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Nicole Zajac

Nicole Zajac [MBA/18]

Giving back to the community

Asper Alumna describes how she stays engaged and involved with her alma mater

March 28, 2022 — 

Nicole Zajac [MBA/18], Chief Financial Officer at Penner Oil, comes from a small town, a small family, and humble beginnings – according to her definition. She remembers when her greatest goal was to get an office job and buy her own car. As she progressed in her studies and learned where she fit, Zajac exceeded any expectations she ever imagined. She attributes this to her experience as a student at the University of Manitoba and an educational path that led her to the rewarding career she has now. Zajac said that it is for this reason that she maintains a strong connection to Asper.

“The reason I like to give back to UM, and that is a mantra my employees know very well, is that education is the one thing you can give to yourself that no one can take away,” said Zajac.

Zajac says that right now she gives the bulk of her volunteer time to Asper and the University of Manitoba, not only because she values education, but because of her own experience with extracurriculars while at Asper. She became involved with case competitions as an Asper MBA student in 2018 after enrolling the case competitions course.

Right after graduating, she jumped into volunteering and has been mentoring JDC West undergraduate teams for three years, partly because of the way that volunteerism makes her feel.

“Seeing young people and what they come up with gives me life,” said Zajac. “Working with students gives hope for the future.”

Zajac emphasized that the students are highly engaged and want to hear from professionals. “Knowing that there are people coming down the line who will be giving back to the business community, who are fully engaged, who work hard and are there to learn is rewarding.”

Zajac noted that the volunteer coaches not only get an opportunity to hear a different perspective because of the age difference, but also to gain insights that wouldn’t have come up within their own teams.

“You get a sense of excitement about what is coming down the line and that excitement is passed down to you and then you get back to work and to your personal life the next day with it,” said Zajac.

Not a lot of time is necessary for it to be a rewarding process, noted Zajac. Some of the case competition teams are just looking for a one-evening commitment – even a small contribution helps the teams.

“Experiential opportunities like case competitions are highly transformative” shares Judith Jayasuriya, Competition Advisor and Lead, Experiential Learning. “Students value the opportunity to work closely with our Asper community as the interaction provides a tremendous learning experience. Volunteers, like Nicole, make a meaningful difference and we are thankful they continue to stay involved with our school.”

Zajac has also volunteered with Athena Leadership (founded by Lindy Norris [BA/07, BComm(Hons)/09]), where she was the Vice-President for two years, and enjoyed her time in this group dedicated to elevating women’s leadership. Zajac also gives her time to different arts organizations. She said this works as a balance to the more regimented side of business, considering she works in a male dominated field that is still quite traditional. She finds that the arts use a different part of the brain, allowing her to develop problem-solving skills. With Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) she put on events to engage young people in ballet, and now as an engaged donor with the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), she will exhibit a floral installation at the beginning of April as part of the Art and Bloom event, once again trying to get people involved in art who wouldn’t have been otherwise.

From April 24 to 30, National Volunteer Week recognizes the inspiring people actively working to transform communities across the country. Asper School of Business is thankful to all tireless volunteers who work closely with faculty and staff to positively impact the lives of so many students.

If you are interested in volunteering for case competitions please email Judy [dot] Jayasuriya [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.

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