About Us

Our Team

Creating Rural Connections

Through Collaboration

Board of Directors 2016/2017


Trent Keough, President
Portage College

Vice Chair:

Dietmar Kennepohl, Professor of Chemistry
Athabasca University 



Robert Woodrow, Professor of Mathematics
and Statistics
University of Calgary


Susan Bansgrove, Vice-President Academics
& Research

Grande Prairie Regional College



Ann Everatt, President& CEO
Northern Lakes College


Erasmus Okine, Vice-President, Research
University of Lethbridge


 ARDN team

Dee Ann Benard, Executive Director

Dee Ann joined the ARDN as executive director in April 2009.  After earning her B.Sc. (Biology) and M.Sc. (Plant Pathology) from Simon Fraser University, Dee Ann moved to Edmonton in 1994 to work with Alberta Agriculture.  In 1998, she joined private industry to manage the Alberta operation of Integrated Crop Management Services (ICMS), Inc.  In 2000, she moved to the Alberta Research Council in Vegreville where she worked first as a plant pathologist, and later in business development.  In 2004, she joined the newly formed Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) as executive director, a position she held for over five years.  

Dee Ann served as a member of the Agriculture and Food Council for several years, where she held roles such as Chair of Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food and Treasurer.  She is an active volunteer in her community and in her professional life.  Dee Ann is an avid skier and hiker, and much to the chagrin of others, she loves winter and snow.


Roch Labelle, Project Manager

Roch joined the ARDN in April 2016. He is a born and raised Albertan who has worked in the field of economic development for 11 years for provincial organisations such as Business Link and the Francophone Economic Development Council of Alberta (CDÉA). He earned his BA (Political Science) as well as a Management Development Certificate from the University of Alberta and recently obtained the Certified in Management (C.I.M.) designation.

Roch’s primary role with the ARDN is managing the Alberta Rural Legal Opportunities (ARLO) program. He is finding ways to increase legal representation in rural communities by working with the Canadian Bar Association - Alberta Branch, the Law Society of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Francophone Secretariat and local firms and lawyers across the province. Roch is excited about his role with the ARDN and the challenges it will bring and is looking forward to moving a variety of projects towards completion. He’s the father of 3 beautiful young children and fancies himself as a quasi competitive trail runner.


Joshua Bénard, Project Manager 

Josh joined the ARDN in June 2016 as the Project Manager of the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). His work experience has been diverse: from sales, estimating and project coordinating for a manufacturer of exterior building envelopes, to project managing residential, commercial, institutional and industrial construction projects. Josh received a scholarship to George Brown College in 2006 and was involved on the Program Advisory Board of the technology department. He has also been working with the department of Applied Research and Innovation at Red Deer College on a contract basis to help develop emergency and transitional shelters.



Jonn Kmech, Project Manager

Jonn joined the ARDN in July 2016 as the Program Manager for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) initiative. He was born in Calgary and grew up in Brooks, Alberta, moving to Edmonton in 2005. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Physiology from the University of Alberta and served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway, the student newspaper at the UofA, in 2010-2011. Prior to the ARDN, he worked as a research assistant in the UofA’s Department of Psychiatry for three years.   

Jonn works with various community organizations and not-for-profits in Alberta providing support for them as they implement their HPS projects and work towards ending rural and remote homelessness around the province. In his spare time, Jonn volunteers for Amnesty International and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. His interests include politics, psychology, philosophy, human and animal rights, film, and music (particularly punk).


Zain Abedin, Research and Strategy Manager

Zain joined the ARDN in December 2016 as a Research and Strategy Manager.  His responsibilities are to research, develop financial strategies and write business cases to raise funding for various affordable housing projects across rural Alberta. He has 4 years of international sales and account management experience in a B2B environment and has significant experience in developing major customer accounts in the Oil & Gas industry. He has also setup and run a LED lighting division in an international family business in United Arab Emirates to promote sustainability. To fuel his interest in design and technology, Zain owns and runs a boutique branding company on the side.

Zain’s research and writing skills recently raised funds for a local social entrepreneurship startup. He is personally motivated to work in this space with the attitude of "making things happen for the greater good". His skills include developing strategies and leading a diverse team to execution. With his undergraduate degree in Finance / Management from American University of Sharjah and a MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University of Alberta, he will prove be an asset to this organization.


Sandra Di Cesare, Finance Manager



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