Madison tracks the metadata from these samples and helps to report analysis results back to the provinces – including the different lineages of the virus currently circulating in the country.


Madison loves to learn and before she finished her BSc from U of Manitoba, she started another degree, this time a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science with the University of the People. The degree will help her gain more skills in data mining and machine learning which she can use in her current position and future opportunities.


Her interests continue to be focused on public health and in particular, the evolution of infectious agents and how selective pressures act on pathogens. Madison plans to pursue graduate studies where she can further develop her knowledge and skills while pursuing her passion for microbiology.


We asked Madison what was the best advice that she had received from a co-op employer.


"When I was working at the Bioinformatics Institute, my project involved using the programming language R for data analysis and visualization. I was still very new to programming in general, and had only started learning R in preparation for the position. During a meeting with my PI, he made a comment about the work that I was doing that has really stuck with me, saying something along the lines of "It's not difficult, it's just new". 


This is a mindset that I've taken with me whenever I start a new project. There's going to be an adjustment period where your work is new and confusing and even the simplest aspects of it don't make sense. It seems difficult, but the reality is that you're just not familiar with it yet. Over time, things get easier. With enough time, you can become great at just about anything." 

Shane Kustra-Nelson

Bachelor of Business and Administration in Marketing, University of Winnipeg

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Florists Supply


Hockey has dominated Shane Kustra-Nelson's life from the time that he was a small boy so it was natural that in high school, he started thinking about pursuing a career in sports management. Shane played for four seasons on a Junior B Team, the Charleswood Hawks in Winnipeg.  He took a year off after graduating high school and then enrolled in a Bachelor of Business and Administration in Marketing at the University of Winnipeg.


During the first couple of years of his university degree, Shane continued to play hockey 15 - 20 hours per week plus work part-time. Along with his studies, this left little time for anything else, especially co-op.  However, a friend completed a work term with RBC and encouraged Shane to also complete a co-op work term.  It wasn't until his last year of studies that Shane decided to take his friend's advice and participate in co-op.


In the fall of 2020, Shane began working as Marketing Intern at Florists Supply in Winnipeg. He started his position in the office, but as COVID-19 case numbers increased in Manitoba, he and many of his co-workers had to transition into remote work.


Florists Supply was founded in Winnipeg in 1935 and provides fresh flowers and supplies to florists and other businesses across Canada. The company prides itself on providing high quality fresh flowers, including from certified fairtrade farmers.


As a Marketing Intern, Shane worked on two digital marketing campaigns. The first was a campaign to celebrate Florists Supply’s 85th Anniversary which involved interviewing tenured employees, posting archival content on social media and writing blog posts. It was a lot of responsibility to tell the story of the company's history. In addition to learning about the business, Shane had to learn new programs including Adobe InDesign and Photoshop in order to create posts for the social media campaign.


The second project was about Fairtrade flowers. Shane interviewed contacts at Fairtrade Canada as well as at Fairtrade farms in South America. These videos were shared on the company's website, as well as social media content. 


The floral industry may seem a long way from competitive hockey, but Shane brought the things that he learned from playing team sports into his work term: the importance of hard work and teamwork.


"Hockey teaches you how to integrate the individual into the team. When you bounce ideas off each other, you work cohesively towards the same goal."


When Shane finished his work term and his degree, there weren't any openings on the marketing team at Florists Supply so he took a sales position with a wholesale grocery company in Winnipeg. He kept in contact with his former colleagues and when a position for a Marketing Coordinator opened up at Florists Supply, he was the successful candidate.


Shane grew up playing sports, but university opened his eyes and expanded his perspective. Shane is interested in further developing his marketing skills in his current position as he learns more about the business and logistics of consumer goods.


He has discovered that corporate social responsibility is an important value to him which is why he enjoys working at Florists Supply so much. They are a company which looks after the broader community and engage with farmers who pay a fair wage to their workers.


Shane's advice to students beginning their co-op and career journey is to "Go in with an open mind and try to do every project you’re given the best effort possible. You will learn so much and it will be well worth your time and effort. I came from hockey and ended up working in a flower company and I couldn't be happier."

Brenna Epp

B.C. Sc. (Hons.), Computer Science, University of Manitoba

Developer Relations Programmer, Google


Brenna Epp’s older sister was three years ahead of her in school and encouraged her to do co-op once she enrolled in the Computer Science program at the University of Manitoba. Brenna followed her sister’s advice and completed three co-op work terms during her degree.


Brenna found the resources offered by the co-op office to be very helpful, especially help with her resume. When she started looking for her first co-op work job, she wasn’t familiar with the companies, so decided to look for a position in Winnipeg.


Canadian gaming company, Ubisoft was opening a new office in the city and Brenna was one of their first employees. She jokingly said that by the time she finished her work term, she was one of their oldest employees because they were hiring so many people for the new office.


At Ubisoft, she worked in VR doing experimental prototype work. Students were put into pairs and were assigned a project. It was during this work term that a colleague recommended the book, “Clean Code” by Robert Martin.


It completely changed the way I coded and thought about code. It definitely set me up for success; my current role has a big emphasis on excellence in development practices.”


During her second work term, Brenna worked as a Labs Developer Co-op with Payworks. In this role, she implemented an application prototype, focusing on responsive and accessible design for mobile and web.


I learnt so much about accessibility during this work term! Payworks is a really awesome company.


My co-op experiences helped me build some of the technical knowledge I use every day and was never explicitly taught in school, such as version control, API design and ci/cd. School definitely taught me useful things, but so did my co-op experiences! 


I also learned about the type of expectations a workplace may have for me as a developer and the expectations I may have for the people I work with.”


For her third co-op work term in the summer of 2020, Brenna set her sights on a position with Google in Mountain View, California. She applied on a couple of positions and received interviews for two of them before being offered a position as a Developer Relations Intern. However, in March 2020, the Canadian-US border closed due to the pandemic and Brenna learned that she would have to complete her work term remotely. She already had her accommodations in California lined up, so this was a big disappointment, but she was grateful that she was able to continue with the work term from her home in Winnipeg.


As a Developer Relations Intern, Brenna worked in a developer tools team which supports other Developer Relations programmers in their work on GitHub and internally. She wrote a service in Go with a gRPC API to allow programmers to programmatically manage their service-level objectives.


Brenna finished her internship with Google in August 2020 and applied to stay on as a full-time Developer Relations Programmer. She received her offer two months later and negotiated with Google to work remotely in Canada instead of out of their California office.


In her role in Developer Relations, Brenna works on “client libraries (specifically Cloud Storage) and the APIs that developers use as a point of contact into Google's cloud services.

Brenna has advice for other students pursuing a degree in Computer Science.


Ask for a lot of feedback! The more feedback you get, the more you can grow and turn into an excellent hire in the near future. Get code reviews from as many people as you can, and don’t take feedback personally!


Lots of feedback is completely expected, and this isn't an exam, and if it were, you aren't evaluated so much on the code you first write as much as on the code that ends up in production/as a prototype.”

Hayley Yamamoto, Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) Co-op Degree with Majors in Human Resource Management/Industrial Relations and Marketing, University of Manitoba

Human Resources Specialist, Talent Acquisition, Payworks


In the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, it is common for students to complete double majors. A major is created by taking four courses in one area and students often choose to create a second major from the five optional business courses that they must take.


Hayley Yamamoto chose Marketing as her major because she wanted to pursue event planning after she graduated. Her first work term in 2018 was with Parks Canada as a Promotions Assistant. This was a remote role on a distributed, bilingual team with team members across the country in locations including Halifax, Quebec and Winnipeg.


Her second work term was with The Prolific Group as a Junior Marketing Coordinator where she worked alongside senior management in the development of a business strategy and marketing strategy for the company. She ran focus groups to receive input from employees across the company and worked closely with the sales team. In addition, she conceptualized, created and edited content for marketing collateral targeted at internal and external customers. Her efforts resulted in being nominated as Co-op Student of the Year in 2019.


Early on in her co-op experience, Hayley was given some advice that changed the way she approached problem solving. She was told that she should present a solution rather than asking what she should do.


"Instead of asking, “What can I do next?” or “What should I do now?” I started asking, “I think I should do this next, is that the correct solution?” and “I finished up my other tasks and would like to do this next, is that okay or is there something else I can help out with?” This completely changed the way I asked questions and really helped me to demonstrate my initiative to my team, plus impressed my employers with the creative solutions I was able to come up with!"


Immediately following her second work term, Hayley participated in the Arni Thorsteinson Study Exchange Program in partnership with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. It was one of her favourite experiences during her time at the University of Manitoba.


For her third work term, Hayley wanted to pursue a position in her second major, Human Resources. Hayley enjoyed the teamwork aspect of her Human Resources Intern position at Payworks in Winnipeg. In her first work term, although there was a lot of planning and strategizing as a team at the beginning of a project, the bulk of the creative work was completed on her own. Similarly, during her second work term, she worked on her own without the collaboration that a marketing team could provide.


In comparison, in her HR role, there was a lot of teamwork as well as, interaction with candidates. Hayley found that she could draw from her previous marketing experience when promoting the company to candidates. The role also required some event planning so she was able to use all of her skills and interests in HR.


In her fourth year, Hayley participated in an academic exchange at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, her exchange was cut short and she had to return to Canada in March 2020 when the UK went into lockdown due to the global pandemic. Fortunately, Hayley was able to complete her courses remotely and complete her term, but her 10:00 am lectures in the UK became 4:00 am remote lectures in Winnipeg.


In 2020, Hayley competed in JDC West in the non-profit category with 'Team Toba". In 2020, she also volunteered on the JDC West organizing committee in the role of Human Resources Director because the event was scheduled to be held in Winnipeg. This year, Hayley is volunteering again, but this time she is the VP of Human Resources.


During her final academic term in the spring of 2021, Hayley worked part-time at Payworks as a Human Resources Administrator while taking four courses. She transitioned into this position full-time when she graduated and has recently moved into a new position, Human Resources Specialist, Talent Acquisition.


Hayley fully embraced her time as a student at the Asper School of Business participating in co-op, the Commerce Students' Association, academic exchanges and JDC West. These rich experiences helped her with her studies.


"My experience in the Co-op program not only helped me find my career, but also really helped me in my studies. There were many group projects where we would need to interview a professional in our field or build a case using an organization we were familiar with, and my network of Co-op employers was incredibly valuable in these situations. In addition, having examples of situations that came up throughout my Co-op terms to provide in class discussions or to relate terms to when studying for exams was super beneficial to my learning."