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Mutually beneficial

Celebrating Work-Integrated Learning Day at RAnLab

Student Life

By Rebecca Newhook

The National Day of Work-Integrated Learning is an opportunity to celebrate the successes of co-operative education students and others for whom work is part of their university curriculum.

This year, Work-Integrated Learning Day falls on March 27.

Three people stand and sit together in front of a white board filled with writing.
From left are Leslie Feltham, Sohayib Fahim and Jamie Ward at the RAnLab at Signal Hill Campus.
Photo: Submitted

At Memorial, the Department of Computer Science in the Faculty of Science has a longstanding co-op program that’s popular with students and employers alike.

When Sohayib Fahim, a computer science co-op student at Memorial, applied for the Professional Skills Development Program and was matched with the Harris Centre, he never imagined that it could later lead to a work-term offer.

“Course projects and personal projects might not be enough to impress an employer.” — Sohayib Fahim

Mr. Fahim came to St. John’s from Bangladesh to study computer science, a subject that he has been passionate about since an older friend in high school introduced him to the subject.

He says he felt strongly that participating in the co-op program would provide a valuable experience and give him an advantage after graduation.

“Getting a job in the tech sector is becoming more and more competitive,” said Mr. Fahim. “Course projects and personal projects might not be enough to impress an employer. A co-op job is a way to show that I can work in a team, communicate with others and do my work on a daily basis to meet my team’s expectations.”

Insights and data trends

The fourth-year student is currently completing an eight month work term with the Regional Analytics Lab (RAnLab), part of the Harris Centre, based at the Signal Hill campus.

“At RAnLab, we inform evidence-based policies for regional development in partnership with community organizations, local government, and units and researchers at Memorial,” said Jamie Ward, manager at the RAnLab. “Essentially, we collect and provide access to practical data insights and resources.”

Data science and web development are Mr. Fahim’s focus at work.

One of his main responsibilities has been to assist Mr. Ward in creating an informative and user-friendly web portal for database users, specifically for datasets that showcase Newfoundland and Labrador’s demographics, population trends and business development in each of the province’s regions.

“I was thrilled at that moment to show my work.” — Sohayib Fahim

The data portal is a project in partnership with Municipalities N.L. and will serve as an important tool for municipalities to gather and act on insights and data trends.

Leslie Feltham, engagement co-ordinator at the RAnLab, says the lab has been without a developer for some time, so having a student on the team with great skills has ramped up development.

“We now have a fully functional prototype and we can code custom visualizations and tools,” said Ms. Feltham. “Another interesting project Fahim is working on is an interactive web tool that showcases changes in food prices over time.”

Mr. Fahim says he is proud of his contributions to this project in particular, since the rising cost of groceries is affecting household food insecurity in the province, particularly in rural and northern communities.

“One of my proudest moments at work was when I was given a new layout to integrate into my food price widget to make it look more appealing and easier to use,” he said. “I took feedback from my colleagues, and in the end, the layout came out exactly as we planned. I was thrilled at that moment to show my work.”

Significant satisfaction

The co-op program and his work with the RAnLab has been a significant part of his satisfaction with his degree program at Memorial, Mr. Fahim says.

It’s helped him gain confidence in his abilities and has allowed him to apply his theoretical knowledge in the real world.

“Professionally, I’ve acquired valuable technical skills, industry insights and hands-on experience that have prepared me for future career opportunities. Through my work, I have gained skills in critical thinking and solving complex problems by analyzing tasks and setting incremental goals to finish the work.”

As many on-campus units at Memorial University can attest, work-term students can increase capacity and advance projects that might otherwise move slowly, or not at all.

“If you have an opportunity to hire a student — consider it.” — Leslie Feltham

At RAnLab, Ms. Feltham says they’ve been happy to welcome students to the team and provide them with an opportunity to learn and work in a data-rich environment.

“RAnLab is always experimenting with new ways of using and analyzing data and students respond very well to this type of environment. If you have an opportunity to hire a student — consider it. It takes effort to create a mutually beneficial experience, but the outcomes are lasting and impactful.”

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