Research Assistant, Business & Commercialization Solutions
A friend once told Ijeoma Eze that she goes through life like a bulldozer. It was meant as praise, befitting someone with the will to push through and adapt to any situation.
She called on that fortitude three years ago when she left her family in Nigeria to further her education across the globe. Still, the journey to Niagara College was not an easy one. “It was scary, especially coming from West Africa – a different colour, different culture, different everything,” says Ijeoma, a Research Assistant for Business & Commercialization Solutions, where she’s working a co-op for her Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce & Global Development).
Today, she can laugh at adjusting to those contrasts in culture – like how she spent an entire semester dressed in her winter coat and head warmer inside class because she “just couldn’t get warm” in our fall climate.
“When I came it was September and I thought I was going to die,” she laughs, adding that the typical temperature back home at this time is 38 to 40 degrees Celsius.
One thing she gladly adapted to was the predictability of electricity that most in the west take for granted. Where she’s from, electricity is turbulent and can be out for days or months even. “You can imagine the kind of change when I came here – the electricity doesn’t go out and when it does you can go online and see that they’re working on it and you know it will be only a matter of time.”
“It was scary, especially coming from West Africa – a different colour, different culture, different everything.”
While she is new to this culture, Ijeoma is not a newcomer to education. In fact, she holds a degree in biochemistry. However, rather than enter her chosen field after graduating, she had to do a year-long placement with the National Youth Services Corp. – a mandatory requirement in Nigeria. The posting she received was at a financial company assisting the Human Resources Manager.
But a curious thing happened to the science buff: “I then started to realize I had an interest and a flare for business and I liked talking and listening to people,” she explains. “So I went on to get a post-graduate diploma in Community Relations.” And from there, the talk of studying international business abroad started to swirl.
In fact, it was her long-time boyfriend who suggested Ijeoma move forward with plans to study in Canada, knowing it would mean a four-year separation. Indeed, the couple did not see each other for two years, only conversing via Whatsapp, until Ijeoma went home over the school Christmas break in 2017 to get married. At some point in the future, she says, her husband will join her here.
In the meantime, her experience here, says Ijeoma, has been “exciting, but difficult at the same time… having to work three jobs at one point just to cover costs.”
Yet, like always, she bulldozes her way through any hardships.
It also helps to be immersed in “fascinating” real-world assignments within her Research & Innovation post, such as her project with Haver & Boecker, a national mining equipment manufacturer with a facility in St. Catharines. It was her first time working on a competitive analysis for a real, let-alone major, company.
“Haver & Boecker is a multi-million-dollar company – I couldn’t afford to fail them. The pressures are real, the deadlines are real. The project helped me to be more assertive, organized, knowledgeable and give me a feel for industry,” she explains. “It was a great experience.”
A different industry project had her research team craft a comprehensive marketing strategy for a local records management company wishing to rebrand and expand its market reach. Her team’s efforts were validated when the business decided to go forward and rebrand its name and logo.
“I would never have had these opportunities without Research & Innovation. It’s a great privilege … and a really big deal, considering where I’m coming from.”
Along with the array of different research projects, Ijeoma says she’s receiving invaluable diplomacy-building skills by communicating with each business.
“For every industry partner, you have to be sensitive to the way they think. When you’re providing recommendations and analysis on their business, some people want to hear this straight up and others, you need to be a little more sensitive.”
It’s exposure that she knows will take her far. “I would never have had these opportunities without Research & Innovation. It’s a great privilege… and a really big deal, considering where I’m coming from.”
While she continues soaking in the applied knowledge, Ijeoma is carving out her short and long term goals for her future. Once she graduates her plan is to enter the corporate world and learn “everything from financial to human resources to global development, foreign policy and foreign trade – I would like to have experience in all of that. I tell my friends I’m going to be a CEO.”
In the long term she’s eyeing a place in politics or public service administration back in Nigeria so she can help “change” things: “My country is in a bad state, corruption-wise and I know change doesn’t happen in a day, but if the right things are put in place, slowly and surely, we’ll get where we need to be. And we need to start having people come out and do that.”
One of the things she’s currently learning that will hopefully help affect that change is understanding how to anticipate adversity and provide solutions before it becomes a problem.
“I hope to learn more about that and take that knowledge back home. I know it will be difficult, but I will ensure that I try to make my own little contribution towards the change process and I believe I will make an impact eventually.” – R&I