Lab tech uncorks new career in wine industry

Heather Bouwhuis has spent the past four years juggling her studies, raising a family and working a full-time job — all while commuting more than two hours each way from her home in Pickering for every lecture, lab and test at Brock University.

Every moment spent braving traffic and hitting the books was worth it for the 57-year-old wife and mother-of-two, who came to Brock to pursue a second career after decades working as a medical laboratory technologist at a Toronto hospital.

It was in the fall of 2013, after deciding a career change was needed, that Bouwhuis enrolled in Brock’s Certificate in Grape and Wine Technology program, offered through the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

All her hard work will pay off Friday, Oct. 13, when Bouwhuis walks across the stage at Brock’s Fall Convocation ready to retire from her lab position to pursue her second career in the wine industry.

“The fall of 2017 seemed like a long way off when I started back in 2013,” she said. “But one-by-one I checked off all the tests, checked off all the courses and eventually, I got here.”

Bouwhuis slowly plugged away at her course requirements, taking one class per semester for four years. While she was fortunate to have support from her colleagues and family, she said it was challenging taking a vacation day every time she had a lecture or a lab, spending nights in St. Catharines when she had back-to-back classes, and grinding through Toronto traffic to get to campus.

“I’m blessed that I’m healthy and have a lot of energy,” she said with a laugh. “But I didn’t ever question ‘can I do this?’ I always said, ‘I can do this, if I do A, B and C.’ I always framed the statement in a positive way.”

The self-proclaimed foodie and Taekwondo black belt said the sacrifice was worth it, and that her time at Brock has well prepared her for the wine world she is keen to enter.

“Brock has been fantastic as an educational environment,” she said, while expressing appreciation for the program’s flexibility. “Everyone is very supportive, from the teaching assistants to the professors to the lab advisers — everybody has been just amazing.”

Bouwhuis’ post-secondary experience was a little different this time around than when she first secured her Bachelor of Science from University of Toronto in 1982 and her Medical Laboratory Technology diploma from Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences in 1984.

Her Brock studies meant learning to complete her assignments online and access articles digitally rather than combing through the library stacks. It also meant embracing the lessons that came along with studying alongside her young peers.

“It’s great to keep learning and to learn from the younger students, it really energizes you,” Bouwhuis said. “There are some brilliant young adults coming through the OEVI program.”

After Convocation, Bouwhuis plans to take a well-deserved holiday with her husband before looking for part-time jobs in the Prince Edward County wine industry.

“My husband is already retired and I didn’t want to go from one full-time job to another full-time job,” she said.

Although he took on “a lot of the slack at home” during her studies, Bouwhuis said her husband understands the demands of post-secondary education well because he too is a lifelong learner who is currently taking courses.

Bouwhuis’ offered sound advice to anyone looking to hit the books while balancing a full-time job and family obligations.

“Take advantage of all the resources that you can and pace yourself,” she said. “It’s all about taking baby steps and you’ll get through it, one step at a time.”

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