NAIT celebrates inspiring alumni, industry partners and friends

Congratulations award winners!

COVID-19 may have put a halt on in-person awards ceremonies, but that isn’t stopping NAIT from celebrating the achievements of five inspiring alumni, a former board chair and one long-time industry partner.

Former board chair Brent Hesje, alumni Blaine MacMillan, Shane Chartrand, Michael Turcsanyi, Lasha Gust and Harold Larson, and industry partner Spartan Controls have been recognized with awards through “NAIT Celebrates.” The two-month campaign replaces in-person events with a series of stories and videos saluting the winners’ accomplishments.

The recipients represent a range of backgrounds and industries, but all are community builders in their own right. Here’s a look at those unique accomplishments and the impact on their communities.

Distinguished Friend of the Institute

Brent Hesje at Fountain TireBrent Hesje
CEO, Fountain Tire
Former chair, NAIT Board of Governors

Hesje has led Fountain Tire as CEO since 2005, overseeing the company’s expansive growth across Western Canada and Ontario. Hesje also chaired NAIT’s Board of Governors from 2008-12 and chaired the Essential fundraising campaign. He’s served on several other NAIT committees and championed the polytechnic through corporate and personal gifts.

“To lead with your head, your hands and your heart – that’s how we at Fountain Tire define leadership,” says Hesje, “and I learned some of that at NAIT. NAIT is a place that teaches leadership.”

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Distinguished Industry Partner

Spartan Controls president and CEO Grant WildeSpartan Controls

Spartan Controls first supported NAIT students with a single $250 scholarship in 1967, not long after the polytechnic first opened its doors.

Since then, the process control equipment company has funded numerous student awards, donated innovative technology and equipment, and was a driving force in creating NAIT’s Spartan Controls Centre for Instrumentation Technology, one of North America’s most advanced facilities of its kind.

“Our founders had their hearts and minds in the right place when it came to giving back to the community and supporting education,” says Grant Wilde, Spartan Controls’ president and CEO.

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Distinguished Alumni

Cowan Graphics owner Blaine McMillanBlaine MacMillan (Business Administration - Management ’79)
President and CEO, Cowan Graphics

Since getting his start as a 12-year-old working part time, MacMillan has built the family business, Cowan Graphics, into one of the largest graphics manufacturers in Canada. The company has worked with big-name brands from Coca-Cola to Sobey’s and their work has been seen at marquee events such as the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Super Bowl and the NHL Heritage Classic. They’re also active supporters of NAIT’s Graphic Communications program.

“It’s yesterday’s effort that determines today’s success,” says MacMillan. “I’d like to think I’ve attracted like-minded people to the business, and that I’ve treated them as peers, professionals, and an extension of my family.”

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Alumni Award of Excellence

Chef Shane ChartrandShane Chartrand (Cook ’04)
Chef and author of acclaimed cookbook tawâw

Chartrand has introduced Indigenous foods to the masses through his innovative cuisine at the recently closed SC Restaurant in River Cree Resort and Casino and his 2019 cookbook tawâw, co-written with Jennifer Cockrall-King.

Chartrand has also been featured on Food Network Canada shows such as Iron Chef Canada and Fridge Wars.

“He represents a new generation of food in Edmonton, and in Canada,” says Hong Chew (Cooking ’92), chair of the Culinary Arts program, who also nominated Chartrand for the award.

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Goose Digital CEO and owner Michael TurcsanyiMichael Turcsanyi (Network Engineering Technology ’00)
CEO and owner, Goose Digital

Turcsanyi has turned a childhood talent for figuring out new technologies into a string of entrepreneurial successes. He founded – and sold – his first company in his 20s. He built on that success founding e-commerce software platform OrderDynamics (which he also sold for a big payday) and most recently launched Goose Digital, a digital marketing startup.

“Mike has an energy and enthusiasm that you need in a startup,” says Kevin Butler, longtime colleague and Goose’s VP of strategy. “His ability to rally the troops and get you emotionally engaged is off the charts. It’s like stage presence: you either have it or you don’t.”

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Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award

Chef Lasha GustLasha Gust (Cook ’14; Culinary Arts ’15)
Chef, High Dough

Cooking in great-grandma’s kitchen was one of Gust’s first food memories. Since then, she’s made a name for herself in Edmonton’s culinary scene as chef de cuisine at Wishbone and, most recently, serving innovative Detroit-style pizza at High Dough. She’s been a source of inspiration for her fellow chefs and cooks and, in 2019, hosted Cook Like a Girl, which featured two-dozen female chefs and bartenders for a special charity dinner at Wishbone.

“She works her butt off,” says Brayden Kozak (Culinary Arts ’02), co-owner of Wishbone and High Dough. “More often than not, she’s seeing and accomplishing tasks without having to bring them to my attention until they’re already done.”

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firefighter Harold LarsonHarold Larson (Forest Technology ’13)
Wildland firefighter

Larson has been on the front lines of some of Canada’s biggest and hottest wildfires over the course of a 20-year career, including Fort McMurray in 2016, Slave Lake in 2011 and Australia in 2009. He wrote about his experiences Down Under in 2016’s Fire in the Eucalypts and has a second book in the works.

“The men and women that do that job, the amount of time and sacrifice involved, they are very tough-minded individuals,” says Larson. “It was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ll ever do in my life.”

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