The Niagara region has a particularly sentimental meaning for Rafael Almeida. When searching for a Canadian school to enrol in computer programming, it was the beauty of this region that reminded him of his honeymoon locale in his home country of Brazil.
While it may not seem a likely comparison given the tropical South American climate, the southern tourist town of Gramado is a scenic four-season destination, with an array of food, culture, wine … and snow.
“Niagara really got to my heart because of the memories from my honeymoon,” says Rafael, a Research Assistant with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division. “Then when I learned about what Niagara College had to offer for me, everything was a perfect match.”
His quest to further develop his specialized knowledge in information systems was just part of a bigger plan. In leaving the political and economic upheaval of Brazil, he and his wife also wanted to make a better life for their young daughter.
With a Bachelor’s degree in information systems and post-graduate education in IT Management, Rafael spent 15 years working for one of Latin America’s largest software companies. And while he had a comfortable financial footing back home, he knew that his education needed to be broadened to have security for the future.
“It was not only specialized, and a proprietary language that I was experienced in, it was very old technology,” he explains. “If they suddenly closed, I would be in trouble … it’s not a programming language that could be transferred easily.”
“In my job in Brazil I would never have the opportunity to work with lasers. Here, I have real-world problems that I’m solving with my knowledge – my college knowledge and my past business knowledge.”
Since arriving in 2018, Rafael’s strategy has been to work extremely hard at his grades, provide for his family, learn the language and give back when he can. To date, he has earned near perfect grades in his first two terms, holds down two jobs, he’s nearly fluent in English, and peer mentors, and tutors other international students.
At 35, Rafael has the maturity to understand the importance of all his actions.
“I knew that it would be hard mentally and financially, but it’s all part of the strategy. I came here with this in my mind,” he says. “I had to be the best one in class and get as much knowledge as I can. I need to make it work. I need to do whatever I have time to in order to hopefully establish here.”
He realized it was going to be a challenging schedule, leaving little time to spend with his wife Priscila and five-year-old daughter Alice, given his school work, his R&I position and a part-time job at Walmart near his St. Catharines’ home. “That’s the only thing that makes me a little sad. But we all know it’s temporary and it’s good for our future.”
Since starting with Research & Innovation earlier this summer, Rafael has had the opportunity to work on projects he never dreamed possible – lasers, 3D printers, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and more.
His first assignment was helping his team with a project for industry partner Speed Composites, who had invented a product to provide precise measurements and optimum adjustments of a race car’s chassis prior to a race, and wirelessly transmit the data to an app. The company needed help building the electronics and programming the software/firmware.
Rafael was brought on board to help troubleshoot issues with the laser measurement sensor. He soon discovered that various surfaces made differences with the measurements and his team was able to adjust the sensors.
“In my job in Brazil I would never have the opportunity to work with lasers,” he says. “Here, I have real-world problems that I’m solving with my knowledge – my college knowledge and my past business knowledge.”
As well, with his expertise in process management software in fields such as logistics, manufacturing and financial services, he has been putting his experience to good use in helping to revamp the R&I platform work management software, Tracksuite.
“The experience I’m gaining will definitely make a difference on my resume.”
Rafael understands that his current experiences will shape his future. So, when he was invited by R&I staff to be the student representative guest speaker at a $14-million funding announcement by the federal government to Niagara College, he knew he could not pass up the opportunity, even if he was hesitant to speak in front of a group of dignitaries in his second language.
“I was told the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities would be there, and I was like, ‘for all of Canada?’” he jokes. “But I’m pretty sure this is going to help me in the future. The videos and photos of that day will definitely be part of my portfolio.”
For every milestone so far in the region that’s so close to his heart, he is grateful. “It’s been very good for us here,” he says. “For my daughter she’s learning things and having opportunities that she didn’t have. Brazil is a good country with good people, but here in Canada we have opportunities that we wouldn’t have there, mainly for our daughter.”
Upon graduation, Rafael says his plan is to apply for a post-graduate work permit with the hope of staying in Canada another three years.
In the meantime, he continues to find time to mentor other international students who may be struggling to adapt to the region or their academics.
“It’s always good to help others achieve success,” he adds. “We are more than only ourselves in this life. If at the end of the day you make someone feel better about themselves, I call it a good day.”