Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, WIMTACH has continued its efforts to support its Student Researchers to gain experiential learning, job opportunities, employable skills and industry knowledge of digital health sectors. This series will highlight how students and faculty who work with WIMTACH are managing the ongoing changes to their daily lives.
Dr. Salima Amlani is a Professor in the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science (SETAS) at Centennial College. She began her Principal Investigator role at WIMTACH in March 2019, two months after conversing with WIMTACH Research Associate Majura Maheswaran about what the role entails. What drew her to the role was the structure of WIMTACH wherein faculty guide students through project tasks and objectives.
Since last year, Dr. Amlani has worked diligently on four projects – iMerciv, McCray Optical and two Treasured Inc. projects, one of which is still ongoing – and guided students through them towards meaningful experiential learning. On her first project, she describes her experience as “eye-opening”:
“We were actually in direct contact with iMerciv’s [team member], who transferred the knowledge to our students. It was a good experience overall guiding the students and helping them out in terms of possibilities, such as the way to go ahead and search for things. It was very much a technical experience. iMerciv introduced us to tools for team development and team collaboration. We actually used the techniques their team has been using. I have used these techniques also later on in my projects.”
These techniques include project management that has proven to be useful in other projects:
“The project provided me with some tools I can use for project management. I’m using Slack more often now for communications with teams and clients. I’m actually creating a Slack group for any project I’m working on.”
Besides the techniques that she picked up during the project, she also saw how her leadership and guidance impacted the students’ approach to work. At the beginning of the iMerciv project, for example, students were unaware of the platforms and tools needed for the project. They had to essentially learn on the project. Since Dr. Amlani was able to collaboratively plan out next steps and approaches, she was able to figure out how to encourage the students to trust their own process.
As a result, the students were able to come up with a new phase for the project that the client was happy with, using what they just learned. “There were many challenges they faced with Nodejs and React, and they thought their idea wasn’t going to work. But once they got the algorithm working, they were much more confident.”
Dr. Amlani also became more confident with her own leadership. She changed her approach to engaging with students once she realized that experiential learning can be an opportunity that students create for each other. For example, she had the students occasionally work independently to build their problem-solving skills and then come back together to share their approaches and learn from each other.
During the pandemic, balancing WIMTACH projects and Centennial College lectures has proved to be challenging. Aside from the professional work, Dr. Amlani has the work of motherhood. As the mother of a young child, she has had to find creative ways to contribute to projects while caring for her child all day. For example, she will take her son on walks with her while she is in a meeting that only requires her to take in information from students, clients or other team members. It also helps that she has a support system:
“Without my husband’s help, I wouldn’t be able to participate in meetings, contribute, showing demonstrations, giving feedback etc…it has been a little difficult for me because now everything that I didn’t have to think about all the time is now on my mind all the time.”
For her Centennial students, she has been flexible so as to create a comfortable learning environment, since the circumstances of learning from home that the pandemic has created are diverse. “Sometimes I have to give them more time to complete more tests. Or sometimes, I say they can keep themselves on mute so that there isn’t too much disruption.”
Despite the unpredictability, Dr. Amlani is very happy to be working on the WIMTACH projects. The most recent Applied Research and Development (ARD) project she is a Principal Investigator on is with WIMTACH industry partner Treasured Inc. On this project, Dr. Amlani is working with two students, Leslie and Matteo, who she worked with on a previous the Treasured Inc project, to implement artificial intelligence into the client’s products. Already, she has seen them pivot well between technologies – from GitHub on the first project to Python on the current project – as well as effectively researching and working together.
Dr. Amlani’s advice for coping and working effectively during the pandemic is to avoid procrastination. “Use the time that you have to finish work ahead of time because in this [pandemic] situation, everything is very unpredictable.”
For more #WIMTACHatHome stories, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/news/
For updates on WIMTACH’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit https://mailchi.mp/d9a20aac07f0/covid-19-update
WIMTACH proudly recognizes funding to support this work from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).