St. Mary’s University Alumni, Isaac Bignell, may have studied Liberal Arts at St. Mary’s University – but his career path took him down a path that was ‘feta’ than he could have ever dreamed as a cheese shop owner! During his time at StMU, Isaac explained that he loved the variety of courses offered in his degree program and particularly enjoyed studying art history, classical studies, Latin, and linguistics classes which sparked some new interests.
While at StMU, Isaac loved how connected everyone was on campus. He reflects on how close the student body was, whether it was professors, friends, or admin. “Someone was always down to grab a coffee before class and start a conversation,” he says. “It’s a great campus to be a part of; the relationships will be with me for life.”
St. Mary’s tight-knit campus community proved to be an excellent fit for Isaac because of the many available activities. “It was completely community-driven; you were encouraged to be part of clubs, join in on student events, and in my last year, I even joined the track team,” says Isaac. “I enjoyed all these extra activities; they made going to campus not a tedious chore but something that was a highlight many days.”
One of Isaac’s personal highlights from St. Mary’s was the Dungeons and Dragons club. As a founding member, Isaac helped D&D become one of the most popular clubs on campus – an honour it still holds today! He is still in contact and plays actively with the original members. “Some of my favorite memories are with those folks, we always had the best times, and the running jokes and laughs to this day still amaze me,” remarks Isaac.
Throughout his studies, Isaac faced ongoing challenges in learning how to read and write properly. “I always struggled (and still do) with these obstacles, so my first year was a wake-up call. I read 100+ pages a week, digested it and then took that information and started writing. It was a lot!” says Isaac.
But with great and helpful professors and class after class, he slowly progressed and now has a strong grasp on these literacy skills that eluded him for so long. “I’m still not perfect or a pro by any means, but it was great to get a shot at a smaller place like St. Mary’s where I could sit down with my professors and chat about what I was struggling with. I never felt like a face in a crowd,” adds Isaac.
Leveraging the variety of skills he gained over the course of his time at StMU, Isaac recently took a leap of faith and purchased his own small business. He is now the proud owner of a small specialty cheese shop called Say Cheese Fromagerie that is located in the Crossroads Farmers Market. He loves his unique career path and can’t wait to see what the future will hold!
“Although like any job it has its rough moments and challenges, it’s still a constant treat and pleasure to go to work. I make my hours and can create something that is beginning to build quite a following for specialty food stores in Calgary,” he explains.
Isaac believes the hard transferable skills that a liberal arts institution like St. Mary’s instills in its students has paid off big time for his career. “These beyond subject attributes that St. Mary’s teaches allows students to be successful in any field they choose,” he says. “StMU graduates have a critical mind that is always trying to improve the situation around them, and this is highly sought after in any field, especially for an entrepreneur.”
Two essential skills Isaac gained at StMU were public speaking and delegating. He used to find it scary to get up and speak to a class, so much so that he never wanted to talk – but eventually, he learned to genuinely enjoy presenting in class. “This development of confidence gives you a voice, which is important when in a group setting or hosting an event. People gravitate to what you are saying so you can be heard clearly,” he says.
The second critical skill he is grateful to have developed at StMU was learning to work and thrive in a group setting. He found St. Mary’s empowered group activities in many classes and now feels that it pays out dividends as a business owner. “I can step away from activities that I am not good at and assign them to my employees without fear. I know they are capable and have the skills to do the task, and it takes the pressure off me to work on projects that I excel on,” Isaac says. “I can see in other entrepreneurs that this skill is viable, as the best employers use it to get the best out of their people.”
Isaac also learned at StMU how to prioritize the most important things in life, and that our time is too short to put all our eggs (or cheese!) in one basket. “You can have a great time and still work hard for what you want to accomplish. You can still have an active social life while doing things that you love and still rock your career,” he adds.
But his biggest takeaway from StMU was to always treat others with kindness, and to spread happiness and joy, no matter how terrible you feel or what kind of day you are having. “Be kind to others even if the world is not on your side that day or you feel hopeless; they might return your kindness when you need it most,” he explains.