Maryhelen trained as a massage therapist after 20 years as a journalist, writer, and editor, including experience developing educational materials for adults. But after graduation, rather than opening a clinic as planned, she considered the purchase of an existing massage school.
Instead, she was inspired to fill a void by creating a massage therapy college in Alberta that put the needs of its students first, by meeting the highest academic standards within a flexible and collegial structure.
She is now semi-retired and living on Vancouver Island, but she is still actively involved in the school. She works behind the scenes on external and internal communications, marketing, recruiting and admissions. With co-owner Robin Collum and the other members of the leadership team, she helps ensure the program continues to improve and meet the needs of students, employers, and the community.
As executive director, Sarah has a mix of administrative and educational responsibilities for maintaining and improving the quality of our program.
Sarah was our Calgary director and assistant director of curriculum before assuming the role. Sarah is passionate about working with students and has continued to teach classes while holding these leadership roles.
Supported by Maryhelen, Linda, and the rest of the leadership team, Sarah led the school’s successful application for national accreditation by the CMTCA. In the absence of significant Alberta regulation of massage education, being accredited by the national body demonstrates our voluntary compliance with the latest standards. We achieved preliminary accreditation in 2021, and the process continues.
Sarah trained at Foothills College of Massage Therapy in Calgary and taught there before joining the Vicars team. She is based on our Calgary campus.
Robin has been with Vicars School since 2010 and communications director since 2016.
A writer and editor by profession, she works closely with Maryhelen on the school’s internal and external communications and marketing, including the school’s website and blog. Robin works with Sarah, Linda, and various subject experts on staff to create, edit, and format in-house manuals, direct mail, correspondence, and curriculum materials.
Robin is part of a group that includes Crystal in her role as social media coordinator and Alyssa as clinic marketer to create and execute marketing plans for events and promotions on campus and in the community.
Robin has a BA from the University of Alberta, journalism experience, and a Master of Arts in International and Intercultural Communication from Royal Roads University.
She can relate to Vicars students very closely, as her MA program was also delivered through blended learning.
Education and curriculum team
Our vision when we started the school in 2001 was to build a program that prepared students for success from their first day in practice. We set out to build a massage curriculum and program that would be as good as those of the best schools and colleges in the country.
When Linda joined Vicars in 2003, it was obvious that she shared that vision. She has been the driving force behind our being able to reach that goal.
Linda is responsible for maintaining the quality of our curriculum materials and resources and keeping them current with the latest national standards for massage education. As a member of our leadership team, Linda contributes to strategic planning, policy development, scheduling, and recruiting and education of instructors.
Together with Sarah, Linda led the way for Vicars School to achieve CMTCA accreditation.
Janine has been with Vicars School from the very beginning, and brings years of experience as a teacher and therapist to the classes she teaches.
Janine owned a successful clinic in Lacombe for many years, and continues to practice there independently. Her experience living and working in a small town makes her an invaluable resource for our many rural students. As an employer, she became interested in teaching massage because of her experience in the on-the-job development of recent massage therapy grads. She found it frustrating that the schools at the time were not producing graduates that were ready to work effectively. She helped founder Maryhelen Vicars to fine-tune the new school’s program to a higher level of job readiness for its grads.
She has been active in the education work of the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta, and is enthusiastic about working with adult students.
As Calgary program manager, Alyssa works closely with the leadership team and faculty to ensure that all our students and clients have a high-quality experience. She works with Edmonton program manager Crystal Dunn to ensure that the program content and delivery is consistent between campuses.
In her role as Calgary clinic coordinator, Alyssa oversees the entire student clinical experience. She is passionate about the value of the supervised clinical experience. She sees the clinical experience that students receive at Vicars as essential to the skills and confidence they need to be successful therapists as soon as they graduate. She works with Crystal and Robin in communications to promote the school and its clinics to the public.
In the classroom, Alyssa values collaboration, supportive learning, and helping her students achieve their goals.
As Edmonton program manager, Crystal works closely with the leadership team and faculty on both campuses to ensure that all our students and clients can count on a consistent and high-quality experience at the school.
As the school’s social media coordinator, she works with Robin, our communications director, Maryhelen, and other staff, faculty, and students to help share the Vicars School experience with the world. Crystal oversees the school’s presence on social media platforms by posting stories, photographs, and video. She works with Alyssa to keep tabs on events and achievements in Calgary.
Crystal brings her experience as a massage therapist to her role as an instructor at Vicars. She is also a yoga instructor and reflexologist; is a graduate of the International School of Thai Massage; and has practiced in a multidisciplinary clinic.
Admissions and student support team
A master multi-tasker, Heather adeptly balances multiple roles. She has computing expertise and experience as a successful technology and systems consultant to industry and business clients in Calgary. She joined Vicars just as we needed a major upgrade of several of our aging systems. She has led the lengthy development of our new student information system; our online learning on the Moodle platform; and our various communications and marketing software. While keeping the systems working, she trains staff and faculty on using them effectively, and supports them when things go wrong.
As part of the admissions team, Heather handles all aspects of student finance for accepted students needing grants and scholarships and federal, provincial, and native funding, to underwrite their education and living expenses. She attends courses and reads widely to maintain her expertise in this area.
She is also the first point of contact for visitors and callers in Calgary, offers administrative support for staff and instructors, and works closely with our accountant and bookkeeper.
Lourdes’ decision to become a massage therapist was driven by her lifelong curiosity and interest in health and wellness. She wanted a hands-on understanding of the body, and to know how to help people build the foundations to keep themselves healthy, well, active, and agile. Lourdes earned her diploma from Vicars School in 2009. Like so many Vicars students, she lived several hours away from the city at the time and travelled to Edmonton each month to complete her in-person classes.
Lourdes has owned and operated a successful multi-therapist clinic in Jasper, and has a busy practice in Edmonton. As an instructor, she also draws from her experiences of over two decades working in fitness training and recreation programming.
When aspiring massage therapists reach out to Rhonda, they’re not just connecting with an expert on the Vicars admissions process. They’re getting the opportunity to speak to an experienced RMT and someone who knows the Vicars program inside and out.
Like many of the students she now works with, Rhonda came to massage therapy as a second career. She left behind the stressful, fast-paced corporate offices she was used to and enrolled at Vicars in her early 40s.
She graduated in 2017, and after a few years at a larger clinic she opened her own business in south Edmonton.
She joined the admissions team because she wants to help others find the same career satisfaction that she now enjoys.
“I got into massage because I was passionate about health and wellness, but I didn’t realize how much I would love the people,” she says. “It’s been so great to be on this side of it—to be able to share my experience as a student and as a graduate with people.”
Campus and administrative support team
When Gillian stepped away from her work as a technical writer and management consultant to the oil industry, she was not ready for full retirement.
As it happened, her daughter Sarah Ward-Bakken had just moved from Calgary Director to Executive Director at Vicars and Gillian suddenly had the free time to help ease Sarah’s transition into her new role. She came on part time in 2017 to bring her business expertise to the reorganization we were doing at the time. She then moved on to pick up a dizzying variety of odd jobs on the Calgary campus, including research, administration, bookkeeping, organizing—taking charge of whatever needed doing wherever she was needed.
The role has been interrupted by a BC sabbatical and some travel, but she continues to contribute her insight and experience to our school. The oil patch’s loss is our gain, in other words.