Monday, November 9, 2009

Indian Immigrant Finds Her Own Path

Like so many recent immigrants arriving in a strange new land, Himani Shah resigned herself to toiling in a factory, exchanging her labour for some meager wages.

"It's really sad for a lot of newcomers," she acknowledges. "Many people come here with degrees and professional careers, but end up working in a factory or a kitchen just to make ends meet."

Shah landed in Toronto four years ago with a Bachelor of Computer Science diploma tucked into her luggage from the University of Gujarat in her native India. She had planned to attend university to complete a Master’s program in computer studies, but realized it was not so easy to enter university in Canada.

Shah found herself working in a factory, but yearned to return to an academic environment. "I was starving to go back to school," she recalls.

Living in Scarborough, Shah decided to visit a nearby campus of Centennial College to find out what kind of courses she could take at night to supplement her college education and become oriented to the Canadian job market.

As luck would have it, she met Ilia Nika, Information Systems Coordinator in the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science. He was excited by her qualifications, recognizing the skills she had brought from India, and convinced her to re-examine her priorities.

Rather than take classes in the evening and work all day, Nika persuaded her to enroll in the college's Computer Programmer/Analyst program full-time during the day and work part-time in the evenings to earn an income.

"He showed me how I could get credit for some of my studies in India, which meant I did not have to take duplicate courses," she recalls. "With my advanced standing, I could take a three-year program in a year-and-a-half, and save some tuition money, too."

Shah quit her manufacturing job and enrolled in the Centennial program. To help with her family's expenses, she found an evening job at a local Tim Horton's coffee shop, which fit her schedule better. Still, it was not an easy adjustment.

"It was a tough time for me. I went to classes every morning starting at 8 am, then worked on my assignments after lunch for two hours, then rushed off to work at 3 pm," Shah recounts.

"I was on the run from 8 am until 11:30 at night. And when I wasn't working, I would stay on campus late at night to do my assignments because it was crowded and noisy in our family's apartment."

Despite the challenges, Shah flourished in her new learning environment. She had gotten her wish to return to an academic life.

"Education-wise, it's more advanced in Canada. You get the opportunity to learn with upcoming technology in advanced labs using up-to-date, helpful software. Ilia Nika and my other professors always made themselves available to talk about technology and how to solve problems in the workplace."

Shah took advantage of the college's cooperative education opportunities. Centennial students in business and engineering technology can get a job with an employer for four months per year, where they can practice what they've learned in a genuine work environment. The best part is, students are paid during their co-op placement.

"My first co-op assignment was with the Ontario Municipal Board, where I did computer programming and staffed the IT help desk. My second job was with new-media company ExtendMedia, where I did programming in Java and C-sharp."

"I developed good contacts through co-op, and implemented the skills I had gained in class in a real working environment," Shah beams.

She managed to make enough money during the co-op terms to lessen the need for grueling evening work. She left Tim Horton's and found a paid job on campus, tutoring fellow students.

"I discovered I love to talk to people and to teach them," Shah says. With more time to dedicate to her studies, her grades rose from a B average to a consistent A+ score in her final semester.

She also began seeking interviews with employers for a position after graduation. With her strong background and co-op work experience, she impressed the powers that be at Canadian banking giant CIBC, earning a position as a Solution Developer at the bank’s central data centre in North York.

The happy outcome was not just a matter of good fortune. Upon her arrival in Canada, Shah quickly concluded that individuals – both men and women – are free to choose their destinies here, rather than rely on their parents for shelter and an income.

"I realized I had to come up with my own means to find a career path," she says of those early days in her newly adopted country. "Of course, I had great support from my family when I started college. It was hard to balance my personal life with my studies and work."

Shah is philosophical about her rapid transformation after only four years in what initially seemed like a pretty intimidating place.

"My parents are very proud of me. Nothing is impossible if you really want it! It takes time. Dedicate yourself and you'll be successful." More degree programs & continuing education on Canadian college for career success.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ashtonbee takes delivery of Dash 8 aircraft

Thanks to Aircraft Maintenance graduate Harold Debonte, Centennial's Aerospace department has secured the donation of a popular and well-used aircraft upon which students can practice their skills.

On March 27, the department took delivery of a Bombardier Dash 8 100-series fuselage along with several other components from 3 Points Aviation of Mississauga. The airplane is an example of the large commuter-type aircraft commonly used around the world.

The donation is estimated to be valued at $275,000 for the aviation company, which recycles old and retired aircraft and components. The donation is the first of many from the company, which has entered into a partnership with the School of Transportation to supply the department with aircraft components and technology as needed.

While the wings may be missing, Aerospace students will be able to conduct inspections, repairs and installations of various components in the fuselage in order to familiarize themselves with maintenance tasks common to an airline operation, says faculty member Jamie Milks. Students will have the benefit of repairing components in place in a large, contemporary aircraft.

The Dash 8 was built in the late 1980s by Bombardier Aerospace at its Downsview facility and has enjoyed numerous lives. In the past it was used by Air Ontario, Air Alliance, Air Nova, Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz. From there it was sold to Delta Airlines and then Freedom Airlines, whose colors it still wears today. Jamie says he'd like to see the tail section painted with the Centennial College logo in the not-too-distant future.

The aircraft returned home to Toronto on a flatbed truck from Bangor, Maine through Quebec, complete with a police escort (the entire load checked in at a little more than 100 feet or 30 meters in length). 3 Points Aviation Program paid for the transportation of the fuselage. The plane will remain parked outside of the hangar in the paddock area due to its considerable size. Eventually it will be mounted on a wheeled cradle so that it can be moved easily around the paddock as required.