Alberta Cancer Foundation

Engineering an Event

When their father was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, Gary and Graeme Wicentowich wanted to show their support. So, along with some other family members, the two engineering students took part in an event they called Razored for Ron.

The goal was to raise $1,000 and have a handful of people participate. Instead, 36 people between the ages of three and 50 showed up at their Southgate Mall event, raising a whopping $12,000. “It went beyond anyone’s expectations,” says Gary. “It was hugely successful.” The event even inspired one random passerby – a university student shopping in the mall that day – to raise $800 and shave her head a month later.

Sadly, Ron Wicentowich passed away in 2004, but his sons weren’t going to give up their fundraising efforts. With one successful event behind them, they decided to try it again in the University of Alberta’s faculty of engineering. Both Gary and Graeme held leadership roles in the Engineering Students Society (ESS) and it wasn’t too hard to wrangle some students into organizing a similar event on campus.

This time, the group added hair-dying to the mix, and many participants opted to collect pledges to progressively dye their hair blond, green, or pink (for the maximum pledge amount they’d set). “Engineers are always looking to do something a little bit crazy, so the hair dye works well,” says Graeme.

On Nov. 27, 2004, the first campus head shave took place at the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex at the U of A. A dozen students from Marvel College, a local hair and esthetics school, dyed and cut hair, and the college itself donated the dye. The event raised $12,000.

In that one event, the brothers unknowingly began a campus tradition. Since then, the ESS has organized an annual event where students from all faculties shave and dyed their hair for cancer each November. The date is strategic: it’s a few months into the school year, but before midterms and finals in December.

Head-shave co-ordinator Amanda Schneck first got involved with the event when she shaved her head a few years ago. “As a girl, I knew I could raise a lot of money doing it and, for me, it was more a personal challenge doing it,” she says. She says students at the 2009 head shave raised between $20,000-$25,000 and drew plenty of media attention. Radio personality Layne Mitchell, from Edmonton’s Sonic 102.9, acted as MC for the event.

The Wicentowich brothers have now graduated from engineering, but continue to be involved in the annual head shaves. Last year, Graeme’s company made a donation to the event and he attended as a representative from his workplace to watch a new batch of engineers-in-training shed their locks for a good cause. “It was good to see lots of faces that I didn’t recognize,” he says.