Alberta Golden Bears running back Ed Ilnicki is the definition of a successful student-athlete.
The fifth year back – who was drafted by the Ottawa REDBLACKS this past May – broke the single-season conference rushing record with 1,468 yards in 2017, while also becoming the school’s all-time rushing leader, with 4,145 yards over a five-year career. He was also honoured as the Canada West’s nominee for the community service award, as well as player of the year.
But it’s his accomplishments off the field that are just as impressive.
Ilnicki is a four-time Academic All-Canadian, as well as a member of the prestigious Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the U of A.
“We had such a diverse group of people, and that’s the workplace,” he says of the college.
“When you get out there, you’re not working with people that always think the same way as you, you’re not working with people who have studied the same things as you and have had the same experiences that you have. So, when you get into a room and you’re trying to problem solve with people from totally different backgrounds, that’s when you really find out the best ways to connect ideas.”
Ilnicki is also president of the University Athletics Board (UAB) and has been involved in numerous initiatives such as the Bear Pause program, which is a peer-based support group for student athletes.
“My favourite thing about [UAB] is the executive group that I get to work with,” he says. “You’re talking about athletes from all these different sports working together to try and find the best ways to put together new ideas.”
The Spruce Grove, Alberta native will graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce degree this coming June, and has already gained valuable experience in the field of finance over the past few years.
In the summer of 2015 and 2016 for example, he worked at ATB Financial – the largest Alberta-based financial institution, with assets of $48.5 billion. His duties included researching and delivering a 10-page report on innovative compensation strategies for ATB’s senior leadership team, as well as creating presentations to increase connections and opportunities between departments.
“Even for a relatively small provincial bank in relation to some of the larger global banks, [ATB] is looking for ideas from around the world about what’s the best way to implement all this new technology that’s coming out,” Ilnicki says.
“There’s just so many unique things being done globally, that when you’re talking about banking as an industry, you’re not really talking about the same industry that we had 25 years ago, you’re talking about an industry that’s really a technology and data company that’s trying to find the best tools to provide the right data for their clients, and manage it as best as possible to become really efficient in what they do.”
One of Ilnicki’s long-term goals – based on the knowledge he’s gained over the years – is to establish a finance curriculum for Alberta high school students.
“I wish I had learned [about investments and finance] in high school, and I wish there was a way to educate myself better about this and teach it at a high school level,” he says.
“In Alberta, I’ve been trying to be as engaged a citizen as I can, because we’re doing a curriculum re-write under the new government. There’s been lots of open consultation for different areas of the education system. Taking my experience from ATB, and talking about these global ideas, but also just this general financial knowledge, is going to be a big asset.”
Ilnicki has always gone above and beyond to achieve his goals and help others. And in looking ahead to the future, it appears the financial realm is in good hands.
“People would rather go to the dentist statistically than they would the bank, which is something that doesn’t make any sense to me, because if you know who you’re working with, and you trust the people you’re working with, like your financial advisor, there’s huge advantages to that,” he says.
“Getting that message across, and teaching kids that the earlier you start investing, the better off you’re going to be, that’s a big one for me.”