Student entrepreneur focused on mental health

At Durham College (DC), Kinen Ocitti has everything he needs to turn his passion for mental health into a thriving business.

A student in the Data Analytics for Business Decision-Making program and Computer Programming graduate, he is building Kuwota, a journaling application to improve overall mental health and well-being. To do so, he has taken full advantage of DC’s FastStart program, which helps student entrepreneurs launch their business.

“Kuwota is a journaling application that promotes personal growth and well-being and offers direct access to licensed therapists for the individual’s self-discovery and self-improvement,” explained Ocitti. Once granted permission by the author, therapists will be able to read the user’s journal entries and provide feedback.

To help create an event that would promote Kuwota and the benefits of journaling, the FastStart office connected Ocitti with Teresa Avvampato, a professor in the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program, and her students Alexandra Dougherty, Shun Naito, Jessica Reed and Mehrad Zaroorian. As second-year students, their experience running group therapy sessions was ideally suited to the challenge. Naito, who previously worked as an event planner in the hotel business and shares Ocitti’s passion for mental health, was particularly excited to help out.

“I think the mental health aspects of occupational therapy have been increasing, and I believe psychotherapy has been added to our job duties,” said Naito.

With the help of a $3,500 grant from Tomorrow’s Leaders Starting Out, the team organized an event at the FastStart office in January. A number of DC students were in attendance to learn about Kuwota and hear from two visiting therapists. The event was a big success with numerous students expressing their interest in the app, which Ocitti hopes to launch by September.

An occupational therapist and psychotherapist by trade, Avvampato was pleased to help introduce the Kuwota app to students.

“It certainly meets a strong need. Mental health and wellness are more top of mind for everyone and in particular the student population,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more awareness about the importance of balance and taking care of your mental health, and journaling is an exceptional way to do that.”

As work continues on Kuwota, he’s grateful for all the help he’s received from the DC community.

“When I approached FastStart, I came with a block of marble. I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. FastStart really helped me sculpt the edges.”

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit like Ocitti, DC is ready to support you.

FastStart is a free, extra-curricular program offered to all DC students, and it can help you make your business dreams a reality.

“We help student entrepreneurs develop and start their own businesses,” explained Sundar Manku, Manager, Entrepreneurship Services. “We’re an incubator, so we help bring their idea to the market and help raise those initial funds.”

Students who sign up for FastStart have access to an online course, industry specific programming as well as a variety of college and community workshops and events. They’re also paired with mentors uniquely suited to their particular business goals.

FastStart can also help you market your business, from social media strategy advice and support to logo design and beyond. 

Student entrepreneurs will also benefit from FastStart’s extensive connections in the business community, with a variety of networking events and business idea pitch contests to take part in.

FastStart is located in the 360insights Entrepreneurship Centre inside the Centre for Collaborative Education and is open year-round.

DC leading the way in Paramedic education

The province of Ontario needs more paramedics, and Durham College (DC) is answering the call.

Last September, DC added 10 extra seats to the popular Paramedic diploma program in response to the increased demand for paramedics in Ontario and nationwide.

That demand remains high, and last month, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced that the province’s community colleges would be adding 300 new spaces in their paramedic programs in order to bolster the workforce of this critically important sector. DC is doing its part by adding 30 seats in a compressed stream that will be delivered over four consecutive semesters.

DC’s highly regarded Paramedic program is always competitive and oversubscribed. The popularity of the program is due to many factors, including DC’s state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, 24/7 access to the lab, a team of passionate and dedicated instructors, and a willingness to innovate and change with the times.

After investing in additional lab space and simulation equipment, DC is ready to accommodate more students while maintaining the high quality of the program, according to Gillian Dunn, associate dean in the Faculty of Health Sciences.   

“The faculty and staff, they’re so dedicated and committed to the program,” she said. “We’re always in close contact with our external stakeholders and partners, making sure that they’re being informed about our curriculum and have the opportunity to provide input on how we prepare our graduates. We have really strong partnerships with many of the paramedic services, both in and outside of Durham Region.”

Those partnerships allow students to get experience in long-term care facilities, hospital clinical rotations and on-ambulance preceptorships, where they ride along with professional paramedics. The amount of experiential learning has been a pleasant surprise for Zachary Lash, a student in the program who will enter his second year in September.

“One thing that caught me off guard was how often our faculty are throwing opportunities at us to get out there on the streets and work with paramedic services around Ontario for training,” he said. “The fact that DC gives us that opportunity almost every month means that we’re just practicing and getting better and better and better.”

Sabrina Chapman and Jaime Philips are also entering their second year of the program in September, but they’re not taking the summer off. Instead, they’re furthering their education as summer students in the logistics department of the Region of Durham Paramedic Services. The experience they gained in the program’s first year is one of the reasons they were able to beat out other students for the coveted opportunity.

Learning from instructors who are working paramedics has been particularly influential for the pair.

“The fact that you have that exposure to them and their stories from what’s happening on the road, it really helps you gain a better perspective,” said Philips.

Another reason the pair chose DC is that the program is recognized by Accreditation Canada, which means they’ll be eligible to work as a paramedic anywhere in the country.

Their classmate Lash has also been impressed by the program; particularly its focus on the mental and emotional toll the job can take.

“Going into this line of work, it’s important to have a resilient and strong mental health background, and DC has provided us with the necessary tools and classes on how to stay on top of that stuff and maintain our wellness,” he said.

The program is hard to get into and harder to complete, but students who are willing to work hard will excel, according to part-time faculty member Joseph Barrett, who teaches the program’s Crisis Management course.

“What you put in is what you get out. It’s a very intense, demanding course. I would argue it’s even harder than some university courses,” he said. “But if you put your time in, dedicate yourself to the material and trust the learning process, you will get out 100 per cent of what you put in to the program.” 

For Chapman, all of the hard work has been well worth it.

“I couldn’t be happier with the choice that I’ve made. I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”

“Backbones of recovery” – How one international student is turning his experience into a rewarding nursing career

Student Spotlight: Darshan Patel

Darshan Patel has always been inspired by the medical field, but it wasn’t until he experienced a family member’s illness that he knew it would become his career.

It’s been nearly two years since Darshan arrived in Canada from India for an exciting new opportunity in Durham College’s (DC) Practical Nursing program.

Recently, we met up with Darshan, who is starting his second year in September, to learn about his DC experience and what he hopes to achieve in the future as a nurse in Ontario.


What inspired you to pursue a career in nursing?

As I watched the care and compassion that the nurses provided my loved one, I realized that they were the backbone of his recovery. It amazed me how much of an impact they had on his well-being and how dedicated they were to making him feel comfortable in his time of need. That experience, and my desire to help others, led me to pursue nursing.

Why did you choose the Practical Nursing program at DC?

After deciding that I wanted to enrol in Practical Nursing, I started to research colleges. I was immediately drawn to Durham College’s hands-on opportunities and labs. I had already completed DC’s Pre-Health Sciences Pathway to Advanced Diplomas and Degrees program so the fact that I was already familiar with the campus made it an easy decision.

How has DC supported you along the way?

My experience at DC has been great. I love how the college supports students through a number of helpful services, like DC Hired. As an international student, when I moved to Canada, I was unsure how to find employment. DC Hired helped me create a cover letter and land a job that worked around my schedule.

I also worked as a DC content creator for the college’s social media team. The flexible hours made it easy to work around my studies and I learned how to network and create content for different areas of the college. When I filmed content for Open House, I had the opportunity to interview different faculty members and learn about various programs offered at DC.

What has been your favourite part of your program?

My favourite part of my program so far has been the clinical placements, where I get to put everything I learn in the classroom into practice everything I learn and interact with patients in a real healthcare setting. Working alongside experienced nurses, I can observe their techniques and learn from them while thinking critically and developing my communication skills and professional bedside manner.

What advice would you give to those considering DC or students about to begin your program?

If you are on the fence or considering other colleges, I could not recommend Durham College enough. Along with the DC’s bustling campus, Durham Region is a growing economy with so many opportunities.

It has been an incredible journey so far. Every day, as I witness firsthand the difference my classmates and I can make in someone’s life through our care and expertise, I am reminded of why I chose this profession.


If you’re interested in a nursing career like Darshan, DC has the program for you. Here are some of our programs that will equip you with the skills you need to make an impact in this highly demanded sector.