UM Alumni Today
Alumni can make a difference in the lives of students and our community with a seat on the Board of Governors – nominations are now open
Rennie Zegalski didn’t plan on spending nine years around the University of Manitoba’s Board of Governors table. Now, after three, three-year terms he’s stepping down.
With the end of Zegalski’s term, a seat on the U of M’s Board of Governors is open for an alumni representative and nominations are currently being accepted.“I am a little bit sad,” says Zegalski. “After you do something for so long it’s hard to leave.”
Zegalski graduated from the U of M in 1995 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Back then it was simply known as the Faculty of Management, but it already had a reputation as a high-calibre business program among other Canadian business schools.
Students of the faculty were encouraged to participate in conferences and business competitions. Zegalski remembers these Canada-wide events as one of the highlights of his time at the U of M and was part of the first group that went to the Undergraduate Business Games (UBG).
“One of my best experiences was travelling, representing the university and competing at every level,” says Zegalski. “We ended up winning the spirit award and these schools that didn’t think the U of M existed as a business school, they saw our group had great energy, they could tell were smart and were a lot of fun to be with, I think we really surprised a lot of people.”
Zegalski was also highly involved in student governance, ranging from faculty associations to the University of Manitoba Students’ Union. This engagement foreshadowed his ethos and participation in boards throughout his career. In addition to wrapping up his role as finance chair on the U of M’s Board of Governors, Zegalski is also currently vice president of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, past chair of the Winnipeg Convention Centre; past-chairperson of the West End Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone and past-president of the University of Manitoba Alumni Association.
In the early 2000s, just five or six years after graduating, Zegalski became involved in the U of M’s Alumni Association, eventually becoming president. He says that experience gave him behind-the-scene insight, which sparked his involvement with the university’s Board of Governors.
“That was a great experience because you get invited to the yearlong activities of the university. You really get a front row seat to seeing all that the university is involved in,” says Zegalski.
As Zegalski finishes his third, three-year term, he now has time to reflect on what his time on the board of governors has meant to him.
“I enjoyed the first three years, which was a real learning experience to understand the governance and what the board does. The next three years I dug in a little deeper and the last three years I served as chair of finance, served on the executive and took on a more senior role,” says Zegalski.
As a principal and founding member of Capital Commercial Real Estate Services Inc., Zegalski was particularly interested in the development of Investors Group Field, ARTlab, the Active Living Centre and the Southwood Lands.
“The Southwood Lands for example, was starting at the ground level. This was 100 acres of a blank slate and could have huge impact for the university and the future of the U of M,” says Zegalski. “Through my nine years of involvement on the board, that’s played out so that it’s now ready to put a shovel in the ground so to speak. These were all files that started out as ideas and went through the funding process and development and I feel very blessed to be part of that and seeing how something can lead from an idea to being built. That’s really what drove me to go back year after year.”
Zegalski finds the work very fulfilling. He compares the U of M to being the third largest city in the province after Winnipeg and Brandon and makes the point that the impact the U of M has on Manitoba is equally as big.
“I don’t think people understand the role the U of M plays in society, beyond educating students. That’s a very important part and they will go on to be our future leaders,” says Zegalski. “Here’s a chance as an alumni to have a big impact in the society you live in.”
On top of that, Zegalski says the role of the board is to provide guidance in the governance of the university, to help educate students and contribute to research that helps improve the lives of people all over the world. Some of that research has helped the U of M play a key role in protecting Canada’s Arctic as well as creating more sustainable agricultural methods or developing a vaccine for Ebola.
“If there’s a message to alumni, it’s that it’s a great institution and it’s doing so many great things. When you see it on the inside, you see how important the work that happens at the U of M is and how far-reaching it is.”