Grads at work

Our grads make a difference!

Rachael Fowler headshot. She is wearing a dark blazer and red blouse.

Rachael Fowler, SDS '18, BSW '19, MSW '22
Psychotherapist, Public Educator, Speaker

“I fell in love with my career [at Renison]. I’m living my passion and it’s thanks to Renison!” – Rachael

Rachael is a familiar face at Renison, beginning with her Social Development Studies (SDS) degree, which she completed in 2018. Rachael went on to complete her BA, BSW and MSW all at Renison and is now working as a psychotherapist, educator, and public speaker.

For Rachael, pursuing an SDS degree was foremost a path to a career in Social Work but, in her own words, “Renison opened my eyes to the variety of career paths I could take with my degree!”

Renison was also Rachael’s home away from home, she says the safe and welcoming community gave her the confidence and support she needed to succeed. She did live in residence during her first year, but even off campus she felt like she had a great network of support.

Since graduating from her MSW in 2022, Rachael has trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-informed work. She works as a Psychotherapist and founded “Fowler’s Teachings and Wellness,” an online education platform to help make mental health education resources free and accessible to as many people as possible.   

Lavorn Hunt headshot.

Lavorn Hunt, SDS '21, BSW '22, MSW '23

“SDS opened my eyes to possibilities”

Lavorn Hunt had always wanted to pursue a career in Social Work, and came to Renison as a mature student after working as an Admissions Officer for over a decade. The flexibility of the program and the wide variety of courses was what made drew her to Renison, but the community is what set her up for success. She appreciated the culture within the classroom that was created by her professors, and the ability to bring her perspective to the classroom and learn from her peers.

SDS provided a great foundation for Lavorn’s future career goals in Social Work. She has since gone on to complete a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) at Renison. She’s looking forward to the next stage of her career, and has been recently engaged in speaking and information opportunities related to restorative justice in education. “SDS opened my eyes to possibilities beyond the individual, to how communities and policies/practices contribute to the health and wellbeing (or lack thereof) of the world.”

Aaron Rousseau standing on a forest trail.

Aaron Rousseau, SDS ‘19, BSW ‘20
Crisis Worker in the Mental Health Emergency Services Unit, Unity Health Toronto

“It’s hard to put into words how integral Renison is to who I am and where I am now. I’m so grateful for my experience.”

Renison Alum Aaron Rousseau loved the diversity of Social Development Studies (SDS) and appreciated that Rension encouraged him to keep his mind open. Now working as Crisis Worker in the Mental Health Emergency Services Unit at Unity Health Toronto, Aaron uses skills gained during his SDS degree like critical thinking and considering the impact of larger social systems in his everyday work. Aaron also says that SDS has allowed him to bring different lenses to the work he does now, giving him a broad foundation that has kept doors open for his career path.

In his own words, here’s what Aaron has to say about Renison:

“Renison is unique; to my knowledge there is nothing like SDS elsewhere. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to pursue in my career but, because SDS is such a diverse program, I was able to get a sense of so many different aspects of social services. Pursuing SDS allowed me to explore what I knew I was passionate about, but then always encouraged me to find something new and learn something different. While there wasn't co-op while I was a student, there was no shortage of opportunities for students to get hands on learning through class projects or apprenticeship style classes.”

Laura Black, Coordinator, Student Rights and Responsibilities, Conestoga College

"My education prepared me to listen and collaborate with diverse stakeholders; to understand attitudes, behaviours, and social factors; to advocate for those who are marginalized and to critically research and analyze systems; to practice my passion for public education; to constantly adapt and creatively problem solve. The community and education I experienced at Renison are embedded in every aspect of my career journey."

When Laura began at Renison, she wasn’t sure where her career path would take her. Social Development Studies (SDS) allowed her to explore many avenues and learn the value of responding to social issues from multiple vantage points. Laura is recognized for her leadership in community development and inclusive education, which led her to a position as a Student Rights and Responsibilities Co-ordinator at Conestoga College.

John Neufeld, Executive Director, House of Friendship

"My experience at Renison was foundational to working in the field of social work. I didn’t really know what social work was until I arrived, but I was fascinated. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me."

John knew he wanted to pursue SDS, and chose Renison because of the wide range of courses. After working in child welfare with foster children, John decided that he wanted to affect change in a different way. He now works as the Executive Director of House of Friendship, an organization that
works to tackle systemic social issues like homelessness and addiction.

Irene Vassalo,  Investment Manager

I attended Renison right after high school; I wanted to get into social work and stay local, which fit in with what Renison had to offer. I really liked the smaller school experience, but appreciated having access to the UWaterloo campus at the same time. The intimate atmosphere and small classrooms also meant that I was able to get to know my classmates and my professors.

When I began at Renison, my plan was to become a Social Worker and save the world! Then I graduated, in 1992, at the peak of the recession, and there were no social work jobs to be had – I must have sent out dozens of resumes every week. At that time I was working at a bank, and someone drew my attention to an ad for a job at the Investor’s Group, which led to a career path in wealth management. My education in social work has been hugely beneficial in my career. Building relationships is key – wealth management is very personal and often sees people at both the best and worst times of their life. Essentially I took my experience at the bank, and my education from Renison and put them together.

Janet Menard, former Deputy Minister, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, and Deputy Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues

When I attended Renison Social Development Studies was called Applied Social Sciences. My heart was set on working in human services and I was attracted to the intimacy of a small college committed to social sciences, within the context of a large university with a great reputation. My instincts were right. The offerings within the Renison community were invaluable,  and the smaller classes allowed for lots of informal learnings and discussions. When I attended in the 1970s things were going on in the world that caught our attention, and many students rallied to voice their concerns. This created tension on campus, from those, in particular, who did not want to be distracted from their studies. The tolerance for dissension and difference was pretty low and as a result Renison went through a tumultuous time. It was difficult but quite representative of life and life experiences we would continue to face. And it is an important part of Renison's history. Social activism is critical to democratic society and we need to listen and understand the perspectives of those who take the time to share them. My role as a public servant has taken me down a different path. I remain in this field to make a positive difference. Working within government affords me that opportunity. My time at Renison helped me become comfortable offering a difference of opinion, being provocative, and challenging assumptions. But we only get there through meaningful listening and dialogue with people with lived experience and diverse perspectives. My work in the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services exposes me to a lot. But time spent with people caught in our systems and people who work on the front lines, amongst pain and suffering and who still remain hopeful is the most humbling for me. It is not lost on me that I am a person of privilege in so many ways.