Mom builds new life and career in electrical engineering

Sandy Khanjaro recognized she wasn’t achieving her full potential. She was working locally in an administrative role but longed for a position in her field.

That’s why she enrolled in Georgian’s Electrical Engineering Technology program. Combined with the degree she earned in her home country, Sandy knew this advanced diploma would give her the hands-on experience and opportunities needed to succeed in the Canadian workforce.

She’s now in her second year of the program – and thriving. We spoke with Sandy about her journey, Georgian experience and plans for after graduation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I’m the mom of three (ages six, seven and 13). We came to Canada in December 2020 after my family was forced to flee our home in Iraq due to religious persecution. Since then, my husband and I have been working hard to build a better life for our family.

Electrical Engineering student Sandy Khanjaro and her family; family portrait indoors

Life in Canada had its challenges initially, particularly with the differences in language and culture. Adapting to a new environment can be tough, but with time and active participation in the community, everything has become much smoother. I’ve found that engaging with the local community has been instrumental in overcoming language barriers and understanding cultural nuances. As I continue to participate and connect with others, I’ve been able to integrate more seamlessly into Canadian life, making my overall experience more enriching.

What inspired you to pursue electrical engineering? I hold a degree in electrical engineering from back home, which fueled my passion for the field. Additionally, I’m intrigued by the work environment and motivated by the vast opportunities in the industry. The dynamic nature of the work, coupled with the potential for innovation and problem solving, aligns well with my skills and interests.  

Have you faced any challenges coming back to school? As a newcomer and mom of three wonderful kids, one of whom is a teenager, balancing family responsibilities with academic commitments proved to be quite demanding. However, with effective time management and the unwavering support of my husband, I was able to overcome these difficulties and move forward.

It’s been a journey of adaptation and resilience. I’ve learned to navigate the complexities of being a student while maintaining a fulfilling family life.

What has your Georgian experience been like so far? My experience at Georgian has been very positive. Georgian fosters a supportive learning environment. Faculty are dedicated to student success, providing not only a comprehensive curriculum but also opportunities for hands-on learning and practical application of knowledge. The campus culture is vibrant and diverse, encouraging collaboration and the exchange of ideas among students from various backgrounds.

Georgian places a strong emphasis on preparing students for real-world challenges, evident through engaging projects, industry-relevant research opportunities, and a dedication to providing current and relevant programs. The college’s commitment to inclusivity, combined with a focus on personal and professional growth, creates a nurturing atmosphere where students can thrive academically and personally. Overall, Georgian is not just an institution; it’s a community dedicated to empowering students for success in their academic and future endeavours.

Any moments that stand out? There are several moments – both in and outside the classroom. I joined the Honda/Skills Ontario Initiative and Professor Mike Zacharko introduced me to Georgian’s Research and Innovation team. I was eager to get involved and became a student researcher.

Our research team travelled to the 2023 World Congress hosted by Colleges and Institutes Canada and the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics to share our experiences on two projects:

  • Banjo Bolt: A banjo bolt is a fastener designed for use in automotive engines. We created, programed and automated a system to identify and determine the position of a bolt using an automated manipulator to pick up the bolt and place in a manner that washers can be installed onto it (keeping in mind safety, manual control and quality control).
  • Beaver Rock: The owner of Beaver Rock needed a new solution to support home coffee brewing, which needed to be designed and built for more efficient production. We developed, designed and manufactured a new machine for their K-cup production operation. 

These projects allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, developing problem-solving skills crucial for my future career. Presenting them at World Congress not only boosted my confidence but provided valuable networking opportunities within the industry.

Outside class, exploring the diverse culture of Canada and participating in community events has been enriching. Interacting with fellow students, making new friends and building connections have added a personal and fulfilling dimension to my overall experience.

Additionally, the support and camaraderie among classmates during group projects and the encouragement received from professors have created lasting impressions. These moments have not only contributed to my academic growth but have also made my journey at Georgian truly memorable.

What are you up to this semester? I’m completing a co-op at Honda of Canada Mfg. My experience as a student researcher and the experiential learning and technical skills I gained were a huge advantage in being successful for this position.

Sandy Khanjaro, young woman wearing Honda golf shirt, standing in front of Honda booth at co-op fair

I’m an integral part of the Final Assembly Engineering group, gaining exposure to cutting-edge technology within a highly automated manufacturing facility. The role involves supporting engineering activities primarily in the electrical or mechatronics disciplines. This includes working on assignments of varying complexity and collaborating with team members on large capital investment projects.

My responsibilities extend to supporting the design, commissioning and installation of equipment. Additionally, I contribute to enhancing controls and user interfaces for existing equipment in the production environment. Another crucial aspect of my role involves supporting departmental activities aimed at continuous improvement in the areas of safety, environmental practices, quality, cost and delivery.

You recently received a bursary. Tell us a little bit about that. Colleges and Institutes Canada’s new Paul and Gerri Charette Bursary provides $5,000 to those who demonstrate financial need and often face greater challenges and barriers to participate and complete postsecondary education. Institutions in Canada can each submit one application and there are 10 bursaries available.

Team Georgian put forward my application for consideration. It served as a reminder of the supportive community at Georgian and the collective efforts to ensure students can overcome obstacles and achieve their educational goals.

I’m truly grateful for the impact the bursary has had on my academic journey. This assistance has been particularly helpful, especially considering the economic challenges I’ve faced. The bursary has not only alleviated some of the financial burdens associated with education but has also allowed me to focus more wholeheartedly on my academic pursuits.

What do you hope to do when you graduate? My goal is to further advance my expertise in electrical engineering by pursuing a master’s degree. I aspire to engage in advanced research and contribute to the development of innovative solutions in the field. Obtaining a master’s degree will not only deepen my understanding of electrical engineering but will also open doors to opportunities for impactful contributions to technology and its applications. My long-term vision involves actively participating in cutting-edge research, driving technological advancements, and potentially exploring avenues in academia to share knowledge and mentor future engineers.

What do you do outside Georgian? Outside my academic pursuits, I find joy in spending quality time with my family. Whether it’s leisurely walks, sharing moments in the kitchen while cooking together, or enjoying the simple pleasure of watching films, family time is a cherished priority for me.

Beyond that, I have a deep appreciation for the arts and entertainment. Watching films allows me to unwind and explore different narratives, while listening to music provides a therapeutic escape. These activities serve as a balance to the demands of academic life, allowing me to recharge and find inspiration in various forms of creativity.

Anything else you wish to share? I would like to express my gratitude to Laleh Khodaparast, Director of Research and Innovation, and Andrew Cywink, Research and Innovation Technologist, for their invaluable guidance and mentorship throughout my academic journey. Their expertise and support have had a profound impact on my learning experience, shaping my understanding and approach within the field of electrical engineering.

I’ve learned a great deal from them, not only in terms of technical knowledge but also in cultivating a mindset for problem-solving and innovation. Their encouragement has been instrumental in my growth, and I’m truly appreciative of the positive influence they’ve had on my academic path.

Our categories