Colleges and universities roll out welcome mat at airport




A new collaboration between a number of Ontario colleges, universities and municipalities has laid down a big welcome mat at Toronto’s busy Pearson International Airport this summer.

The group’s “Destination Ontario” kiosks at Terminals 1 and 3 are designed to welcome and orient some of the half-million international students that are arriving to study in Canada this fall.

Kiosk staff have been greeting international students emerging from the Customs and Immigration doors on the Arrivals level with a welcome package, offering assistance with transportation and accommodation options, providing free calls home to inform family members, and other services included in a helpful app.

One of the leading figures in the project is Ganesh Neelanjanmath, the founder and chief technology officer at iCentapp.com, a smartphone app he developed to help students travelling to Canada. The concept was born from his own experience as an international student relocating from Bengaluru, India.

“I came here in 2010 to study project management at Sheridan College,” says Neelanjanmath. “You experience a joy when you land in Canada and are greeted by smiling immigration officers and airport volunteers. But as you come out the doors, you realize you don’t know anyone.”

“My landlord was thinking of picking me up, but he never came. It cost $95 to take a taxi from Pearson Airport to Oakville!” he says. “That lonely feeling is still fresh in my heart and my mind.”

After graduating from college and working in the IT field, he frequently received questions on Facebook from international students referred to him by agents in India. “The questions were very much the same, asking about working in Canada and the credentials you earn here.”

Tired of writing individual responses, Neelanjanmath came up with a mobile app that could function as a pocket resource for international students. Dubbed “iCent,” for International Centre, the app was adopted by Sheridan College in 2015, and by Centennial and 60 other schools more recently.

“A key feature is the pre-departure checklist, which reminds students what they need to complete before landing in Canada,” he says. It is augmented with helpful videos. The “welcome” aspect of the app was harder to code, and Neelanjanmath concluded it could work better as a live experience.

“In 2016, I went to the airport with a big banner to test with a group of incoming students. They responded to our welcome positively, and I proposed to our clients that we needed a presence at the airport.”

The schools agreed, but who would staff it? Neelanjanmath suggested that his company could employ students to greet new arrivals during the busy travel period.

The Destination Ontario project replaces an older initiative provided by the City of Toronto, which ended in 2016. The new model operates as a partnership between 15 Ontario colleges, four universities and six municipalities, all of which contribute to the $250,000 budget.

The kiosks are staffed from 7 am to 11 pm seven days a week between August 12 and September 8, and again in late December to mid-January to welcome new international students commencing in the winter semester.

Participating colleges include Boreal, Cambrian, Canadore, Centennial, Conestoga, Fleming, Humber, Lambton, Loyalist, Mohawk, Niagara, Northern, St. Lawrence, Seneca and Sheridan. The universities are Laurentian, McMaster, Ryerson and Wilfrid Laurier. The cities taking part include Hamilton, Kingston, Mississauga, St. Catharines, Sudbury and Toronto.

Neelanjanmath says the project is working well, with students getting a helpful orientation as soon as they exit the Customs and Immigration doors.

“Coincidentally, we came to the airport just as the city stopped their service,” he says. “We managed to fill the vacuum.”


• For more information on courses and programs at Centennial College, log on towww.centennialcollege.ca

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