Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Zelzate, which is in the province of Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders), in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. I had a very happy, normal youth with lots of friends and family. My parents, now retired, had good jobs, so the situation at home was comfortable. My dad worked as a technical advisor for CBR, a concrete factory, giving advice when there were issues with the concrete delivered to clients. My mom was a high school teacher in Zelzate, where she taught home economics. I had one brother, Tom, who sadly passed away much too soon at age 31.
After completing high school, I studied Construction Engineering at what is now part of K.U. Leuven University and graduated with distinction. Part of the program was a weeklong field trip to Istanbul, Turkey. This little detail becomes important in a bit. I started working on a second degree in computer science because I’d been intrigued by computers from an early age. In my second year of studies, I volunteered to be one of the IT students participating in an archaeological excavation in Turkey to build a database to keep track of all archaeological finds. I got a phone call a couple of months later informing me that I had been selected to join the excavation in Sagalassos and build the database. I spent the entire month of July 1995 there, and although I enjoyed the archaeological experience, I vouched never to go back again. But I went for two months the next summer and, thanks to this random choice of going back again, I met my wife, (Dr.) Shawn Bubel, who was doing her masters in archaeology at the same university in Belgium that I was attending. So, as it happened, a Belgian and a Canadian meet in Turkey and decide fairly quickly to spend the rest of their lives together. Coming back from Turkey, I had to explain to my parents who this wonderful Canadian girl was that I met! The big question that immediately came to mind was where would we live: Belgium or Canada? There were drawbacks and advantages to both, but we quickly settled on Canada. Shawn and I married in 2001 and are now very happy parents to two beautiful girls: Mia and Sophie.
When did you come to the U of L and what do you do here?
When moving to Canada, I obviously had some concerns about employment. Even though I had two very employable degrees, it was a bit of a worry. I was very fortunate that Shawn knew a local business owner who would be willing to give me a chance at his company, Iunctus Geomatics. The company was in the startup phase and right before I joined, Iunctus had acquired the exclusive rights for the Canadian market for SPOT satellite imagery. I had never worked with a satellite image in my life and knew very little about GIS (geographic information systems). With a good amount of hard work, I quickly managed to acquire the needed knowledge and expertise to be successful at selling satellite imagery to clients and to process this imagery. I enjoyed working at Iunctus Geomatics very much, and it was my entry into the job market in Canada. After a couple of years, Iunctus Geomatics became one of the most successful SPOT imagery distributors and the company decided to build its very own satellite-receiving station in Lethbridge. I was in charge of building the station, which is hosted on the U of L campus. You know that big white ball sitting on the corner of University Drive and Whoop-Up? That is the satellite station that was completed in April 2005.
After nine years with Iunctus Geomatics, a job posting came across my desk for an IT job at the U of L (thanks Tom D!). This job consisted of equally dividing my time between IT for project implementation and Facilities to take care of their specific IT needs. This was truly a dream job because it allowed me to combine both of my degrees, computer science and construction engineering. I ended up working in this job for about five years and enjoyed all my interactions with IT, Facilities and all the other departments on campus that I came into contact with. In November 2014, I had the opportunity to change jobs at the University and to work solely in Facilities as the Director of Facility Operations and Maintenance. This challenging job has been keeping me busy ever since and I enjoy every minute of it.
What’s the best part of your job?
Beyond any doubt, the best aspect of my job is the daily interactions I have with all the people at Facilities and the rest of the University. Despite all the plans that I make for the next day, the next week and the next month, the highly dynamic nature of the job requires constant adaptation and readiness to change and react to any situation on campus. From day to day, the work environment can change rapidly and you never know what surprises the day will throw at you. But, with a strong and dedicated team to tackle any challenge, I can honestly say this job is refreshing and riveting and very rewarding. But it would be pointless without all the individuals who work hard every day to keep this campus running smoothly. It is truly a privilege to work with the whole group.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Over the last couple of years, I have been struggling quite a bit with health. I was diagnosed with DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) in 2013 and with Crohn’s disease in 2017. This combination of lifelong diseases is challenging, and it needs a coping mechanism. I decided to become much more physically active, which is feasible for having all the sports infrastructure at the University. You can find me either on the badminton court, in the gym or running on the track or outside most days, as I try to do intense activity four to five times per week at least. The running aspect I find most interesting, as I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with running. It doesn’t come easy to me as I’m not a natural runner, but the satisfaction you get from a good run is very significant. I have had moderate success over the last five years with a couple of half marathons and a finish at the Lost Soul Ultra 100-km ultramarathon. I ended the 2019 running season with total of 1,021 km ran in the year, for an average of 2.8 km every day. There are local runners who do much more than that, but I’m really happy with results like this.