Camila Perez Pena

As a project coordinator for the Office of Applied Research & Innovation (ARI) at Humber College, Camila Perez-Pena already knew that Project Management post-graduate certificate students had a good educational foundation.

She is, after all, a Humber graduate whose experience and expertise landed her a job less than six months out of school.

In February, ARI brought 10 students aboard as research assistants to support projects and data collection and analysis.

“We weren’t surprised in terms of how excited and willing they were to learn and work with our data and analytic tools,” said Perez-Pena.

“What did surprise us is that they were so excited about what they were doing. The students ended up bringing what they learned back to the Project Management post-graduate program and to the curriculum, which has now changed. Additional tools added as a result of their experience.”

Two journalism students were also hired to support the Institute of Design Driven Analytics (IDDA), which combines design, business analytics and connected technology to create competitive advantages for companies.

Lasting impact

When the research assistants began their work, ARI Associate Dean Ginger Grant had the group create a data analytics program. As the primary investigator on the IDDA, she wanted to ensure that the students were all well-grounded in visual analytics and data-storytelling.

“Before that, we had evaluated how strong Humber was in terms of analytics and how to improve both student engagement and experience. So, we hired an external consultant to do a series of workshops on analysis and data analytics,” said Perez-Pena.

The students were taught about Tableau application software, advanced Excel, Microsoft BI and other analytics tools they might need to advance their professional profile and secure meaningful work in their field.

“They were given tasks in the office like evaluating research needs and data analysis requirements within Humber and identifying the Ontario economy's needs around working with big data,” said Perez-Pena.

The students began collecting data and creating dashboards to reflect the information they acquired. Then they came up with insights about the data which are now being used by ARI.

Their efforts helped to optimize the ARI’s customer relations management (CRM) system and to build a process that streamlines grant administration.

'You have to go just one step further’

ARI benefited from the research assistants’ efforts and Grant was so impressed that she hired several of the project management students as project assistants – three as full-time contract employees and one as a part-time contract employee.

ARI had planned to hire five PMPG students, but other departments and employers took notice of the work and hired participants just as they were finishing their program at Humber.

PMPG grad Mauricio Caravalho Peixoto was hired by Bothwell Accurate and journalism grad Neil Gonputh is now employed with the City or Toronto.

Zeal Shah, another PMPG grad, was hired within Humber, for its Real Estate Salesperson program.

“It’s an amazing feeling because I’m helping my alma mater, where I gained my knowledge, to achieve something better,” said Shah.

The work experience counted towards the completion of the PMPG students’ capstone projects.

“In the program you have two alternatives. The regular capstone is an audit of a company, which is more theoretical, and the second choice is to work as a project manager in one of the available real-life ongoing projects,” said Perez-Pena.

She specifies that the alternative option is more of a hands-on learning experience.

“This year, one alternative was a creation of a platform for students to have a simulation program.”

The project has potential to improve future students’ quality of learning.

Perez-Pena believes that this kind of work-integrated learning sets Humber graduates apart, but so does the program itself.

“The faculty members help you explore networking and strengthen your profile. They organize a lot of events  and offer lots of tools. It’s up to you to participate,” she said.

“Get noticed. Get people to see that you’re pushing a little harder. Everyone here is so good that you have to go just one step further.”

She adds that the PMPG program creates a sense of community and camaraderie, despite the competition for jobs.

“It’s hard enough to follow your dreams. This is why we wanted to give these 10 students a chance, and hopefully we will be able to continue offering advanced applied research and analytics training in the future.”