People of Georgian: Top 5 inspiring stories of 2023

The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we shared many of them this year in our ongoing series.

Here’s a look at our Top 5 most-read People of Georgian stories from 2023.

5. People of Georgian: Meet John Wilcox

The late John Wilcox was a part-time instructor in Georgian’s Pre-service Firefighter Education and Training program. Sadly, he died in November after a courageous battle with cancer. We feel privileged to have been able to share his passion for firefighting and dedication to his students.

A person wearing a firefighter's uniform walks across a parking lot.

A new student award, the John Wilcox Auto Extrication Award, was named after John this past summer for his years of dedicated instruction at the college. He was also an alumnus of Georgian’s former Air Traffic Control program.

I was working as a mail carrier in Thornhill when I got a phone call that my sister was killed in a car accident.

That really got me into the idea of firefighting as a career, with a particular interest in vehicle rescue. She didn’t survive, but I figured something I could do is help save other people’s lives and be the best I could be at vehicle rescue.

One day, I was reading a newspaper and saw an ad for volunteer firefighters in the area, so I applied and started my career from there.

Being a firefighter is the best job in the world. It’s the best thing I ever did.

4. People of Georgian: Meet Debora

Debora Opoku-Mulder is a manager at Georgian’s Centre for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, as well as being a registered psychotherapist.

A person with their hair pulled back, wearing gold hoop earrings and an orange dress, smiles and sits on a white chair.

She shared how her psychotherapy practice changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when attention was growing around the treatment of racialized people, with movements like Black Lives Matter, and how her children are a driving force for her work.

People of colour would request to see me because, as another person of colour, I identify with them.

I began hearing stories of racism and stories of being marginalized, and that’s when I really started thinking, “My work can really take a new direction here.”

There is depression, anxiety and all these other mental health issues. But when it comes to the Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) community, they are particularly being triggered and marginalized because of the colour of their skin, who there are, their sexuality, their race – and a lot of that came up in counselling sessions. I was really helping them deal with the trauma associated with these things.

I really love doing that work and seeing the look on people’s faces when they learn something significant and meaningful.

3. People of Georgian: Meet Monica Loney

Monica Loney is an alumna of two Georgian programs: Police Foundations (class of 2012) at the Orillia Campus and Human Resources Management (class of 2014) at the Barrie Campus. She is also one of the artists behind a well-known strawberry heart mural in downtown Barrie.

A person stands outside in front of a strawberry mural on a black wall.

Monica shared with us her love of public art and her round-about journey to finding the right career path.

I moved to Vancouver and worked at a holistic nutrition college. The students would tell me about their own journeys and how they were taking a different path in modern medicine. Their passion was inspiring. I was like, ‘Man, I have so many things I want to do but I took the safe route.’

So, I sold everything I had and went travelling for a year around Australia and Spain. I embraced the fear and just went for it.

That really got me back to art and travel and people, and it got me thinking about how I can help people by doing something I’m passionate about.

2. People of Georgian: Meet Jason Kerr

Jason Kerr is a 15-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, as an avionics technician and flight engineer, and a part-time coordinator, military-connected college at Georgian.

Two people in aviation gear take a selfie inside a helicopter with the back open.

We spoke with Jason about his around-the-world military experiences, what he learned, and what advice he would give someone interested in joining the military.

During my time in the air force, I learned to trust the process, whether it comes to life or fixing aircraft. I’ve also learned that life is very fragile.

There are a lot of things in Canada that we take for granted. I’ve seen the worst of places and now realize how good we have it here. When grocery shopping, for example, you realize you’re buying junk food and someone out there has no food. So, I try to buy an extra bag of food for the food bank.

If you join the military, keep track of your mental health, too. Don’t let poor mental health sneak up on you because that happens. A lot of people put mission above self. It happened to me for sure. I was in the air force for 15 years and it took me 17 years to get help.

It is a rewarding career with its ups and downs – bad aircraft pun not intended.

1.People of Georgian: Meet Prerna Sharma

Prerna Sharma is an alumna of Georgian’s Big Data Analytics program (class of 2020) and the Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Orillia.

A person with long, brown hair and pink dress shirt smiles while standing outside against a wall of windows.

She shared how the key to her success has been through being open to new experiences, and she encouraged students to get out of their comfort zones to try something new.

What I’ve learned so far in life is to always show up and the rest follows.

It could be something as simple as asking your professor for an opportunity. “Professor, is there a project you’re working on I can assist you with?” Don’t be laid back. Just show up and success will follow you.

In most cases, I think students are scared to show up, especially at networking events. “What will the consequences be? I might make a fool of myself.” Don’t be worried about that. If you show up and make mistakes, it’ll be a learning experience for you, and that is better than not showing up and not knowing what could have happened.

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