Experiential education key to Oenology and Viticulture grad’s success

Katrina Kastelic is used to doing things a little differently. From finishing her degree during a pandemic to having Spring Convocation in a new, online format, the soon-to-be Brock University graduate is taking it all in stride.

“Although it’s definitely not the same as being at Convocation amongst other graduates, it feels really nice to still be recognized for my accomplishments at Brock,” says Kastelic, who will receive her bachelor of science in Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) as part of the University’s first-ever Virtual Convocation.

Celebrating virtually makes the logistics of attending easier, too.

Kastelic is currently self-isolating after spending the past six months working at a winery in Central Otago, New Zealand. She was overseas when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and recently returned to her hometown of Erin, Ont., where she’s now abiding by the two-week quarantine protocol in place for travellers.

The 24-year-old didn’t follow the traditional linear path to earning her degree, either. Beginning her studies in 2014, Kastelic made it a priority to gain as much real-world work experience as she could to complement her in-class learning. After finishing her first co-op term at a Prince Edward County winery, she decided to immediately extend it for another four months so she could experience a full season of vineyard and winery operations.

After that, she came back to Brock to complete her next year of study and final co-op term as a research assistant at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). The next winter, Kastelic decided to take a year off to work at a winery in Beamsville before returning to finish the rest of her degree.

“I chose to do the degree program a little off-path from the regular layout, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she said. “I was able to take a break from studies while gaining some hands-on experience outside school, and every year I had classes with new and interesting students because of the way I did the degree.”

Faculty of Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed commends Katrina for her perseverance in completing her non-linear path to graduation.

“There are many ways to earn a quality education and taking time out to gain real-world experience proves to be a viable and valuable experience for many students,” he says.

OEVI students are required to complete three co-op terms during their degree, which Cara Krezek, Director, Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, says provides students with a well-rounded education and an edge in the post-graduation job search.

“The opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in their field, and then take those learnings to be able to grow and understand their path, is at the core of why we do what we do in experiential learning and career development,” says Krezek. “In the OEVI program, the only one of its kind in Canada, having the students do co-op work experiences is key to their development in the classroom, in the industry and in their individual lives.”

Working closely with researchers at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) also allowed Kastelic to apply her education to projects that are positively impacting the local grape and wine industry.

“It was a really cool learning experience where I was involved with a relevant topic of viticulture and given the lead on the organization and planning of the preliminary steps to a research project,” Kastelic says.

She was also able to work and study alongside a wide range of people that she says enriched her university experience both on and off campus.

“I believe those relationships played an important part in helping me graduate both in terms of support and inspiration,” she says. “My peers that made school not feel like school but more of a community, my TAs who helped me navigate the system and supported me in my most anxious moments, my professors who exposed me to new and interesting ideas, and lastly, my co-op relationships that began the integral role of networking in the beginning of my career.”

Kastelic plans to head west to work at a winery in Kelowna, B.C. for the upcoming harvest this fall, and is looking forward to the career opportunities to come.

“I’m definitely feeling excited and nervous at the same time as I’m trying to figure out where I fit best in the industry and where I see myself in the future,” she says of her post-Brock career path. “There’s so much to look forward to.”

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