In communications, alumna finds way to help hometown connect

When Ann Lamanes came to Western in 1996, she hoped to study Geography and perhaps pursue a career in urban planning. But rapid technological advances changed the map – and her plans.

“With the Internet being so new, I just got steered in a totally different direction,” Lamanes, BA’00 (Media, Information and Technoculture), said. “I remember a girl in my residence at Saugeen chatting online with a guy she met overseas. Even just this idea of online chatting and text messaging was not even something any of us knew about.

“I thought, ‘Where is this Internet thing going?’’

In her first year, the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) had just launched its Media, Information and Technoculture (MIT) program where students focus on modern communication and information technologies and how they influence life in ways many may not even recognize.

LAMANES

MIT is the largest undergraduate program in FIMS with roughly 900 students. Because enrolment is limited to approximately 250 students per year, it is a competitive and challenging program that requires students who are thoughtful and engaged, creative and critical, and willing to push the boundaries of media research.

“I had always loved writing, communications and the media. So when I heard about MIT, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the degree program I want to get into.’ I knew something was there and I really felt Western was on the cutting edge, creating this new degree program no other university had. I thought, ‘I need to try this out and see where this goes.’ Sure enough, almost 20 years later, I’m working in communications.”

Lamanes is currently a communications officer with the City of Hamilton, where she held posts in Emergency/Support Services, as well as Planning and Economic Development, before taking on her current role handing strategic communications for special projects across the corporation, including opening the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre in April.

“It took a little bit of jumping around before I landed in the kind of communications setting where I really feel like I can give back to my community. I thought it was really important early on in my career to just get a taste of whatever I could get my hands on,” Lamanes said of her past work in advertising, and in the non-profit and corporate sectors. “I’ve worked in jobs where I’ve pitched stories on cereal and cars, which can be kind of trivial. But when you do work that, at the end of the day, impacts real people — I think that’s why I’ve stayed here as long as I have.”

Lamane’s passionate about her hometown, where her father, Ken, BMus’70, was a well-known musician and educator, and she’s proud to promote the city’s strengths and brand.

“We’re a population of about 560,000 and projected to grow to over 700,000 by 2041,” Lamanes said, noting the unique communication challenges she embraces as part of her role.

“We’re one of the most diverse cities in southern Ontario. We have a very large multi-cultural population. So, you can’t really be in communications and just put something out there in English anymore; you have to take language and background into consideration. A lot of people are interacting with their city online, so we’ve done a lot of revamping with our web tools, so there’s the ability to get information in their own language. We also have a customer contact centre and people on staff who can answer questions in numerous languages.”

Like many former blue-collar cities, Hamilton has its challenges and opportunities.

The departure of manufacturing heavyweights like Stelco, Massey Ferguson and Procter and Gamble hurt. The city stubbornly maintains the highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in the country. The Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre is just one piece of a larger strategy to address that.

On the positive side, the city has seen exciting growth – especially with a younger, creative class who are fleeing the high costs of Toronto. Its downtown boasts a thriving restaurant scene and arts community. This revitalization led the Toronto Star to proclaim “Hamilton is having its moment.”

Those changes bring challenges for Lamane – yet she feels more than up for the task.

“In addition to the cultural diversity, we are a community that has many differing opinions about how this city should be run. We have people who come to public meetings who disagree or hold opposing viewpoints to the direction city council has taken,” she explained. “We listen to everyone and take all viewpoints into consideration. As communicators, we have to not only represent the corporation, and the corporation’s interest, but we also have to listen to the various members of the public who bring issues forward and make sure our internal stakeholders are made aware of what those interests are.”

She continued, “It’s a fine balance and it is definitely a challenge but it’s something I’ve been trained to do in various roles, and it even came up in my education where we talked about things like equity and ethics. Everything I do today comes back to the education I received, without question. My degree has served me well – it built a solid foundation for where I am now.”