Tracy Primeau

Tracy PrimeauTracy Primeau (BA ’98) lived at St. Paul’s for four terms beginning in 1986 before leaving university early to begin her career in Nuclear Power. She eventually completed her degree while working full-time with two young kids. Tracy is one of the few women to become a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission licensed operator at Bruce Power and remains the only woman ever to work her way up to shift manager from the shop floor. Tracy spends much of her spare time with her family and volunteering at many organizations throughout Bruce County and recently joined the St. Paul’s Board of Governors. 

Tracy Primeau’s goal when she applied to the Arts co-op program at the University of Waterloo was to become a history teacher. The applied nature of the program was attractive to the prospective student who had grown up in a hardworking blue-collar household in Kincardine, Ontario. “With sellable skills like computer programming and technical writing, along with co-op, you could finance your own education,” she says. 

Once accepted to Waterloo, her decision on which residence to live in was easy. Growing up, Tracy’s family attended Underwood United Church in a small community outside of Kincardine and the Minister, Rev. Richard Hollingsworth happened to be a board member at St. Paul’s United College at the time. “I leaned on the minister to help get my resume to the top of the pile,” she jokes.

Like many alumni, Tracy formed life-long friendships during her time at St. Paul’s, including one of her best friends to this day. She has fond memories of the four terms she lived in residence, like watching soap operas in the TV lounge, attending events at the Bombshelter Pub with friends from the College and the fun times she had living on Penthouse.

Finding her passion

As she progressed through the first half of her degree and enjoyed life on campus, Tracy had not imagined that she would soon put her post-secondary education on hold while pursuing what would become a decades-long career working in nuclear power, accomplishing things that other women in her field had never done before.

Tracy in control roomTracy’s interest in being a history teacher had started to wane and for her second co-op position, she worked in a department within the Faculty of Mathematics. She started taking courses in computer programming and then worked as a programming tutor for Arts and Mathematics students. It was suggested to her at the time that she should switch from Arts to Mathematics and get a degree in computer science, but Tracy was “tired of being a poor student,” and wasn’t keen on spending additional time in school. Instead, she was eager to begin a career and settle down with her husband.

Tracy refers to herself as a ‘hydro baby’ because of a long history of family members working in the energy industry. Needing only a few more credits to graduate, she applied for a job at Ontario Hydro. She expected the hiring and on-boarding process to take a few months leaving time to finish up her degree. To her surprise, Tracy was quickly hired as an operator with a wage much higher than minimum wage in the late 1980s, launching her career in nuclear power.

In her case it wasn’t necessarily the job duties or the title that excited her initial interest in being an operator, instead, she was enthralled by the photos of the control room. To Tracy, it looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek, and she knew she wanted to work there and come to understand the functions of everything in that room.

Nuclear operators need good spatial awareness and troubleshooting skills, once Tracy realized those skills came naturally to her everything fell into place. She began her career working at the Pickering plant and later moved to Bruce where she became the first woman to complete her Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) licensing.

Becoming certified was a very rigorous process and opened the doors for many possibilities for Tracy. “Once you become certified, you can move to supervisor and manager…you normally hold a license in operations at some point in your career before leading the corporation,” she said.

To advance in her career from the shop floor to becoming shift manager at the world’s largest nuclear power generation station, Tracy has needed to continuously learn for certification and re-certification. Even though she left school early to join Ontario Hydro in 1990, she is a life-long learner who comes from a family that valued education. She completed the final credits she needed through correspondence and graduated from Waterloo in 1998 while she was pregnant with her second child. 

Diversity, inclusion, and empowerment of women in Nuclear

Today, Tracy draws upon her own unique experiences – as an Indigenous woman with an Arts degree, working as a leader in a male-dominated STEM field – to be a mentor for others and an advocate for removing barriers. She recognizes and embraces the fact that others look to her as a role model and is happy to offer helpful advice.

Tracy believes her industry, nuclear power, is 'behind the times.' Women were not allowed to work in nuclear power generation in the stations until 1985 and the shift work makes it difficult to find personal and professional balance, something that may not be attractive to women. It can be very challenging too for women who take parental leave because they are required to complete six months of retraining and testing to get back up to speed upon their return.

Tracy with switch boards

The number of women working in nuclear power today is still low she says and that has a real impact on women reaching leadership positions. “You see women in leadership positions in insurance, finance, retail, etc., but I still think it will be quite a few years until we see a woman in the corner office, " she says. There are some positive changes underway, women are now included on hiring panels and there is a group called Driving Advancement of Women in Nuclear, focused on making the industry more attractive to women through training, allyship and closing the confidence gap. 

Authority Magazine also interviewed Tracy for an article published at the end of December, which was part of a series featuring lessons from inspirational women in STEM and tech. In the article, Tracy expressed she is not satisfied with the status quo for women in STEM, pointing out that women still earn less on average and get fewer promotions than their male counterparts with the same level of experience and education.

In the article, Tracy was asked what changes are needed to change the status quo and she pointed to making diversity a true priority rather than a simple buzzword. She believes employers need to have more diverse voices seated at the table and they must act quickly to establish real targets with aggressive timelines, which force people to work hard for the intended outcomes. She continually shares that diversity improves the bottom line and when companies live that value, change will happen. 

Bringing her talents back to St. Paul’s

In 2020, Tracy reconnected with St. Paul’s and joined the Board of Governors as a community representative. Tracy has been supportive of the university for STEM programs for years but only recently started paying attention to St. Paul’s after former Chancellor, J.P. Gladu’s 2019 Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Service lecture on Economic Reconciliation. As a proud member of Nipissing First Nation, the College’s role in Indigenous education through the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre and the new programs in Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Entrepreneurship piqued Tracy’s interest. She sees the Indigenous Entrepreneurship program as being necessary and well-timed given that government and industry are becoming more focused on Indigenous procurement goals.

Besides her volunteer commitment with St. Paul’s, Tracy still finds time in her busy schedule to volunteer on boards and for organizations that provide meaning in her life. Currently, she is the board chair of the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey, a board member with Women in Nuclear Canada, serves in an executive role with the Kincardine Bulldogs hockey club and sits as the energy representative on her municipality’s economic development committee.

Women in Nuclear Group with Tracy

When discussing her multiple voluntary roles Tracy mentioned that chairing boards and volunteering helped her grow as a leader and filled up her time when work did not. 

“Sometimes you do not get fulfilled talking to technical people all day, or you do not get all the opportunities you are seeking in your career," she says. “When you are struggling with not making an impact, or feeling unsatisfied, it is important to remember that there are tons of opportunities in the voluntary sector.

"Being a volunteer has given more to me than I have given to them."

Tracy’s experiences and interests overlap with St. Paul’s mission and values in so many ways: life-long learning, mentorship, community involvement, economic reconciliation, supporting women in STEM and environmental sustainability to name a few. It’s clear Tracy has a lot to offer as a member of the Board and we are grateful that she agreed to share some of her story with the rest of the St. Paul’s community. 

Anthony Lemke

Anthony LemkeAnthony Lemke has close to 90 acting credits listed on IMDB, he has held lead and recurring roles in several popular TV series, and some minor roles in big-budget Hollywood films. You might know him as the character Three from the Syfy/CTV Sci-Fi series Dark Matter, or as Coach Gilday of the popular TV show, Blue Mountain State. Maybe you know him as a lawyer with the Montreal-based firm KRB or as a property developer in Prince Edward County. Maybe you’ve seen him on Breakfast Television speaking as an ambassador for Humanity & Inclusion Canada. Or, maybe you just know him from La Bastille, the French language floor at St. Paul’s!

It’s safe to say Anthony leads an interesting life, so we wanted to learn more. Did we mention that he credits his experience living at St. Paul’s on La Bastille for helping to chart this interesting career path?

Anthony Lemke (BA ’94) grew up in the Ottawa area and followed his older brother Chris Lemke (BES ’91), to the University of Waterloo where he was drawn by the Geography co-op program and to the French floor at St. Paul’s. Anthony had taken French immersion in school but admits he wasn’t a great French speaker, so he saw La Bastille as an opportunity to improve his skills and to enjoy some French culture.

“Although I wasn’t that good at speaking the language, I liked the culture. St Paul’s allowed me to immerse myself in the culture and gain more confidence speaking it – I became a Francophile," Anthony said. “In high school, I never would have thought that I would have chosen to live on a French-speaking floor in university, travel extensively in France, move to Montreal and eventually act in French Canadian TV shows.”

While he was initially drawn to St. Paul’s because of La Bastille, Anthony says he enjoyed the tight-knit community that St. Paul’s was known for and the proximity to his classes. He also has great memories of the annual Blackforest Coffee House, and sports nights with his friends.

An unconventional educational journey

Like many undergraduate students, Anthony’s educational journey did not follow a straight line. After a year-and-a-half in the Geography co-op program, he realized that it wasn’t the right fit for him and began looking for a new major. He stumbled across the Drama program. Acting was something he had done in high school, but Anthony never thought he would make a career out of it. “I just happened to be good at it," he said.

Reminiscing about Waterloo’s drama program, Anthony says the facilities were “to die for.” Run by now-retired professor, Joel Greenburg, the program was very hands-on. “We acted in tons of plays, got to write and direct, and ended up with way more performance experience than at a more traditional acting school," said Anthony. From these experiences he realized that acting was something that he really enjoyed and could do well, but “the facilities and program were a lot of the reason why I was able to develop the confidence to make it [as an actor]."

The beginning of an unconventional career

After graduating from Waterloo, Anthony taught English in Prague before moving to Toronto where he looked for acting gigs. It took him about three years to start making a living in acting and about five years until it was clear to him that he would be able to support his family, which is also when he completed his first series.

Recalling the first big role he got in RoboCop: Prime Directives, Anthony remembers running into his acting coach and mentor, John Boylan, telling him that he landed his first gig. Boylan asked: “what will you do with the money?” a comment that impacted Anthony greatly and sticks with him to this day.

According to Anthony, successful Canadian actors can make a living as actors, but their earning potential is limited compared to their Hollywood contemporaries. “The way it worked for me in acting is that you work your way from the mailroom up, in smaller roles like the pizza delivery guy or cop, and then once you make your way past that to bigger roles, you can start making enough money to sustain yourself.”

“Being a Canadian actor is a lot like being a professional hockey player, you get a good 20 years and then the desire for producers to put you on camera starts to fade, so many end up needing a second career.” So, what stuck with Anthony from his chance meeting with Boylan that day was that it is important to pursue other passions outside of acting that can contribute to overall happiness and provide stability when the acting roles begin to disappear.

Having always wanted to go to law school, Anthony applied in his early 30’s and moved his wife and kids to Montreal where he attended McGill Law. Anthony took on acting roles to support his family while he studied law and did not start his full-time career as a lawyer until 2019 when he left acting (for now) after the Dark Matter series ended.

Anthony mentioned that he thought law school would be an unobtainable goal when he graduated from Waterloo. In his words, he was decent at school, but he “was not a 90% student." But building on his experiences from the drama program and La Bastille, Anthony gained valuable life experiences by moving to France, teaching English in Prague, and acting in TV shows. Those experiences helped make his law school applications more well-rounded.

For Anthony, “the seminal moment was experiencing the French culture at St. Paul’s, it really was the cornerstone of gaining these other life experiences."

Becoming a multipotentialite

In addition to acting and practicing law, Anthony co-owns a property development company that operates in the Wellington area of Prince Edward County, Ontario, alongside his brother Chris.

“The town was a meat-packing town and the plant burnt down, so people were out of jobs,” Anthony says. With fond memories of the area, Anthony felt things would get better, so he called his brother with the idea that they should buy some properties and focus on helping build the community.

With so much going on in his professional life, it’s hard to imagine where Anthony finds the time to be a Board member and spokesperson for Humanity & Inclusion Canada (HI), a charity that works in situations of poverty and inclusion, conflict and disaster, that works to help disabled and vulnerable people meet basic needs and improve their living conditions. In this role, Anthony speaks out about the needs of the most vulnerable people in war-torn areas and raises awareness about HI Canada’s work to reduce the impact of armed conflict on civilians.

Anthony Lemke with childrenAnthony’s interest in HI came from learning about the experiences of his father and mother-in-law who are both immigrants. “They were the lucky ones because nothing bad happened while fleeing during WWII [his father]," said Anthony. Once he got more media recognition with Dark Matter Anthony knew he wanted to help others when he got handed the microphone, and “it so happened that HI reached out to me and everything fell into place from there."  

Anthony is a man of many trades and his career has been unique. We were curious which aspect of his career has been his favourite so far. Reflecting on that, Anthony recalled listening to a politician who had just written a book speaking on the radio many years ago. The politician had done many things in his life and when the interviewer asked, “what career did you like best?” there was a long pause, then the politician replied that he never thought about his life in terms of his careers. Anthony was impacted by this and was able to reflect on this further after watching a Ted Talk about being a “Multipotentialite," which refers to someone with many creative talents and interests, who can succeed in multiple fields, any of which on their own may have been a good career.

“People tend to put you into a box… you are an actor, lawyer, business affairs manager, or stay-at-home parent, yet this doesn’t enrich your life." Further, “If you aren’t a specialist, or do not end up following one exact path, you will end up absorbing many things throughout your life that will help you to succeed.”

Anthony first veered off the path while he was living at St. Paul’s and pivoted from studying geography to studying acting. Living on La Bastille helped build his confidence in speaking French and grew his overall interest in the French culture. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn about where his path has taken him and look forward to seeing what our multipotentialite alumnus does next. 

Laurie Dillon-Schalk

Laurie Dillon-Schalk

Photo courtesy of Volvo Canada

In response to a global health emergency unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, a small group of friends including St. Paul’s alumnus Laurie Dillon-Schalk (BA ’92) formed a complex grassroots organization and logistics chain practically overnight. That organization Conquer COVID-19 gained national and international media recognition for helping to save countless lives and inspiring hope and optimism for thousands of Canadians right across the country. We recently caught up with Laurie Dillon-Schalk to learn more.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk (BA ’92) is a career marketing and advertising executive who recently founded Social Wisdom, a boutique data intelligence agency that analyzes cultural and consumer trends. When COVID-19 began dominating headlines and social media feeds right before the world went into lockdown in February and March 2020, Laurie was tapping trees at her family maple syrup farm in Bobcaygeon, Ontario.

Through her work, Laurie saw the seriousness of COVID-19 coming, yet she did not expect tranquil Bobcaygeon, Ontario to become one of Canada’s first epicentres of the deadly virus. Near the end of March 2020, Pinecrest Nursing Home was the site of Ontario’s largest and deadliest outbreak at the time, with 28 residents eventually succumbing to COVID-19 by the end of April. Bobcaygeon, normally known for being the subject of its namesake Tragically Hip song had become the focus of national media attention. According to Laurie, the tragedy at Pinecrest helped spark an urgency to grow beyond a GTA effort into Ontario, then other provinces.

“Every day another person was dying. Although I didn’t know anyone personally, it was a very emotional time because the entire town was grieving, and while COVID would ravage more towns – in March there was no help, no PPE, no knowledge of the virus” she said.

During this time, Laurie had a chance to catch up with a group of six well-connected friends, and their conversation led to a discussion about the pandemic and the dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to front line workers and medical professionals. One of the friends on the call, Sulemaan Ahmed spoke about how he was getting calls from family in the medical profession saying that they were running out of PPE, and that if this wasn’t taken care of, we would all be in trouble. Laurie, Sulemaan and the others knew they had to do something before it was too late. Together they founded Conquer COVID-19, a volunteer-driven grassroots organization, focused on the procurement of PPE.

Extraordinary times call for unconventional approaches

Governments in Canada and around the world faced a massive problem when the global pandemic began rapidly depleting domestic PPE stocks while simultaneously putting the brakes on the global supply chain. The Conquer COVID-19 team knew that if they were to help solve this problem, they would need to be unconventional in their approach. Through Sulemaan’s connections in the medical field, the team heard that one of the issues facing healthcare workers was that they were attempting to limit exposure to infected patients in the ICU to protect PPE supply.

Baby monitors offered a quick and low-cost solution that would allow medical staff to communicate with patients while limiting exposure time. So Laurie and the team started using Facebook and social media to collect them. “I collected 30 monitors from my first Facebook post, but St. Michael’s hospital asked for 50!”

Group being PPE

To collect the amount of personal protective equipment that was being requested, Laurie and the Conquer COVID-19 team started going directly to the CEO’s of large companies to source greater quantities of equipment. One of their first successes was a large donation of baby monitors from Toys ‘R’ Us, which helped pave the path for corporate partnerships fueling Conquer COVID-19’s rapid growth.

Within a week of establishing Conquer COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave legitimacy to the organization by mentioning its efforts in a nationally broadcast press briefing. After that, the organization really started to scale. Within twenty-four hours, Gregg Tilson, founder and acting CIO, created a website that Laurie jokes was the “Tinder of PPE” because it asked two simple questions: “what do you need?” and “how can you help?”. A few short weeks later, what had started as a virtual conversation among a small group of friends, had become a nation-wide grassroots movement with more than 120 volunteers procuring and distributing PPE to essential workers.

Together, the founders and other volunteers established organizational structure by defining responsibilities and assigning tasks in key areas: legal, medical advisory, distribution, partnerships and solicitation all with an aim to scale up impact quickly.

The hours were long; it was common for Laurie and others to spend twenty-two hours per day seeking out and delivering PPE. In some cases they partnered with large corporations, in others they discovered more unconventional sources like nail salons, tattoo parlours, and construction crews. Volunteers across Canada ran PPE drives for specifically requested items and racked up tens of thousands of kilometres in eighteen vehicles donated by Volvo, delivering PPE to those who needed it in nine provinces and one territory.

The power of star power

The real solution came when Hayley Wickenheiser came on board”, said Laurie. Wickenheiser, now retired from hockey and training to be a medical doctor, had spent much of the early days of the pandemic in emergency rooms, gaining first-hand insight into the PPE challenge. She tweeted a “laundry list” of items that her colleagues needed which caught the eye of Conquer COVID-19 CEO Sulemaan Ahmed. Sulemaan reached out and Wickenheiser quickly joined the Conquer COVID-19 movement.

With Hayley Wickenheiser on board, Conquer COVID-19 started to attract major donors sympathetic to our vision of getting PPE to health in the community - most notably from Fiona McKean and Tobi Lütke (founder and CEO of Shopify) through the couple’s Thistledown Foundation which led to our first major financial donation - $1,000,000.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk and Hayley Wickenheiser

Soon after Wickenheiser joined, Laurie expressed that she was struggling with distribution. Despite the generosity of Volvo, they still had issues moving pallets of PPE and getting to remote towns and First Nations communities across Canada. Less than twenty-four hours later, Hayley introduced Laurie to Purolator, and the logistics giant quickly committed to doing whatever they could to help essential workers. “Hayley was like a tornado that helped get the organization to the next level”, said Laurie. With Purolator’s support Conquer COVID-19 was able to reach far-flung corners of the country quickly and more easily.

As stars align, Canadian actor and entrepreneur, Ryan Reynolds, happens to be a friend of Wickenheiser. After seeing her tweet about the need for PPE, Reynolds reached out with an offer to assist. Reynolds then re-tweeted a Wickenheiser post about a PPE collection drive for Conquer COVID-19 and stated that “this is how damn miracles happen!”.

Conquer COVID-19 produced plain-looking black t-shirts with their name emblazoned in white block letters to help with visibility at their PPE drives and eventually began selling the shirts as a way to raise much-needed funds for further PPE procurement. Reynolds posted a comical video on social media while wearing one of the shirts, which he deemed boring and unremarkable. But his message was that as many people as possible needed to buy a shirt to help protect frontline workers and medical personnel to get us back to boring.

The viral video helped generate sales of more than 23,000 t-shirts and resulted in global recognition for the team’s efforts. “We could have sold more t-shirts”, Laurie said, “but it was getting crazy and we were getting ready to wrap-up our efforts”. In the end, the shirts were anything but boring. They became a rallying cry for people who needed hope and meaning during a time when mainstream and social media were delivering so many negative and frightening stories about the deadly virus.

“The shirts tapped into something incredible”, said Laurie. “It wasn’t just about fundraising anymore, it was about conquering the virus and helping others selflessly, it was true altruism. Hospital staff started buying shirts as gifts for their colleagues, cancer patients were buying t-shirts to wear during their treatment sessions, and young children were using their allowances to support our effort”.

The legacy of Conquer COVID-19

With a mix of selfless hard work, good fortune and star power, Laurie and the Conquer COVID-19 team collected donations of more than 730,000 PPE items, raised $2.38 million for PPE procurement and traveled tens of thousands of kilometres across our country delivering PPE and hope to vulnerable communities and front line workers. Their story was shared in more than 700 media articles by publications which included Forbes, CTV, the Toronto Star, and Sportsnet.

Simply put, their results were amazing, so it is not surprising that people want to know how they did it. Laurie says the question she gets asked most is “how did you build a 120-person organization that raised $2.38 million dollars and created a national supply chain inside 4 months?”.

The answer she says, “is not without challenges, and not without help”. But she is quick to point out one secret ingredient that made problem-solving much easier: team diversity. “There is no secret that this virus is making inequities in society more visible. How poorly we take care of our elderly. How unsupported vulnerable populations are. When you have a team that’s 70% BIPOC and 50% women, you can do incredible things!”

Another key to their success was alignment. “Many organizations tend to have difficulty growing because of lack of alignment,” said Laurie, but “when everyone is singing from the same song sheet, you can move very fast”.

Finally, the team remained grounded and focused on the tasks at hand. Even though they benefited greatly from the support of huge stars like Wickenheiser and Reynolds and were lauded publicly by politicians like Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau, the entire team “parked their egos at the door, rolled up their sleeves, and got the work done”.

The Conquer COVID-19 team recognized that they accomplished something remarkable during a remarkably challenging time and hope that their experience can inspire others to think big and act quickly in the face of a huge social problem like a global pandemic. So, one final achievement, perhaps even their legacy is a guide to grassroots mobilization that Laurie has written. The Conquer COVID-19 Playbook: How to mobilize a citizen response to a global pandemic has been made freely and publicly available. 

We at St. Paul’s are thrilled to know that Laurie was a key part of the Conquer COVID-19 movement and we hope her story will inspire other alumni and future students alike to think and act big in the face of serious social problems like COVID-19.

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Alumni Spotlight Archive

2020

Cameron Turner ('02)

Jason Panda ('01)

Sharleen Hoar ('93)

2019

AJ Wray ('18)

Sandra Baynes ('89)

Steve Patyk ('81)

2018

Alison Gibbs ('88)

2017

James Fraser ('94)

2016

Dana Decent ('13)

Jeff Bell ('90)

Bryan May ('00)

2015

William Nelson ('78)

Frank Mensink ('78)

2014

Victoria Alleyne ('12)

Taya Devlin ('14)

Bill Rosehart ('96, '97, '01)

2013

Barb Dabrowski ('79)

Bill Pristanski ('78)

 

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