The U of L inside government
A look at several University alumni who now contribute to the inner workings of our government
Inspired by the experiences, travels and success stories of several University of Lethbridge alumni working in Ottawa, as well as the guidance of several University faculty and staff, Melvin Wong (BA ’78), assistant deputy minister of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, embarked on a lifelong career in civil service.
“Originally, I thought of becoming a chartered accountant, then I had an ‘a-ha’ moment when I spoke with a counselor. She helped me find out what career opportunities I would have with an economics degree. That’s when I decided to go into public service,” explains Wong.
Wong’s first experience with government began in his third year with the economics club.
“I went to a club meeting and someone nominated me for president. It drew me into the administration of the economics department. I learned about the administration and culture of academia, and how universities run. That helps me in my current job because I deal with the universities and colleges throughout Alberta.”
Wong has been working in government since his graduation in 1978. He worked in Ottawa initially, as well as at the departments of tourism and small business, economic development, innovation and science and advanced education and technology in Alberta. He travels extensively and has years of senior management and business development experience. He taught economics, international business and marketing, and multinational finance at several post-secondary institutions.
“I chose a life in government because you can work in so many areas and be exposed to so many things,” says Wong. “It keeps life really interesting. I am pretty happy right now.”
Graduating from high school, Greg Weadick (BASc ’76), Lethbridge West MLA and parliamentary assistant to the minister of advanced education and technology (PA), spent a year working construction before realizing that he wanted to get an education.
“I started at the University of Lethbridge in pre-med and later decided to complete my degree in biology. The University was quite small and everybody knew each other. We often played bridge in the hallway, had coffee with professors and fellow students in the cafeteria or attended cabarets in the evenings. It was quite collegial,” remembers Weadick. “I think one of the important things I got from attending the University was that I learned to question everything and come up with answers for myself, not just accept other people’s opinions. Perhaps the most important things I gained from attending the University, however, were the relationships I built, relationships with staff, professors and students because those were the people in my community.”
Weadick certainly understands community. He is a local businessperson and has spent several years doing environmental work for two local engineering firms. He also served on Lethbridge City Council from 1991-2001, and was the founding president of both Fifth on Fifth Youth Services and the Dragon Boat Festival.
In 2008, Weadick was elected MLA and served as the Chair of the cabinet policy committee on the economy before being appointed to his current position as PA in January this year.
“My goal is to represent the citizens of Lethbridge in Edmonton and make sure that our people are well represented,” says Weadick.
As executive assistant to the Leader of the Alberta Liberal Caucus, Brendan Wade (BA ’10) is on a voyage of self-discovery – a journey he began while working towards his bachelor of arts in political science and history at the University of Lethbridge.
Growing up in Vulcan, Wade spent many hours helping at school and community events and developing an important sense of community. With its smaller campus and close proximity to home, the U of L felt like a perfect fit for Wade.
“I can’t say enough good things about my campus experience. I got involved with several clubs. I was the founding president of the food and beverage club, which is still going strong and helping make the university experience great for other students,” says Wade. “I found that my professors at the University demanded a fair amount of work and that was a good thing. I still connect with some of my profs because I welcome and value their advice and input. Working in partisan politics like I do, I really appreciate the skills I learned at the University, one of those being the ability to look at issues from all sides.”
Such critical thinking skills are a vital asset to him in his job as he does everything from preparing briefs and face books to chauffeuring and scheduling appointments for the opposition leader.
“This job is a great learning opportunity. It has helped me cement some of my beliefs and call others into question,” says Wade. “As I continue to learn and grow I know I am developing valuable skills that will help me in the future.”
Following his father’s footsteps, Mike Simpson (BA ’00), executive assistant for the solicitor general and minister of public security, intended to become a lawyer when he started a political science degree at the University of Lethbridge. Taking a drama class in his second year changed his mind.
“I knew after that class that I did not want to go into law. I played in a band with my cousin. I acted in plays. I changed to a double major and figured I would go into fine arts after I graduated,” recalls Simpson. “In my third year I got involved in student politics. I was the fine arts representative on the students’ union. In 1999, I ran for students’ union vice-president internal affairs and won. It was pretty interesting. University was great for preparing me to do work. Learning to write monologues helped me write speeches. Learning the theories and processes in political science and learning how to research have all benefited me.”
In 2001, Simpson’s music career was literally leaving him hungry. Simpson began volunteering for the PC Constituency Association; after all, they had food. With a full stomach, Simpson caught the political bug and soon worked his way up the political ladder from research officer to his current position as executive assistant.
“My job is to help the solicitor general do his part to keep the government moving in the right direction,” says Simpson. “I am happy doing quiet change. It might be behind the scenes, where nobody else recognizes, but I know that I have made a difference.”
For Warren Chandler (BA ’01), executive assistant to the minister of transportation, attending the University of Lethbridge was more than the next step on his life’s journey; it was an investment in a future he could not wait to begin.
“I always assumed I would go to university, and the U of L was always my number one choice of schools. My dad and uncle went there and I looked forward to going there,” says Chandler. “I enjoyed the small classes, the academic challenges. My professors were always pushing us to think outside the box and think critically. In class one day, Dr. Paul Viminitz declared he was a feminist and I think he offended most of the women in class, but on further analysis, he was able to back up his claim. He taught me to back up what I say and to think critically.”
Critical thinking and the ability to deal with stress and pressure and to write and communicate clearly are skills that Chandler honed at the University – skills that are vital to his success in the political world. He began working in an introductory research role at the legislature in the fall of 2001. Since then, Chandler has steadily moved up the ranks to his current position.
“I do anything and everything that the minister needs in order to conduct his daily duties,” explains Chandler. “It can be extremely stressful, but it is very exciting and I am very happy where I am.”