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Assiniboine grad’s job is to party… sort of

Assiniboine grad’s job is to party… sort of

Written On: 30 July, 2018
Category: Alumni MICA Student Spotlight
Related programs:  Hotel and Restaurant Management

Hotel & Restaurant Management graduate Shonah Rathwell earns a living creating memorable experiences for others

Shonah Rathwell has the kind of career many millennials dream about. She lives and works as an events coordinator in the picturesque resort town of Wasagaming, within Riding Mountain National Park. Commonly referred to as Clear Lake, the location is a popular summer destination—and blossoming winter attraction—for many in the region, attracting tourists from across the province, Canada and abroad.

She spends her days planning and carrying out events both big and small. From casual weekly live music and trivia nights to 250-plus ticketed soirées where food and spirits shine, she aims to make each one a unique experience for guests. 

“No two days are the same,” says Shonah, who started in June 2017 with Lake House Properties, just days before attending her college graduation ceremony where she was valedictorian. Shonah graduated from Assiniboine’s two-year Hotel & Restaurant Management (H&RM) diploma program.

At the age of 21, Shonah’s success is a testament to her work ethic, creativity and personal drive. She recently received the Aspiring Youth Award as part of Travel Manitoba’s 2018 Tourism Awards.

Originally from Ninette, Man., Shonah had previous hospitality and tourism experience under her belt working in Brandon, Man. where she was an assistant banquet manager at a large hotel.

“I had never been up here [to Clear Lake] until my interview. I came in and left and didn’t know what this place was. Now I live here year-round,” she says.

So what kind of employer takes a chance hiring a then 19-year-old when they’re getting applicants with decades of experience? Karly McRae and her husband, Jason, own and operate Lake House Properties, a collection of successful hospitality and resort properties clustered within Clear Lake.

Karly knew she needed to hire a full-time events coordinator to help grow the business to a thriving year-round operation. She needed someone energetic, keen to learn, and ready to take on new challenges.

She knew pretty quickly that Shonah was something special.

“Having someone fresh and new with a ton of energy and that ability to problem-solve has worked out well,” she says.

Shonah is in good company with other Assiniboine alumni. Among more than 90 casual, part- and full-time employees, Karly and Jason employ more than a half dozen Culinary Arts and H&RM graduates from Assiniboine. Some are full-time, like head chef Melissa Berry (’09 Culinary Arts), who creates seasonal menus to complement the seasons of the region.

Others, such as Meagan Numrich (’17 H&RM) and first-year H&RM student Cassidy Gordon, are spending their summer months on Shonah’s events team gaining valuable industry experience.

“The thing I’ve noticed about the grads from ACC is that they’re all trained to a certain standard and they all have a certain level of knowledge. They are always presenting us with great ideas. I think it’s so cool because I try to foster that and they’re already doing that on their own,” she adds.

“My hiring philosophy now is ACC students and farm kids,” Karly jokes. “They’re hardworking. They work their butts off.”

Igloo at NYE party. Photo credit Austin McKay.

“I think the business aspect of the program helped a lot more than I thought it was going to,” says Shonah. “I learned a lot on the job, but the business classes helped me prepare for that. I wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff I do without the Excel class,” she says.

For Shonah, it’s hard to settle on one thing that she loves most about her career. 

“Things are always happening; things are always changing. I’m not doing the same events every day,” she says. “The biggest satisfaction is putting on a well-run event and hearing that from guests.

“It’s the best of both worlds. In the summer, it’s busy like a city, and in the winter, it’s like living in small-town Manitoba with cool things happening. It’s a wonderland,” she says.

For this past New Year’s Eve party, she says she “convinced Karly to buy a 30-foot inflatable igloo.”

“That was pretty cool,” she chuckles. “And it was -50°C, and we had an ice bar and ice luge. And we had 250 people.”

“I do like to throw a good party,” Shonah jokes. 

Photo credit Austin McKay