2016 BTVI graduate, Gerrard Russell is now a graduate of Fanshawe College in Canada. He credits BTVI sending him on the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) – a student exchange – as the opportunity which drove his desire to go to college abroad. Photos: Gerrard Russell
Gerrard Russell, a 2016 Information Technology Management graduate of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) now works with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) company which oversees the IT infrastructure of several hundred companies in Ontario, Canada.
Reminiscing on his journey, Gerrard who completed an Advanced Diploma in Computer Systems and Technology course at Fanshawe College in December 2019, acknowledged that BTVI was a stepping stone to where he is today. In 2014, he was one of five BTVI students afforded the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP), receiving the opportunity to study in Canada.
“Before I started BTVI, I spent most of my time fixing computers or making them faster. This wasn’t something I was interested in, but BTVI opened my eyes to the possibilities of the field. The course at BTVI has only evolved since I have left and I believe it gives even more exposure to the students who are attending. It was the ELAP program though that ended up being a game changer for me in more ways than one, and it opened my eyes to the many different studies in IT,” said Gerrard.
For 11 consecutive years, BTVI has partnered with the Canadian government to award its students with study abroad exchanges. The most recent experience was in spring of this year, with colleges in Canada accommodating BTVI students for an extended stay when borders were closed because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
It was that study abroad experience in 2014 that motivated Gerrard to go abroad for further study and training after he graduated from BTVI, although he admitted he did not know how he would afford it. However, it was a deeply embedded dream.
Thanks to the Lyford Cay Foundations, Gerrard - who fixed computers on the side to fund his way through BTVI - received a technical and vocational scholarship to Fanshawe College and was able to begin further studies in fall 2016.
‘It took me approximately three years to complete the course. Two years of theory and one accumulated year of working and gaining real world experience. Without the support of the Lyford Cay Foundations, it would have been impossible for me to attend Fanshawe College. It is not too expensive of a college but factoring in tuition and living expenses would have made it very hard for me to work and maintain good grades,” he stated.
Gerrard said his second time at Fanshawe College was an even better experience.
“I knew about the heavy course load, made friends and applied myself early so that I didn’t fall behind in the subsequent semesters. Many Bahamians, including myself, aren’t going to necessarily be accustomed to the big change in environment and study, so I do appreciate the ELAP program for getting me adjusted to this,” he said.
Gerrard is now receiving experience in network infrastructure at his MSP job, which he landed right after completing college.
“I was able to gladly finish my college studies before the COVID-19 pandemic took over, but with COVID, this job was perfect, as I was able to work efficiently from home 90% of the time. The team I work with isn’t too big so there are big responsibilities that are falling into my lap,” he noted.
“Between having attended Fanshawe and my co-op experience at Blackberry, I’ve fallen in love with the networking field. For now, my ultimate career goal would be Network Architecture and creating more efficient networks. In my current job, I have gotten some experience towards this and I am pushing more into the network field daily,” said the IT professional.
Questioned as to whether he feels disadvantaged receiving an advanced diploma compared to a Bachelor’s degree, Gerrard said not at all.
“The IT field does fixate on certificates to show more updated knowledge so I do not feel disadvantaged. A degree course, for example Computer Science, does teach you a good amount of knowledge on the overall picture including programming and many different platforms other than Windows. However, the Computer Systems and Technology advanced diploma I studied can set me on multiple tracks towards my career,” he said.
The diploma focused on Cisco Networking, Windows and Linux Based Systems, Firewalls, Data Centre and Cloud Based Technologies, as well as several Security courses.
While studying at Fanshawe College in Canada, 2016 BTVI graduate, Gerrard Russell, had a co-op experience at Blackberry.
As most students look forward to walking across the stage as a rite of passage following their studies, Gerrard was no different. However, based on social distancing protocols, in-person graduations were axed for many institutions worldwide. That, though, did not faze him.
“I did not feel robbed because of COVID as I was able to quickly transition from the school environment into my job. I do feel for some of my other fellow students as this was their only attempt to walk across the stage. I had already been blessed to do that with BTVI, so I didn’t feel bad about not being able to attend my own graduation,” he stated.
As the IT professional reflects on his journey from fixing computers on the side to help pay his BTVI school fees to gaining a scholarship to Fanshawe College and now working in Canada, he acknowledged that it was possible but for the grace of God, his determination and focus, and that study abroad experience which became a game changer.
BTVI President, Dr. Robert W. Robertson, noted that for 2021, the Canadian government has announced a focus on technical and vocational training in their ELAP program.
“BTVI is excited to be able to send our students on this innovative and important study abroad program. It’s a great opportunity to experience college abroad, including gaining additional credits, exposure to a new culture and new people from around the world, and a different learning environment,” said Dr. Robertson.