Archives for the month of: January, 2014

Emilie Cushman is a young entrepreneur, and the CEO of Kira talent. Named as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network, Emilie is very passionate about innovation and technology. I recently had the chance to speak with her about her life and career, and she shared some great advice for utmONErs who aspire to one day create their own businesses!

The idea of creating Kira Talent originated from a team-building exercise during The Next36’s National Selection Weekend in November 2011.

Emilie Cushman, then a senior at the University of Windsor and her teammates, came up with the idea of creating an interviewing platform that allows admissions officers or hiring managers to record video questions and send them to candidates through email or embed them in their online application process. Cushman says that they really started thinking about the power that videos can have in improving selection processes after their mentor, John Kelleher at The Next36 mentioned how slow and gruelling the process would be to hire interns for that upcoming summer. From this conversation, that was rather random in nature, Cushman and her team saw an opportunity to leverage technology to fix an all too common problem that HR people everywhere face on a daily basis. After presenting their idea and business plan to the stakeholders of the Next36, Cushman and her teammates were among the thirty-six students selected to receive up to $80,000 in venture capital, two CEO-level mentors and access to world-class educational faculty and leaders. The team spent the next few months researching and developing their idea and officially started to build their product in March of 2012.

Cushman, who has a Business Degree says that what she learned from within the four walls of her university mostly involved business fundamentals which are much more useful when working within large corporations. The young woman herself thought about working with companies such as L’Oreal Paris or KPMG when she first started her post-secondary education. Coming from a rather small and tight-knit community in Windsor, Ontario and seeing the downfall of the city’s automobile industry, Cushman never really saw entrepreneurship as an option. She says that living in a smaller city made it more difficult for her to have access to opportunities otherwise available in larger and more prominent cities such as networking events or entrepreneurship programs.

Cushman, who believes that networking is crucial in business, says that aspiring entrepreneurs should take every opportunity to speed up and grow their networks, even if some travelling is required. She says that networking has a “domino effect” and that once you start connecting with people, they tend to lead to other contacts. Cushman also believes in the positive impact that great mentors can have on young people.

The best advice that Cushman would give to aspiring entrepreneurs is to learn how to code so that they don’t have to rely on other people to start building their enterprise. Cushman believes that coding is similar to a foreign language in terms of the time and effort required to master it. She also asserts that the earlier utmONErs are introduced to those fields; the more likely they will be to seriously consider them as viable career options. According to Cushman, the three qualities that are essential for any entrepreneur are: focus, resiliency and curiosity. Cushman believes that successful entrepreneurs have a mindset that allows them to assist in the process of identifying problems and coming up with innovative and creative solutions to solve them.

These days, Cushman doesn’t have much free time. The energetic young woman says that a typical workday for her starts at 9:00 am and doesn’t end until 11:00 pm or 12:00 am. She says that at this epoch, work-life balance is literally non-existent but that she enjoys what she’s doing so much that it doesn’t actually feel like work. Kira Talent, which was just two people in August, has grown to a full team of fourteen with seven interns. Cushman says that they are actively recruiting new talent to join the booming new enterprise and that she expects the team to double within the next year. The company is also closing its next round of financing and Cushman says that she is proud of the fact that she and her team were able to take an idea and build it into a fast growing company. Cushman attributes her strength within to working towards the vision that she has for the company and being surrounded by a team of very motivated people who share her vision.



I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. Growing up, I loved the company of books much more than that of a televised screen. Even at the height of my teenage years when my friends were obsessed with Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, I fell into a world of confusion when listening to them speculate about the identity of “A” or whether Blair and Chuck would get back together. Then, last summer everything changed.

I went off to Alberta to take on a summer position and it didn’t take me very long to realize that there weren’t many sources of entertainment in the small town where I was going to spend the next three months.

Having lived in urban environments all my life, I found it somewhat amazing that one could walk from the northern part of town to the southern part in less than an hour. There wasn’t much to do except go to the pool place or to downtown bars. Since I don’t actually know how to play pool and I wasn’t legally able to drink, the only thing I could do in the evening and on rainy weekends (floods devastated entire communities in other parts of the province last summer) was watch TV. The only problem was that the choice of channels was VERY limited at the college where I had rented a room. I had three choices: the weather network, the shopping channel and a local news station.

That’s when I got hooked on TV series. In the space of about two months, my roommate and I probably watched every episode of The Big Bang Theory at least 20 times. We regularly planned season marathons of TBBT and often fell asleep to it. I think that the thing that attracted me most to this TV series was that I could somewhat relate to most of the main characters. I consider myself to be a rather socially awkward person, and it was reassuring to feel that I wasn’t alone in my awkwardness. It is also an incredibly funny and super entertaining show!

Olivia Pope

My most recent obsession is the TV show Scandal. Being a bit of a politics junkie, I love all the drama that revolves around The White House, and the script is so well written and has so many fascinating plot twists that it keeps its viewers coming back every week. Something that is very rare in TV, and that I find amazing, is that the main character Olivia Pope represents two groups that are vastly underrepresented in the media; women and minority groups. Rather than present another female character whose only goal is to get a guy, Pope is a strong, powerful and brilliant woman who is extremely good at her job as a “fixer”. I also have to admit that I am jealous of her wardrobe; I’m completely in love with everything Olivia Pope has worn so far…her taste in clothes is just flawless!

Now tell us: What T.V show has gotten YOU hooked?

Poonam Sandhu

Poonam Sandhu is the Youth Fellow for UNEP RONA (United Nations Environment Programme -Regional Office for North America) and is expanding a program called TunzaNA (find out more below) in North America through outreach within colleges and universities. Licensed as a Registered Nurse in Vancouver, Canada, and in Washington, DC she has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and recently completed a Master of Public Health at The George Washington University. Poonam has dedicated the last decade of her life to film, dance, and entertainment for youth and young adults in English, Punjabi and Hindi. Poonam is delighted to help young people “green-up” their campuses and their cities.

Estelle: What is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its mandate?

Poonam Sandhu: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established in 1972, is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system. UNEP acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.

UNEP work encompasses:

  • Assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends
  • Developing international and national environmental instruments
  • Strengthening institutions for the wise management of the environment

UNEP’s mission is to “provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations”. UNEP’s mandate is to “be the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, that promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimensions of sustainable development within the United Nations system and that serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment”. Find out more about UNEP’s work through their annual reports available here:

 EA: How did you come to your position at UNEP?

PS: I work for UNEP’s Regional Office for North America (RONA). In the spring of 2013, I met UNEP RONA staff at a conference and stayed in contact with them thereafter. Towards the end of my Master of Public Health degree I reached out to Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Head of Communications for UNEP RONA, who then kindly informed me of an upcoming fellowship opportunity. I applied for the position and was very thankful to have been selected as the Youth Fellow for UNEP RONA.

EA: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

PS: Luckily there is nothing typical about my job and that’s one of the things that I love! Our office hours are from 9am – 5pm every day and in those eight hours you can find me building website material, attending meetings, presenting videoconferences, researching, budgeting, mentoring interns or traveling to universities in the U.S. or Canada. Of course, all the while I stay connected to my emails and have to re-prioritize tasks as needed. One thing I never forget is to find time to step away from the computer and laugh out loud with my colleagues. Laughter and moderate level physical activity can make even a stressful day seem light and easy.

EA: What do you love most about your job?

PS: I love spending time with students and connecting their interests with UNEP’s incredible work. I do this by introducing the students to UNEP’s youth program titled, Tunza. Find out more about the global program here or the North American program here: Seeing the passion, drive and critical thinking that comes from students is amazing. Even more rewarding is bringing their ideas to regional and international platforms.

EA: What is the most challenging aspect of the work you do?

PS: Working for an international organization, I have learned that it takes time to achieve certain goals because certain processes need to take place in order to create change. Coming from a nursing background I am accustomed to meeting my patients’ needs as soon as possible to minimize their distress. It is quite different in the world of policy change and within a global organization. For example, even though people are already suffering from the impacts of climate change, there is no magical pill to administer that will correct the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. Lowering CO2 emissions is a matter of getting people and policy makers to understand the science of climate change and then empowering them to take actions that reduce CO2 emissions. All of this takes time, patience and persistence.

EA: Tell us a bit more about your educational background. What program(s) did you take and how did you find out about it?

PS: I started off earning a Bachelor of General Studies at Simon Fraser University (in British Columbia). Within this program I had the pleasure of dancing every day for my minor in Contemporary Dance, while learning the science of the body in motion through my extended minor in Kinesiology.  Right after SFU, I got accepted into the Langara College nursing program, where I compounded my understanding of the human body by learning about it in a diseased state. Nursing was the perfect progression because it taught me the art and science of healing the human body.While practicing as a Registered Nurse, I realized that health care practitioners are exposed to serious chemical and environmental hazards, which lead me to take courses in Disability Management and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). In addition, I realized that the health care industry itself was creating a mountain of garbage that was recyclable – but we weren’t recycling. Why I wondered? I also questioned how to prevent patients from arriving in the hospital in the first place. All of these inquiries lead to my latest degree, a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Environmental Health Science and Policy from The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

EA: What education and training should utmONErs who want to work within the field of environmental conservation think about for college or university?

PS: It is becoming more and more apparent that environmental conservation is no longer a stand-alone field. Sustainability must pervade all areas of work, thus learning the fundamentals of environmental science will help these young women bring the concepts of environmental conservation to any field. Many colleges and universities offer sustainability courses, minors or even degrees in environmental science – that’s a good start. The next step is to bolster the education with hands-on training. These young women could work in their local community gardens, volunteer for environmental groups or figure out how to reduce waste in their homes, schools or cities. The hands-on experience will teach them how to turn theory into action.

EA: How could UTM students get involved with UNEP’s programs?

PS: So glad you asked! As mentioned above, UNEP has a youth engagement program called Tunza ( The North American program, TunzaNA, unites youth from Canada and the U.S. on key issues. For 2014-15 TunzaNA is focusing on “youth driven policy change”. You can learn more about the program requirements through our website or by emailing us at

EA: What gives you your inner strength?

PS: Two things: 1 – I am an unwavering optimist. I really believe where there is a will, there is a way. Sometimes dreams don’t get fulfilled because we change our priorities, but as long as you place lots of will power behind your goal – anything is possible. 2 – My love for dance. I was probably wiggling and wriggling to a funky beat right after I was born. Dancing makes me smile from ear-to-ear and it brings me physical, mental and spiritual strength.  The inevitable truth of life is that one-day we will die. So while I am here on earth, fighting the good fight, I stay happy by dancing as often as I can.