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Scholarships for Change Champions: Arvin Ramlakhan, MEC’19

Posted by Aishwarya Shrestha on November 10, 2023 in Alumni & Friends
Arvin Ramlakhan, MEC’19 (photos provided).
Arvin Ramlakhan, MEC’19 (photos provided).

In the spirit of cultivating innovation and fostering societal impact, alum Arvin Ramlakhan (MEC’19) has made a heartfelt commitment of $7,500 to Dalhousie University. His generosity will establish a fund called "Scholarship for Change Champions," which will create an annual $1,500 scholarship supporting a meritorious student currently enrolled in the Master of Digital Innovation program within the Faculty of Computer Science. It is intended to encourage and facilitate the student's academic journey, with a special emphasis on leveraging their education to drive positive societal transformation.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Arvin completed his Master's in Electronic Commerce (MEC) at Dalhousie University in 2019. (The MEC program has since evolved into the Masters of Digital Innovation). Presently residing in Ottawa, Arvin is an acting Special Advisor at Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) a special operating agency of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) Canada.

We recently sat down with Arvin to discuss some of his memories at Dalhousie and why he chose to give back to his alma-matter.

Can you share with us your experience as a student at Dalhousie's Faculty of Computer Science? What were some of the valuable lessons you learned?

I have a lot of fond memories from my time at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science. I loved all the social activities like Geek Beer and trips that were planned. I remember going skiing with my friends and although we never got off the bunny hill, we had a blast learning how to ski. You could say one of the lessons I learned was the importance of getting up after I had fallen and trying again and again.

I also learned to read and write different types of code, and some incredibly useful user experience and accessibility best practices. When I supervise staff today, I often recall how I was taught to think through problems and to synthesize large amounts of information when doing research or data analysis.

Were there any specific courses or professors that had a significant impact on your professional development?

I have to say a special thank you to Colin Conrad. For many of us in the MEC program, he was a trusted advisor that supported us as we sought guidance on everything from our research to our career aspirations.

I also want to say thank you to Keith Lawson. He supervised my final research paper in the MEC program, which documented the low rates of e-commerce adoption amongst small businesses in Canada. This research paper helped me gain a better understanding of the unique challenges of small businesses and other factors that affect wider innovation, entrepreneurship, and cross-border trade. It contributed to my success in the public sector, as I had a solid understanding of policies and programs that exist to support economic growth and an understanding of their limitations.

What inspired you to make a donation to Dalhousie's Faculty of Computer Science?

I was fortunate to receive an academic scholarship while studying at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science. It came as a bit of a surprise, and I still remember how excited I was to share the good news with my parents. I always wanted to pay it forward. One day I met another alum who had set up a small scholarship in her previous program, and I thought that it was an incredible idea. I sent an email to Laura Clark, the Assistant Dean of Advancement. I was particularly interested in providing financial support for students in the Masters of Digital Innovation program – these students are incredibly skilled and ambitious, and I hope that these small gifts can help them reach their potential. I would like to see them become leaders in digital business, health informatics, or data science.

I moved to Halifax at a time in my life where I felt as though I had something to prove personally and professionally. Halifax welcomed me with open arms and Dalhousie supported and nourished that ambition. I could not have asked for a better place to learn and grow as a person. Halifax still feels like my home away from home. There is something about the warmth and strength of Nova Scotians that resonates with me. Giving back is one of the ways I can continue to have a connection with a place that is near and dear to me.

Could you share some insights into your journey after graduating from Dalhousie?

When I graduated in spring 2019, and I had originally planned to return to Toronto and continue my career in digital marketing. At that time, I was also completing a student term with CIPO in Gatineau, Quebec. I really enjoyed my time as a student working on the policy and international affairs teams.

As a student I had an opportunity to meet our department’s ministers, to tour the Canadian Space Agency and National Research Council, and to sit in on Question Period at Parliament Hill. I was awestruck by the size of our department, the importance of our sectors, and its impact on Canadians. I was happy to be offered a full-time position, and I chose to start a second career where I would work my way up from an entry-level position. I began learning French and I said yes to every request that came my way. Over time opportunities for advancement arose. I am lucky to work with a great group of people and I am incredibly proud to serve my country as a public servant.

What were some of the defining moments that helped shape your professional trajectory?

When I completed my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Humanities in spring 2010, I found it very difficult to find a well-paying job in my field. We were just coming out of the 2008-2009 recession, and after a couple of months of searching for a job, I was close to signing a contract to teach English in South Korea. My parents encouraged me to be patient, and with their support I was able to complete two unpaid internships in advertising, and those sacrifices led me to break into the industry.  I primarily worked on digital marketing for the next 8 years. I was responsible for some of the truck, chocolate, and appliance ads you saw online. Midway through my career I decided I wanted to explore the technical side of online advertising. I also wanted to gain some experience in management and business administration. That’s what’s led me to Dalhousie! They were one of the few universities in Canada offering a master’s degree with a law, management, and computer science.

One other defining moment is my decision to start a second career in the spring of 2019. Unlike my colleagues, I did not have a background in economics or political sciences. So, I read a lot in my free time, and I also had very kind mentors that taught me a lot. There were times when I could have left for what I thought were greener pastures. However, I embraced the challenge, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

A few months after I graduated from Dal, the entire world came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Canadians adopted new digital tools and e-commerce platforms, we also had to adapt in the public service. It was bittersweet to watch the e-commerce boon happen from the sidelines, but in the coming months as things cooled, a lot of my former colleagues were laid off. If I had left for greener pastures, I likely would have faced the same outcome.

What message would you like to convey to other alumni who are considering giving back?

I am always impressed by the passion and talent of our incredible alumni. I would encourage our alumni to reach out to their former faculties to learn how they can get involved. They may be surprised to learn that there are a lot of different ways they can contribute. Whether it’s participating on a panel, hiring a summer student, acting as a mentor, volunteering at events, or serving on a steering committee. I think our alumni have so much to offer students at Dalhousie and their wider community beyond just making a donation.

What advice would you give to your fellow alumni who may be contemplating making a donation to the Faculty of Computer Science but are unsure about how their contributions can make a tangible difference?

I would encourage our alumni to think about how they would like to make a difference in the lives of students. Donations play an important role in achieving some of these outcomes. A donation can help fund research or scholarships and bursaries that can help students in need. Your funding can support career-building opportunities that may never have existed. Whether it’s student exchanges, experiential learning, new equipment, or access to industry events and conferences. Even something on a smaller scale, such as purchasing tickets or a full table at a banquet, makes a difference.

Arvin's contributions and commitment to fostering positive change serve as a testament to the impact individuals can have within their communities and beyond.

The inaugural Scholarship for Change Champions award will be bestowed toward the end of the selected student’s first year/start of their second year in the graduate program. The announcement will be made at the faculty’s annual student-run Snowball event.