Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kwesi Johnson Keeps Going and Going

Growing up in a tough Toronto neighborhood, Kwesi Johnson's sense of community responsibility was seeded when he was 12 years old. That's when he met a youth worker who would often shoot hoops with the kids on the playground, all the while talking about respect and avoiding the lure of joining a gang.

Before Kwesi knew it, he was volunteering to teach basketball skills to six- and seven-year-olds at the Malvern Family Resource Centre in Scarborough. Soon he was helping to plan community walks, discussion forums, tournaments and trips for the children. Whether he was working as a camp counselor, helping with their homework or just talking to them, Kwesi's own message was constant: Respect yourself, respect others.

Kwesi saw a rewarding career in his work and came to Centennial College to enroll in the child and youth worker program. His teachers were impressed with this energetic young man. Outside of class, Kwesi volunteered for a long list of agencies, including the Alliance of Guyanese Canadian Organization, the Anglican Church of the Nativity, and the Black Communities and Police Consultative Committee.

Kwesi is adamant, his Centennial professors and the opportunities they provided helped shape his path and instill in him a passion for education. He recalls one teacher who led a class discussion about a local tragedy in which a young man had killed his little brother. When the discussion was over, Kwesi still had an agonizing question for his teacher: What could drive someone to stab his brother to death?

"He said, 'You know what? I'm not sure. Why don't you find out and come back?' The way he looked at me, I knew he wanted me to continue learning - and I will," Kwesi recounts.

He worked hard, both, in and outside of classroom to learn how to reach troubled youth. It was hard not to notice his efforts; nobody can forget Kwesi once they've met him. So it came as no surprise to anyone that his work got recognized.

Kwesi was one of three young Ontarians awarded the 2007 Lincoln Alexander Award for Leadership in Eliminating Racial Discrimination. In 2008, he was given the Alumnus of Distinction Award from Centennial's Department of Community Services. Kwesi also earned a national scholarship from the Black Business and Professional Association the same year.

With his Centennial diploma complete, Kwesi felt he needed a degree to cap off his formal education. He applied to Ryerson University, where his college diploma allowed him to enter the third year of the four-year Child and Youth Care program.

It wasn't long before he made his mark on the downtown campus, volunteering for a number of initiatives while never taking his eye off his goal of changing young lives. He invited community groups to come and present to students, and became a co-ordinator of the program's mentors.

"Focus on the task, on your craft," he counsels others who are contemplating a career-oriented education.

His two years at Ryerson passed quickly. Last June, Kwesi was called to the Convocation stage not only to receive his degree, but also to collect the Ryerson Gold Medal for his outstanding grade point average and his demonstrated commitment to community involvement. The graduating class erupted with applause.

"My love for learning solidified when I came to Ryerson. I kept going and going," he grins. And, despite his dyslexia, Kwesi is taking his education to the next level. He started a Master's program in sociology and education at the University of Toronto this fall, with an eye to attaining a PhD.

All the while, Kwesi continues to work at East Metro Youth Services, close to the people and the neighborhoods he has long had a vested interest in helping.

"It's what I'm all about: connecting with child & youth worker and allowing them to have experiences they would like to have. They're the next generation. They're so impressionable, but they will teach you too - a lot about yourself and a lot about them."

Friday, December 25, 2009

With All The Doors Open to Him, Vishal Chooses College

"My parents put me in boarding school to make me more outgoing and creative," recalls international student Vishal Member. "We learned in English to ensure we had a global experience."

He attended New Era High School in Panchgani, India, where he lived and studied until the end of grade 10. Vishal completed grades 11 and 12 back home in Surat, achieving the second-highest grade point average in the province.

Given his excellent education, it would not be a stretch to say Vishal could look forward to being warmly received by any university anywhere in the world.

So why would he choose to go to Centennial College in Canada?

"I picked Canada as my destination because it has a stable economy and it has a reputation for welcoming immigrants," Vishal smiles. "And I chose Centennial because I liked the fact it was Ontario’s first community college, which suggests to me it is an established and successful learning institution."

Vishal had the means to go to any university he wanted, but decided to pursue a college education.

"University is more theoretical. I wanted the benefits of practical knowledge – that's what is important to me, the application of knowledge," he says.

Vishal arrived in Toronto in 2006 and immediately plunged into his studies at Centennial. He had no relatives in Canada; instead, he came with two friends and rented an apartment in the city together.

Vishal started in the three-year Business Administration program, but he stumbled at first. Unacquainted with the Canadian teaching style, his marks suffered. He also had to overcome his culture shock.

"Despite the fact there are many South Asians in Canada, international students undergo some culture shock when they come here, no question," he says.

Harking back to his boarding-school days, Vishal knew he needed to get involved in the student government, and began applying himself to both his homework and to the rigours of college politics. He campaigned hard and won the position of campus vice-president.

"Working for the Centennial College Student Association gives me some experience I can apply in the business world," Vishal says. "International students see me as an example of what you can do in this country."

Sitting on the Student Association board introduced Vishal to a whole new world of committee work, including being involved in the college's management hiring committees, as well as listening to students’ concerns and finding solutions.

Vishal was surprised by the responsibilities the student government has taken on, including a $4-million annual budget, managing the money it collects in student fees to spend on campus recreation and special events.

"The college relies on the Student Association to make student life better on campus. So we offer many services and special events for them," he explains. “We financed, built and operate the Progress Campus Student Centre, and now we’re in charge of the $27-million Athletic and Wellness Centre construction."

The work apparently agreed with Vishal and his successes became evident to everyone. When the position of Student Association President came up for election, he applied himself and won. Now he sits at the head table – the college's Board of Governors – where he gets to participate in top-drawer decisions of the college.

"It's taken me to the next step. I can provide better representation of our students, and I can tell you college administrators take my ideas very seriously," he says. His governance work complements the real-world lessons he's acquiring in his classes.

"The teachers here are great, and the learning experience in the classroom has been very useful," he says. "Back home, the teaching approach was very theoretical; it focused on what the textbooks say. Here, it's changing according to the economy. Everyday there's something new to learn."

Vishal graduated last June with a grade point average of 3.56. As Student Association President, he had the honour of addressing each of the graduating classes. When it came time to cross the convocation stage himself, the students erupted in applause.

"My grandparents traveled from India to witness my convocation. They saw first-hand how I lived and how I am thought of at the college." If there were any doubts about the value of a college education on the part of his parents and grandparents, they were erased that day.

Today Vishal is taking some accounting courses at Centennial while he serves as Student Association President. He'll be eligible for permanent residency in six months, and he's already committed to making Canada his home base as he begins his entrepreneurial venture, which he says will take him around the world.

Does he have any regrets about coming to Centennial College to learn his business skills, rather than attending a world-class university?

"None. I've had a very favourable experience coming here," Vishal smiles. "I highly recommend it!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Centennial College School of Community and Health Studies

When Graham Mitchell graduated from Centennial College's Paramedic program in 1992 the job market was in the doldrums of recession. So like many freshly minted college and university graduates, he found part-time work where he could.

It was during a contract with an air medevac service in Northern Ontario that Mitchell realized the extensive role private companies play in the public health-care system. He joined two partners who together purchased Parkview EMS, a small Toronto-based firm that had formed to provide medical emergency services at local horseracing tracks.

"Public services like Toronto EMS are mandated to respond to 911 calls, which means they may leave a stadium unattended," says Mitchell, explaining the rise of private EMS services that are now fixtures at major sports events and concerts.

They grew the business to the point where today Parkview provides emergency medical services at events hosted by the Air Canada Centre, Rogers Centre, Molson Amphitheatre, BMO Field and other facilities.

More recently, Orangeville-based Parkview found a new market in "aeromedical repatriation," providing travel insurance companies with physicians, nurses and paramedics to escort patients worldwide, typically bringing them home for treatment in Canada, the U.S. or England after a medical episode or accident.

Mitchell credits his excellent training at Centennial College for his successful career as a paramedic – and as an entrepreneur.

Centennial's School of Community and Health Studies is recognized for its innovation, high academic standards and faculty-led applied research in the area of healthcare and educational technology.

Since 1973, when the Ontario government transferred responsibility for nursing education from the province's hospitals to its nursing program college, Centennial has earned an enduring reputation for its health sciences programs.

The college teaches a full range of nursing programs, including a BScN Collaborative program with Ryerson University, Practical Nursing and RPN Bridging to University Nursing with flex options, and a Practical Nursing Certificate to Diploma program. The latter allow students to meet practice requirements in Ontario or upgrade their English communication skills while preparing for advanced training.

Programs are offered at the state-of-the-art Centennial Science and Technology Centre, which opened in 2004 on Morningside Avenue just south of Hwy 401. Students hone their skills in advanced lab and clinical simulation facilities – including a fully outfitted ambulance body installed in a classroom!

Students gain valuable experience through the college's extensive network of clinical placement opportunities at hospitals and other community facilities, while enjoying a personalized school experience.

In addition to nursing and paramedic programs, Centennial offers a range of certificate and diploma programs including Pharmacy Technician, Food and Nutrition Management, Esthetics, Workplace Wellness, Massage Therapy and related disciplines.

Working professionals can also choose from a wide variety of part-time continuing education courses delivered in the classroom or remotely.

Centennial College will afford you every opportunity to transform your interest into a satisfying career where you can make a difference – just like Graham Mitchell did. At every point along the way you have access to the knowledge, expertise and personalized attention that will allow you to become a true helping professional.