ESTEVAN — March 8 is International Women's Day, and for the third year, Estevan Mercury along with the community celebrates local women, their achievements and their strengths by featuring their stories, doing our part in embracing equity.
This year's theme of the IWD is DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. The Mercury spoke to two inspiring local women who dedicate their talents, skills, time and energy to open up the borders of the world of computer science, technology and innovations to everyone, building a better Estevan.
Today we are sharing the story of Breanne Van De Woestyne.
Breanne Van De Woestyne
One might say that Breanne Van De Woestyne needs no introduction in Estevan.
A former director of St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation and co-founder of Impact Creative Digital Services, she has built an impressive career in the digital industry at an early age.
The Mercury spoke to Van De Woestyne about the background of her career, her dreams and the support system that inspired her to follow her dreams.
Born and raised in Estevan in a family of three girls, Van De Woestyne was growing up surrounded by a lot of relatives and good friends. She recalls her early childhood as a busy time, as she was always involved in many outdoor activities such as fishing and camping, as well as attending football games.
"We really liked spending time together as a family. And we also are huge Riders fans. So me and my mom, especially, we still go to football games to this day," Van De Woestyne recalled.
Since her early years, she was heavily involved in volunteering and sports, but the other part of her life was creativity, inclined towards the digital world. She said it was her time at the Estevan Comprehensive School when she discovered her passion for technology and where she could explore that side of her personality even further.
"When I was in Grade 9, I was very lucky to go to the Comp., where especially at that time they had a ton of opportunities for students that were really interested in the digital world of technology," Van De Woestyne recalled.
"I was lucky enough to have Mr. Wright [Brian Wright, the CPT teacher at the time] at the Comp. I was really involved with the regular classes with photography and video. But I was also able to go there before and after school hours to immerse myself further into that whole skill set. I was in the CPT room before school, during school and after school as much as they would allow me to be in there to learn all of the new programs and new techniques that we didn't have time to learn in class.
“So, having that opportunity at the Comp. was huge for me. It allowed me to actually know exactly what I wanted to do for post-secondary and my career prior to graduating high school … As a Grade 10 I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that was to pursue a career in digital marketing and communications."
However, it was her experience with the Estevan Mercury that helped her finalize her decision on her future career. Her first job in the digital industry was in her Grade 12 year when she was hired as a summer student with the Mercury.
"I was their little summer student that they hired to post on social media. And I also ran around with this massive camera on my shoulder to a bunch of community events. I went to the races, but then I also went to the play parks and different family events and captured moments and captured the people in my community for the news," Van De Woestyne shared.
She said people tried talking her out of a digital marketing career choice, but her experiences and her inner voice insisted on sticking to her passion.
"At the time pursuing something in digital marketing and digital communications was not the most popular career path. And so there were other people that second-guessed my decision. But having the opportunities with school and with working at the Mercury and having a full experience of what a career could look like was a huge determining factor for me, just solidifying the fact that that's what I want to do and I know that I will love it," Van De Woestyne said.
Right out of high school, Van De Woestyne got into the new media communications program at Sask. Polytechnic, learning everything from the basics of computers and different programs to animation, video games creation, video production, photography, website design and coding. At the same time, she took public relations at the University of Regina.
"I was able to stay close to home and still learn a lot about the different strands of technology; it's such a huge industry to be a part of. And with being in Saskatchewan, I actually got a ton of really unique opportunities throughout school before I even pursued a career."
Right out of school, she was "lucky enough" to get one of her dream jobs – a marketing co-ordinatior and in-house photographer position at Evraz Place. She worked with major brands across North America as well as with Live Nation, assisting with marketing for their events and also taking photos and capturing concerts and sporting events.
But after three years, she knew she was ready to come home, as she always wanted to gain the experience to then bring it back to Estevan. For the next three years, she took on the position of executive director of the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation.
"That was something that was really special to me. I was actually able to intern there while I was in post-secondary education. I worked with Becky Cassidy there for a three-month period. And to see the impact that the foundation has on our community and local health care, but also, the community support that we get in Estevan that is unmatched anywhere else, in my opinion, and to be able to be a part of that for three years was amazing," Van De Woestyne said.
"I met so many great people. I learned so much more about my home community coming back after six years. And I was also able to really develop some of the digital aspects of their organization with their online donation form and online store, online registrations and further their branding throughout the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. So, it was a huge opportunity for me to come back and have such an amazing and fulfilling job."
But coming from an entrepreneurial family, Van De Woestyne has always known she wanted to be a business owner herself one day. So after three years with the foundation, Van De Woestyne and her sister Kaitlyn, with help from the rest of the family, opened Impact Creative Digital Services, a media production and branding agency focused on working with southern Saskatchewan businesses and non-profits.
"I'm loving every minute of it, working with so many different community organizations and businesses in Saskatchewan has been incredible. And I'm very lucky to be able to do this as a full-time job. It's something that lots of people can work every day towards, and to be able to say that I can do it under the age of 30 is incredible."
Every stage of her education and career allowed Van De Woestyne to explore different sides of the digital world, just to further fall in love with it.
"Something I love about the digital world is it's always changing. You can never master one thing without something else coming out and having to learn more about that. So, I'm constantly learning," Van De Woestyne said.
She also noted that, in her experience, the digital field, which is still new in general, and especially for southeast Saskatchewan, has been "very accepting."
"It's very new, and I think that it's very accepting as well. People come from all over the place with different backgrounds for this kind of industry. And I think that that's special.
"But the one thing I will say is, the community and the woman community in southeast Saskatchewan is so supportive. I feel so empowered to be a part of some incredible women that are working every day, whether it's for their job or for community organizations, or donating their time, I've always felt just empowered to be a woman, whether it's in the digital industry, or not, just being a woman in southeast Saskatchewan is special to me.
“And I have so many people that I've always looked up to that are women here, in the tech industry and outside of that industry, and so just to be a part of that and be a woman in this day and age and have a fulfilling a career ... is truly special. And I think that it's really neat to see how far gender equality is."
Van De Woestyne also encouraged people to follow their dreams, find what they are really passionate about, no matter what industry it is, and then work hard to pursue the career of their choice. She added that the best way to progress in the digital world, and probably any other industry, is to learn from others, who are passionate about what they do.
"Digital careers can be a little daunting because ... they're still not your go-to career path. And so if you're second guessing that, I would suggest to just reach out to somebody else like myself. I'm always open to anyone that would want to ask questions … I really struggled with confidence in high school and the beginning of university.
“But then once I was able to experience a new world in Regina and meet people that were interested in the same things as me with digital careers and education, I was really able to find myself and just really gain that experience and confidence with my work that also helps with my own personal confidence."