From Bronze to Gold: Matilda Pinksen is Nunavut's golden girl!

In 2015, Matilda Pinksen of Iqaluit won silver in Graphic Design at the Territorial Skills Competition. Determined to see her succeed at the National Skills Competition, Matilda was entered into the Job Demonstration competition where she managed to churn out a brilliant presentation on logo design, using her knowledge of graphic design and earning her a bronze medal and a spot on the National Skills podium. In 2016, Matilda revamped her presentation and came back to win Nunavut's first Gold medal at the National Skills Competition in Moncton, NB. Here Matilda shares her golden journey and how other students can follow in her footsteps.

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How did you get involved with Skills Nunavut?

Skills Nunavut has always peaked in and out of my life. My elementary school, Nakasuk had taken my class a few times to Inuksuk High school to see the Skills Nunavut Territorial competition. I heard about Skills from family friends and some of my friends had competed in the Skills Nunavut Territorials for film. In grade 9 (2013), I joined the Inuksuk High School’s robotics team. That year, we designed and built a robot for the 2014 Skills Canada Competition. We went to Toronto and competed in the robotics competition. I was the spotter for team Nunavut. It was my first Skills Competition. I had a lot of fun in Toronto and with Team Nunavut. The ceremonies, the uniforms, the skills competitions were so exciting! As much I had fun with robotics, I knew it wasn’t my forte. However, I knew I wanted to be involved with Skills.

How did you become interested in Graphic Design? Did you know about it prior to Skills Nunavut?

I have always loved art and I wanted to purse it as an career. I played with the idea of being an animator for a while but I wasn’t sure. I knew that I wanted to learn about art and technology. In grade 10 (2014), it was the annual High School clubs and activities fair. Skills Nunavut had a booth and on it’s list of skills, Graphic Design was one of them. I signed up and I started going every Monday. The first few months were difficult and the concepts in Graphic Design were confusing to me but after a while and designing a few things that I liked, it got easier. Of course I am still learning but I know enough that I enjoy it and want to develop my skills more. I’m sure I knew about logos before but it didn’t occur to me how much work goes into them. There are so many things to consider when designing. Fonts, colour, visibility, simplicity, meaning, creativity, context and many more. I am more aware of them now and sometimes take pictures of menus, logos and fonts when I’m travelling. Nunavut Skills Graphic Design gave me the basic fundamentals to graphic design and I am forever thankful to have that opportunity.

You have competed in Robotics, Graphic Design and Job Demonstration at the territorial and national levels, what is it about competing that you enjoy?

I’m not actually sure but I always been in sport competitions for most of my life, for Judo and wrestling. I love competing and I think it’s the motivation and self- determination to do your best that I like. The adrenaline and rush when you step into the competing area and see all the people and competitors. It’s crazy and intense when you are in the midst of it but then you realize what you are there for and you just go for it.

Describe the Job Demonstration category in your own words.

Most people when they hear the competition Job Skill Demonstration, they are not sure what it is and put it off as boring or easy. However, that is not the case. It’s like any other skills competition. It has judges, rules, restrictions and an audience. However, creativity and freedom plays a huge role in it. It is challenging because it requires public speaking, quick thinking, practice and A competitor has fifty minutes to do an entire demonstration of any skill involved with Skills Canada. They have access to tables, outlets and a projector screen. So I will use my demonstration for example. I wanted to compete in Job skill demonstration and I was interested about Graphic design so I chose that as my “trade”. I had to take one aspect of Graphic design and show how to do it. I decided to show how to design a logo. I used videos, photos, text, fonts and made the presentation visually appealing. I presented the whole process of designing a logo from brainstorming to the finished result, a logo. In my presentation I explained some concepts in graphic design and offer resources such as websites and names of programs that I use when designing. In a nutshell, a Job Skill Demonstration is a presentation of taking one aspect from a trade and showing how it’s done. This can be done in countless ways and there are no limits. From anywhere to cooking an omelet to doing someone’s make-up. The demonstration should show the process from start to finish. By the end of it, the audience should have an idea of how to do that skill.

What did you do to turn a Bronze-presentation into a Gold-presentation?

In 2015, I went to Saskatoon for Skills Canada to compete in Job Skill Demonstration. I won Bronze that year. As pleased I was with my bronze, I was determined to come back and compete for gold. Now that I had competed in Job Skills and watched the other competitors, I knew what I was doing. The first thing was presentation style. In my first presentation I had made a video with pictures, titles and included the videos of me designing on illustrator. The pictures and titles were blurry and timed, they risked the danger of passing by before I was done talking about them. So I made a PowerPoint instead. I was able to play around with the colours, titles, and captions. I had an remote and went at my pace. The second thing was objects. The first time, I didn’t have any objects. Objects that the audience and judges could see and interact with. I printed my logo onto buttons, a hoodie, cooper plaque and a Judo Gi (it was a logo for a Judo club). I also made brochures to give to the judges and included a button. The third thing was my display. The first time all I had was my laptop and a sketch board. I wanted my display to be eye catching and impressive. The second time around, I had gotten an black table cloth, set up all of my objects, and arranged it so it looked nice. The fourth thing was practice. I practiced more for my 2nd presentation than the first one and asked for people’s advice. I would find different audiences to do my presentation for and would ask how I could improve it. The last thing was probably confidence. I had done it before and I knew I could do it better this time.

What do you hope to do after you finish high school?

After I am done school, I want to go an art college or university. I am not sure if I am going to study graphic design or illustration.  I see myself coming back to Iqaluit to work as an graphic designer/illustrator in the future but I am not sure.

What advice do you have for future competitors?

I know this is cheesy but have fun. It’s an amazing opportunity to be apart of and enjoy it. It doesn’t happen everyday so push your self to do the best you can during the competition. Have fun screaming at the ceremonies and rooting for your team. Meet new people from around Canada and find out what brought them there. Clap for other people when they win medals and scream crazily when your team mates run to the stage to get their medals. Enjoy the Skills and all the opportunities that it can bring you.

What is the most challenging aspect of competing that you had to overcome?

The most challenging part for me is probably my nerves and my confidence. I tend to get stressed easily and it’s a big weight on the shoulders to make a presentation for Nationals and make sure everything is good. Moments before I have to present, I am really red in the face and I’m really warm, it’s sort of nerve wracking. The only thing I could really do is go up and start. After I say my first words, it’s easy as pie.

What is it like to represent Nunavut in the south? What kinds of questions are you asked and do you feel like you have more to prove being from a northern territory?

Every time I represent Nunavut, I feel honoured and I love being a part Team Nunavut. Some of the best times I had was with Skills Nunavut were at the ceremonies or doing a team activity in a city that most of us haven’t been to. However, Nunavut is small and compared to other provinces/territories in Canada with tons of resources and more competition time, it can be a little intimating to us. People know about Nunavut but not a lot. They don’t know about the culture of Nunavut or why it separated from the Northwest Territories. The most common questions are “How cold does it get?” or “How many people live there?”  or “What is it like to live there?”. I think people from other provinces in Skills Canada kind of joke about how small our team is and knows that we don’t have many resources as them or competition time. So they tend to underestimate us and don’t think us as a challenge. But you know what, Nunavut has proven them wrong. We won the spirit award many times even though we are the smallest team, we had winners and competitors that gave them a good run. We are small but as we grow, we become more experienced and get better. Plus, Skills Nunavut is there to enjoy it and learn from the experience. I cannot wait for the day that Skills Nunavut sends someone to WorldSkills!

An Interview with Skills Nunavut Alumnus, Chef Colleen Neily

Colleen grew up in Iqaluit and attended Insuksuk High School where she joined an afterschool cooking club through Skills Nunavut. She went on to compete at the Territorial Skills Competition, winning Gold. She has represented Nunavut at National Skills Competitions in Calgary, AB and Charlottetown, PEI. She has since earned her Red Seal and currently teaches Culinary Arts at Portage College in Alberta. In 2016 she joined the Skills Canada National Technical Committee and was a judge at the National Skills Competition in Moncton, NB.

 Colleen Neily, Portage College

Colleen Neily, Portage College

What sparked your interest in cooking?

I get asked this question a lot – All in all I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cooking. I owe most of my interest to my momma. I always remember my mom cooking homemade meals from scratch. My mom always got me to help, even when I was little I used to be the potato masher; even to this day when I’m home for the holidays – I’m the only one who mashes the potatoes. Of all the celebrity chefs I’ve cooked and worked with, my mom is still the best cook I know.

Another thing I loved doing when I was a kid was decorating and garnishing the plates- Finding a way to make a pate look appealing was something I always had a knack for.

What is your fondest memory with Skills Nunavut?

This is a hard question – I have so many fond memories of Skills Nunavut. I would have to say one of my fondest memories of skills Nunavut is travelling to Prince Edward Island and competing at Nationals. While the team was in PEI, we all had our own trade competitions, but we still did a lot of activities as a team. I have made friends and professional contacts from across Canada, simply because I was part of Skills Nunavut.

In the past years I have been given a chance to repay my experience with skills; I was asked to return to Iqaluit and preform the role of Technical Chair for the Culinary component. This was a huge deal to me, a true honor. I was excited to come back to where I had grown up and be a part of something that was a huge part of my culinary experience; Skills Nunavut.

How has skills Nunavut helped you reach your current position?

Skills Nunavut has helped me so much in my career. If I hadn’t competed at Nationals in Charlottetown, I probably wouldn’t have attended the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island. I met instructors from the college who told me a little about the program offered at the college. I was able to see the kitchens that would later become my classrooms for two years, and eventually become my home for a couple more years.

Skills Nunavut has helped me reach my current position (at Portage College). When I first started with Skills, I had a great chef to learn from; smart and talented. I realized not too long ago that I want to help shape the future minds of our industry. Now I teach Culinary Arts, and I am currently involved with Skills Canada at the post-secondary level. I truly feel that everyone should have the opportunity to partake in a Skills program; it teaches you more than just your trade and it allows you to showcase your passion to others.

What advice do you have for young "chefs" just starting out in Nunavut about the challenges they may face?

Work hard, keep learning every day and never ever give up. People are going to question your career choice – but I simply reply with “cooking is an art; I am an artist”. Not everyone can do it. This career path is hard, demanding and ever-changing. This career choice is what I had dreamed of – being called a Chef. Being a chef comes with responsibility and consequences; but also produces pure gratification. Being a chef is hard – you can’t be a boss, you have to be a leader.

When you prepare a meal for someone and it impresses them beyond expectation that is a great feeling. The best thing about being a chef is that there is always work. You can travel the world and cook, learn new cultures and meet people who share the same passion as you do. The culinary industry is so large that there are so many possibilities.

One thing to leave you with is a quote I used to read every couple of days when I was going through culinary school – “be so good, they can’t ignore you” –Steve Martin.

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