A Centennial College Success Story
STUDENT SPURNS ENGINEERING FOR BUSINESS AND MAKES HIS OWN WAY
By MARK TOLJAGIC
It’s a customary conversation that takes place in countless desi homes all over the world: Parents advising their sons to pursue engineering as a career path that will provide them with a comfortable life. What parent would not want the best for their children?
“My father wanted me to study engineering, too,” says Jerin Thomas, smiling. “But I insisted on pursuing commerce at university. I had done a lot of research before I made my choice, and I knew engineering was not the best fit for me.”
Born in the steel city of Jamshedpur, India, Thomas and his parents relocated to the rich agricultural region of Kerala in southern India where they set down roots far from the blast furnaces. Being on the Malabar Coast, it’s revered for its palm-lined beaches and network of canals. Kerala also has the Western Ghats inland mountains whose slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations, as well as a wide variety of wildlife.
“It’s known as ‘God’s own country,’ and it’s very rural. It is India’s spice region,” he notes. As the only offspring, Thomas, who is now aged 26, recognized that his parents had made considerable sacrifices to ensure he was raised well and acquired a good education.
His father, a business owner, worked hard and so did his mother, who left for some time to work as a nurse in Saudi Arabia. As he grew older, Thomas reasoned with his parents and got his wish to study business commerce at Mahatma Gandhi University. He excelled, and found himself chosen for an employment opportunity.
“I was the first person in my class to be placed in a company. My father was very proud!” he says of his graduation in 2013. He joined a large multinational company in Kerala, where he worked in operations for a year.
“I was dealing with a lot of clients overseas and I had become known as a ‘people person.’ So I decided to shift to human resources, and I joined a European telecom company,” Thomas says.
From there he moved to a smaller company so that he could grow professionally by learning all of the responsibilities required in a small enterprise. After a year and a half of long hours and low pay, Thomas began to contemplate his next move by researching some alternative directions.
He liked the idea of leaving the country to study, but didn’t quite know what would appeal to him. Global business management is a very popular option for young Indians wanting to study overseas, but he felt the subject had become clichéd.
“We have a family friend, Albert, who settled in Toronto and who gave a glowing account of life here,” says Thomas. “I knew I wanted to do a course to improve my English and especially my writing skills.” He reached out to a graduate of the Public Relations and Corporate Communications program at Centennial College, who convinced him to come and try it.
As one of the most highly regarded public relations (pr) programs in Toronto, Centennial’s program teaches students to research, write and implement strategic corporate communications plans, employee newsletters and even media releases to ensure an organization’s messages are conveyed clearly.
The program sounded ideal to Thomas, so he made arrangements to study in Canada and, before long, disembarked from an airliner at Toronto Pearson International Airport last September. Thomas readily admits the journey took him completely out of his comfort zone.
“It was my first time travelling outside of India. Canada represented a very advanced country for me. In fact, there are four or five Indians in my course, and it was a culture shock for all of us!”
Once school was underway at the college’s Story Arts Centre near downtown Toronto, Thomas grew accustomed to the routine and marvelled at the way public relations (pr) is taught: not just with textbooks, like back home, but by challenging students to apply the lessons to real projects for actual clients.
“Our natural curiosity was exercised. The professors gave us very practical work in our pr courses. We had to organize a live charity event to raise money for a cause – something we would never do in India,” he says.
Despite having a commerce degree and good work experience from back home, Thomas did find the studies challenging, although being accustomed to earning good grades meant he had to concentrate and work, rather than drop a course or two to make the workload easier.
Then last fall a faculty strike curtailed classes at Centennial and at the province’s 23 other public colleges. As unwelcome as the situation was, Thomas took the disruption in stride.
“A strike is nothing new for me. It happens all the time in India,” he notes. “It’s simply something that you need to handle maturely.” In a way, it was another real-life challenge that proved to be a learning opportunity.
The strike was resolved in early December and Thomas had to work extra hard to catch up in his assignments and manage his precious time. He also garnered a field placement with the college’s Marketing and Communications department for several weeks, so he could learn how an organization communicates with its 3,000 employees, as well as 20,000 students.
“Employee communications is something I’m very much interested in, and it is very much required in human resources here and in India.”
He managed to complete the requirements of the one-year graduate certificate program and received his credential from Centennial College at a colourful graduation ceremony in June.
“My parents are happy and supportive of my decisions,” Thomas is delighted to report. He plans to study human resources in the fall to gain some Canadian perspective on the discipline and round out his professional education.
Thomas plans to make Canada his home in the future and, eventually, bring his hard-working parents here to retire and live in comfort. It’s the least he could do for his mother and father, who sacrificed so much.
“Canada is a very special and very beautiful country. The diversity and the politeness of the people are very real! It has its own magnificence,” he says of his time living in Canada to date.
They are thoughtful and gratifying words to hear from a newcomer as we celebrate Canada Day this month.
For more information, visit www.centennialcollege.ca