Kristen Gainforth answers the call for those in need

Graduate Spotlight: Kristen Gainforth

Kristen Gainforth was ready for her career long before she crossed the stage at Durham College’s (DC) Spring Convocation.

In fact, she had to bow out of DC’s 9-1-1 Emergency and Call Centre Communications program a little early, but she had a good reason for doing so. She was busy working!

Last fall, while completing her second year of studies, she applied for a job as a 9-1-1 dispatcher with the Kawartha Lakes Police Service. The native of Pontypool knew it was a long shot, but the job was close to home and she had nothing to lose.

“It was a shot in the dark, and I took it,” she said.

That began a long process of interviews, tests, background checks and psychological evaluations, all while keeping on top of her school work. Her tireless efforts paid off in March when she got the job, becoming the youngest person ever employed by the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Her DC professors played a key role in her success by providing references for her during the hiring process and then accommodating her new schedule once she was hired. She was allowed to complete her exams early, which enabled her to take on her new role while earning her diploma.

Her remarkable achievement came as no surprise to Melissa Taaffe, a professor in the Faculty of Social and Community Services (SCS).

“Kristen has been a wonderful student and has a great skill set for 9-1-1 communications. She has astute attention to detail and excellent memory recall, and she is a methodical and logical problem-solver. These characteristics will serve her well in a dispatch career,” said Taaffe. “I’m sure that Kawartha Police will find her to be a true asset.”

She made a similar impression on Amanda Cannon, program coordinator and professor in the Faculty of SCS.

“A huge strength of Kristen’s is her ability to take on a challenge, which is definitely the kind of person who excels in this career,” she said. “I admire the way she approaches each situation and uses her problem-solving skills.”

The support of her professors was invaluable to Kristen, as was their prior experience in 9-1-1 dispatch. They gave the students a real understanding of what a career in emergency services is like.

“Without my professors and their real-life experience, I don’t think I’d understand the job as much,” said Gainforth.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart. Nobody ever calls 9-1-1 because everything is fine, and dispatchers go through a mental and emotional wringer each day as they speak to people who are experiencing traumatic events. The program prepared Kristen and her classmates for that by playing recordings of real emergency calls and enacting some for practice, but it’s no comparison to dealing with real people who are in real danger.

“When it’s a real person, you can’t just hang up and start over. You’re going to get people who are freaking out and not listening to you,” she said. When that happens, she recalls the advice of her professors: slow them down and remember who is in control of the conversation.

When she hangs up the phone, she takes a deep breath and moves on, ready for the next call. It’s the same at the end of the day when she has to remind herself not to bring work home with her. Luckily, DC’s 9-1-1 program includes courses on lifestyle management, resilience and self-care, and mental health. Those lessons help her deal with each emotionally charged call as it comes.

Having graduated on the President’s Honour Roll, she is gaining experience every day in a career she loves.

“It’s a good feeling because you know you’re helping somebody. It’s nice to know I’m a part of that.”

Yash Sawant is part of the AI revolution

Graduate Spotlight – Yash Sawant

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world every day, and students like Yash Sawant are embracing it and the multitude of career opportunities it offers.

In 2019, Durham College (DC) launched the Artificial Intelligence Analysis, Design and Implementation graduate certificate program, and added the Artificial Intelligence – Honours Bachelor degree program in 2022. Both are designed to prepare graduates to be the next generation of leaders who will not only participate in the AI discussion but push it forward.

It was the graduate certificate program that enticed Sawant, an international student from India, to come to DC. He immersed himself in his studies, and will cross the stage at convocation this month.

Having already worked as a software engineer in his native country, he came to class with a solid base of knowledge that the program quickly built on.

“I got to experiment and try new things, and that was a good experience. It really sharpened my skills,” he said. “This program gave me a lot of new skills, filled in gaps in my knowledge and made me realize I didn’t know certain things that I thought I knew.”

His passion for problem-solving is what pushed him to study AI, and as he delved deeper into the course material, he knew he had made the right choice.

“I realized as I worked on more projects that there were solutions that required a human way of thinking to solve problems,” he said. “If you want to automate something a human does, you need algorithms that can actually tackle that in a certain way and to understand many different outcomes and produce a solution. I found that AI-based solutions were leading in that. AI is the way to solve most of the problems.”

Sawant worked on a wide range of projects during his time at DC, both in and out of class. For the program’s first capstone project, he built a tool designed to detect fake news. For his next capstone, he designed an AI model to predict the stock market, which he demonstrated at DC’s Student IT Expo.

Students like Sawant aren’t alone in pushing the boundaries of AI solutions. The faculty is also charting new frontiers, according to Tony Doyle, executive dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Information Technology (SEIT).

“Durham College is widely regarded for its responsiveness to emerging societal needs and demands. Our faculty participate in a range of activities designed to keep them at the forefront of information,” he said. “DC not only responds to emergent issues but works to stay current and indeed ahead of where the industry or society may be.”

One example of this is a project that Sawant is also involved in: the development and use of generative AI discussion tools like ChatGPT, and the creation of a DC chatbot. Work on the initiative continues, with the goal of producing a program that can answer any questions about DC.  

In addition to his time in class, Sawant also put his skills and knowledge to good use in the AI Hub, where students work under lead data scientists to provide solutions for small businesses, entrepreneurs and other clients.

“I think it’s very important in this field that you actually practice what you’ve learned,” he said. “You have to keep applying yourself and doing projects and experimenting, and that’s how you learn best. You can’t just study the theory and expect to be employed. You have to be hands-on.”

There’s no denying the impact AI has already had on the world. Like any developing technology, it has the potential to create drastic change, for good and bad, and Sawant can see both sides of the argument. He believes it will have a huge impact on productivity, with AI assistants helping everyone work faster and more efficiently. But that very utility will inevitably take jobs away from people who need them.

What’s clear is that AI is here to stay, and the newly minted DC graduate is eager to see what the future holds as he builds his life and career in Canada.

“There are a lot of tasks that are very simple that don’t require any knowledge. Menial, repetitive tasks are going to be automated and that’s going to change the world. I want to be part of that revolution.”

The road to employment: How one graduate credits his success to the powerful impact of his professors

Graduate Spotlight – REJOY JAMES

When Class of 2023 graduate Rejoy James reflects on his time at Durham College (DC), he’ll always remember his professors and the role they played in helping him land his dream job as a Vendor Compliance and Product Stewardship Analyst at Staples Inc. – even before finishing his final classes and exams.

Rejoy’s new job combines the skills from both programs he completed at DC – Data Analytics for Business Decision Making and Supply Chain Management – Global, where he is part of the first graduating class set to cross the Convocation stage in June.

While the pandemic impacted Rejoy’s experience when he first enrolled at DC in September 2021, the timeliness and relevancy of his programs offered the chance to apply the course materials to real-life scenarios, strengthening his understanding and preparing him to become a career-ready graduate.

We caught up with Rejoy to learn more about his DC experience and plans for the future.


How did DC prepare you to be career-ready?

I owe a lot to my professors at DC because they made my experience so memorable. They are professionals with industry experience, which I found to be one of the best things. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you’re talking to a professor. They really help you and never shy away from questions.

What led you to further your education at DC?

I always had this idea that I would go into the data analysis field, but after the support I received from my professors, I thought, “What if I take another program at DC?” That’s what led me to the Supply Chain Management – Global program.

What impacts did the pandemic have on your studies and your DC experience?

Since data analysis is programming-based, I was a bit skeptical about how a fully-online program would work, but all the professors were experts at teaching online and communicating with students virtually. Whatever question I had, they had the answer.

In my Supply Chain Management – Global program, we were constantly talking about the pandemic, and how the supply chain was affected. I learned that the supply chain is like the glue that holds all the industries together. For example, we discussed the chip shortage and toilet paper demand and were able to apply the in-class concepts in the real world so we could see how customers would be impacted.

How did your professors help you land your first job before you even graduated?

Many of my professors were willing to go beyond the syllabus and teach us more about how to do things, and how to develop soft skills, such as interviewing. We discussed what questions employers might ask so we could be better prepared. Along with the course material, this career development helped me land my new role at Staples Inc. and I’m very grateful.

How will your DC credentials, along with your previous education support you in your new role?

I never imagined I’d land my first job even before graduating. My new role will combine five of my six credentials and I’m very excited. In addition to my two DC graduate certificates, I hold a Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering, a Master of Business Administration (Management), a Product Design and Analysis diploma and a Chartered Management Institute Level 7 diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership.

Policing a dream career for Shavine Johnson

Graduate Spotlight – Shavine Johnson

Shavine Johnson has always wanted to serve her community.

From a young age, she believed that a career in policing would be the best way to do that. While she was unable to pursue it in her native Jamaica, relocating to Canada in 2017 gave her another chance to follow her passion.

“I gave up on a dream back then. But when I came here, I realized I could actually act upon my dream.”

That realization brought her to Durham College, where she entered the Police Foundations program in January 2022. Four semesters later, she is ready to cross the stage at convocation and find the job she’s been dreaming about since childhood.

The learning and skills acquired through the diploma program are invaluable stepping stones for anyone considering a career in the field, according to program co-coordinator Mark Armstrong.

“It is an excellent foundation and students gain the life skills that are measured during the hiring process,” he said. “Students get realistic insight into policing through faculty experience, which gives realism to the program and a recipe for success.”

The program emphasizes the importance of physical fitness to prepare students for the demanding career ahead of them. It includes valuable certifications like Mental Health First Aid and Situational Awareness Specialist.

By constantly evolving and responding to community needs, DC has earned a stellar reputation among police organizations, according to Yvonne Armstrong, coordinator of the Advanced Law Enforcement and Investigations program and a professor in Police Foundations.

“Recruiters come to us now with job openings asking for our graduates. Our team has worked hard to improve and raise the bar so that we truly do lead the way,” she said.

It’s no secret that policing is a high-profile (and highly scrutinized) job. In the media as well as pop culture, the dangerous elements get most of the attention. But there’s a lot more to the life of a police officer than danger.

“You have the crime aspect; that’s a big part of it. But you also get to help others. A lot of people neglect the part where you serve the community,” said Johnson. “The reality is a lot of people see police in a bad light, but I wanted to look at the bright side of just serving my community and serving others.”

Though police officers must always strive for a peaceful resolution, they will inevitably deal with people who endanger themselves and others. But even enforcing the law can ultimately be of service to the person breaking it.

The ticket you give someone for not wearing a seatbelt may someday save their life or someone close to them. The individual you arrest for domestic violence may change their course and provide safety for future generations,” said Mark Armstrong. “You must realize that you make a difference that is important.”

While the dangers of policing can’t be denied, Johnson is determined not to let fear stand in her way. There are no safety guarantees in life, so rather than worrying about what might happen, she is already venturing into her community to make a difference. Volunteering at a local food bank allows her to meet the very people she hopes to one day serve and protect.

“We’re all human beings. We’re all capable of love and we all deserve it, and so I treat people with respect and I’m kind to them at all times,” she said.

That compassion, combined with everything she’s learned at DC, will make her the kind of police officer we’d all hope to meet when we’re in need.