Before COVID-19 hit, Zaaheda Islam from Dhaka, Bangladesh had found her second home in Halifax, Canada. The third-year Bachelor of Computer Science student at Dalhousie University would start her day by grabbing a mocha at one of the campus cafes before heading to her morning lecture. In between classes, she puts on her running shoes and hits Dalplex — one of the many athletic facilities on campus — or studies and catches up with her peers at the Goldberg Computer Science Building. After sunset, she would attend campus events or head downtown with friends.
It was her passion to unlock the next technological wonder that drove her to follow in her brother’s footsteps to enrol at Dalhousie University three years ago. “I’ve always liked solving puzzles, thinking about problems, and finding solutions. When I discovered the world of programming, I knew instantly that it was what I wanted to do,” she says.
Zaaheda was always excited to attend classes and explore the campus. She made new friends and got to know their stories. She performed a Bollywood dance at the international gala. She received guidance and support from respected teachers like Dr. Srinivas Sampalli and Dr. Raghav Sampangi, even acting as a teaching assistant for the latter.
Then COVID-19 struck, and Zaaheda found herself heading back to Bangladesh — 12,000 kilometres away from campus.
Adapting to a virtual learning environment
As the first batch to transition completely to virtual learning, Zaaheda and her peers had to adapt fast. Today, she maintains a full schedule which includes virtual classes, study groups, part-time work, and quality time with family and friends. Her night-owl tendencies have come in handy to follow lectures, which, if she wants to attend live, now begin at 10.30 pm due to a 10-hour time difference between Halifax and Dhaka.
This cross-border learning is facilitated by the Faculty of Computer Science, which Zaadeha applauds for its guidance and support. “They are helping out with programmes and virtual events by bringing in new resources to promote the virtual experience. One such example is the Dal Mobile app, which has helped me reach out to other students despite not being on campus. It also helps me keep track of events happening, and opportunities I can further explore,” she says.
Back on campus, Zaaheda was involved in the Women in Technology Society (WITS) — one of the most empowering experiences in her life. “WITS has meant so much to me in terms of feeling included in the male-dominated field of computer science. The society has introduced me to many opportunities for professional development and is often approached by organisations which want to support computer science students,” she attests.
To keep club activities going these days, she meets up with other WITS executive members virtually once a week. Sometimes, she also studies with them on the group-chatting platform Discord. “We chat for a short time and study together, which helps me exchange notes and course-related advice with other students in the faculty. It also makes me feel connected to the Dal community,” Zaaheda says.
Cultivating personal and professional skills
Beyond studying, Zaaheda got the chance to pursue her first hands-on cooperative education experience this past summer with Axis Capital. “Although the work from home did take away some experiences, it introduced new ones. As a team, we were still able to accomplish all the things that we had planned for the summer. I was able to spend more time on self-learning, which led me to perform better at work,” she relates.
While the new arrangements have made for a hectic semester, it has also presented an opportunity to develop valuable interpersonal skills independently. Managing her workload across different time zones has helped Zaaheda plan better, whether it comes to organising her workload or managing her time. She is now confident in these soft skills, even sharing a tip called “slow-motion multitasking” — it involves switching to a different task when struggling to focus, instead of procrastinating.
“I found myself being overwhelmed many times but today, I am able to complete most of my duties and still have time to give to my friends and family here in Bangladesh. Undoubtedly, this is one of the major skills I have honed in these two years of being a Dalhousie undergraduate student,” Zaaheda shares.
Seize your chance at Dalhousie University
Like many other Dalhousie students, Zaaheda remains focused on continuing her programme remotely. She is on track to launch her corporate career, one she plans to seek at the intersection of technology and business. Taking one day at a time, she’s optimistic for what the future holds and is looking forward to being back on campus.
Her advice for future students? “Dalhousie has a very diverse body of students, which means you will always find someone like-minded who can relate to you. Your responsibility is to keep an eye out for the opportunities and take advantage of them.” Seize your chance; apply to Dalhousie University today.