Community building alumni and industry partners recognized with NAIT awards

Recipients include leaders in health care, mental health, entrepreneurship and supporters of the polytechnic

There’s no shortage of NAIT graduates and partners who put talent and resources toward strengthening their communities everyday.

Nominate outstanding alumni

Do you know a grad deserving of recognition? Nominate them for a NAIT Celebrates award! Tell us about their achievements and the work they do for the community so we might celebrate their efforts and share their story.

Each year, the polytechnic selects members of this group as outstanding representatives of those who make a difference, and recognizes them through NAIT Celebrates.

“Congratulations to each of them on receiving this well-deserved recognition,” says NAIT president and CEO, Laura Jo Gunter.

“We are honoured to call them friends of the NAIT community.”

Though they come from varied fields, NAIT Celebrates receipients share a common spirit of dedication and generosity.

Distinguished Friend of the Institute

nait grad ashif mawji, distinguished friend of the institute

Ashif Mawji (Computer Systems Technology '92), originally from Kenya, came from a family of people who created things.

His mother founded a Montessori school. His father worked for Honda, rising to the position of managing director of Africa for the company, and eventually went on to operate retail stores and hotels.

After attending NAIT, Mawji followed suit, founding a series of successful IT companies, including Upside Software, which he’d sell for millions.

Today, he balances business building with giving back. In 2017, he and his wife Zainul and their two children made a $1-million donation to establish the Mawji Centre for New Venture and Student Entrepreneurship at NAIT. It was the largest gift from a grad to date.

“We believe we have to give back,” says Mawji. "There’s always something to give back: money or time, or both."

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Distinguished Industry Partner

dow canada, distinguished industry partner

The decades-long relationship between NAIT and Dow Canada has evolved into a genuine partnership, with each helping the other reach its goals.

“Our partnership with NAIT has set the foundation for our workforce,” says Don Cameron, site director and vice-president, Dow Canada. Roughly 60% of the staff at the company’s Fort Saskatchewan site are grads.

That’s part of the reason Dow has given more than $2 million toward supporting students, and why its staff give time and expertise to program advisory committees, student engagement activities and research project support.

“Our partnership with NAIT is one we want to keep building on,” says Cameron. “Together, we can set the stage to include a new generation of students who will bring a diversity of perspectives to the workforce, and to the roles they will play in making the world a better place.”

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Distinguished Alumni

dallas schroeder, nait grad and respiratory therapist

Dallas Schroeder’s retirement in fall 2020 lasted about a week and a half. After roughly four decades of contributing to the advancement of respiratory therapy in Alberta, the battle against COVID-19 brought Schroeder (Respiratory Therapy '81) back.

As a member of the University of Alberta Hospital site command post, assisting and supporting the provincial COVID-19 response, she has leveraged her insight and knowledge during a trying time.

After a rewarding career, she feels compelled to give back to the profession in whatever ways she can, whether that’s through contributions she made as a past member of the Respiratory Therapy advisory committee, helping to shape the program or on the front lines of health care.

“I loved the challenge and intensity of intensive care,” says Schroeder. “I loved being able to treat someone who was critically ill and help them recover, to be able to go home.

“Right now I am not sure how long I will continue before retiring again.”

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Alumni Award of Excellence

rob jennings, nait marketing grad and president of fka agency

In the late 1990s, Rob Jennings (Business Administration – Marketing '98) wasn’t certain about the direction of his future, but he was open to possibilities. But after enrolling in business at NAIT, he found a passion: marketing.

This would come to compete with his passion for community building.

Over the course of a career that has led him to establish the successful FKA marketing agency, Jennings has partnered not just with some of Alberta’s largest companies but also with non-profits looking to improve communities.

“We believe that marketing can be a positive force for change,” says Jennings.

As a proud grad, he’s also a strong supporter of NAIT, participating as an industry panelist for the Marketing program’s annual Promo Awards, which recognize outstanding work in the Promotional Campaign Planning class. “It’s really meaningful for me to give back,” says Jennings.

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Alumni Award of Excellence

steven brochu, nait culinary arts grad, chef and owner at MilkCrate cafe

Steven Brochu (Culinary Arts ’06) knew by Grade 11 that cooking was his passion. Working in a kitchen that summer, he was immediately drawn in by the passion he saw in chefs.

“I wanted to be that excited about a mushroom!” Brochu says. 

Today Brochu is the chef and owner at MilkCrate café. But to make sure others in the industry have the opportunity to love it like he has, he’s become a champion of mental health.

“In our industry, mental health awareness and meaningful change to support mental health can be slow-moving,” says Brochu. He wanted to create meaningful change. This led him to take a mental health first aid course for managers. Soon after, he started MilkCrate Listens, an online mental health initiative.

Brochu and his staff take anonymous questions from industry members online and then get answers from leaders and mental health professionals, posting these as well – fulfilling a need in an industry at a time when it needs it most.

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Spirit of NAIT

mike oostenbrink, nait machinist grad and owner of exakt industries

“A lot of machinists have a dream to start their own shop at some point,” says Mike Oostenbrink (Machinist ’13). “It’s something I wanted to do, even as a student at NAIT.”

The pandemic wasn’t about to stop him. After incorporating in January of 2021, Exakt Industries was up and running by April as a full-service CNC machine shop. Oostenbrink placed an emphasis on not just quality, but efficiency and optimization.

It paid off, leading to Exakt’s first big break, winning a contract to build 10,000 components for a boat accessory, beating out companies from the United States and China.

The initial order has since been doubled, and Exakt has several repeat customers, keeping Oostenbrink busy – and grateful.

“Right now, I’m stressing about how much time there is in a day,” he says.

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Spirit of NAIT

erick estrada, nait management grad, entrepreneur and mental health advocate

Growing up in Mexico, Erick Estrada (Business Administration – Management ’18) began his career with the country’s military as an air weapons technician. After coming to NAIT in 2014, at first for English as a Second Language, he’d continue to find ways to contribute to the strength of a community.

From the start in his adopted home, Estrada was a strong supporter of those who’d come from abroad for a polytechnic education, helping them overcome challenges as he had, such as learning a new language and adapting to a new culture. As a member of students’ organizations, he also advocated for mental health initiatives.

Estrada has continued with such efforts in his career. As an entrepreneur, he is a partner in a firm that provides software for businesses started by immigrants. He is also operations coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association, and helped to transition operations online during the pandemic.

In the little free time he has, Estrada volunteers with the Alberta Community League and the Mexican Society of Edmonton.

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