Teaching, gaming and streaming keep DC professor busy

Faculty spotlight – Michael Cameron

At Durham College, students learn from accomplished professors who bring their extensive, real-world experience to the classroom. In this series, we put the spotlight on our passionate faculty members who are committed to helping students lead the way.

Michael Cameron is right at home in front of an audience.

When he’s not commanding the attention of Durham College (DC) students in the classroom, the Computer Systems Technician professor can be found holding court online as ‘GamerDad’, a video game streamer with over 500,000 followers on Twitch, TikTok and other platforms. As a streamer, he regularly entertains hundreds of viewers while playing popular games like League of Legends, Sea of Thieves and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.

With video games becoming more popular every year, his two audiences are overlapping more and more.

“People yell GamerDad across the courtyard, they’re getting photos,” he said. “I’ll be in class the first week, and I’ll see a kid just looking and smiling at me. They’re looking at their phone and looking at me and they’re like, wait a minute!”

His journey into streaming actually began when his students introduced him to Twitch a decade ago. Combining his passion for gaming with his gift for communication (honed over years of teaching and a stint in stand-up comedy), he was soon reaching a wide audience.

Though a very small number of streamers achieve worldwide fame and fortune, Cameron is perfectly happy with the audience he’s built.

“I am uniquely blessed and grateful because a lot of people try to make streaming their full-time job, and it’s just a fun hobby for me,” he said. “I have a great job. I’m reminded every fall how much I like it.”

A career in education was a natural choice for Cameron as he comes from a family of teachers, and he has taught everything from college to kindergarten. But his expansive resume extends well beyond teaching. He has served in the Canadian Armed Forces, written a syndicated gaming column for multiple publications, produced television and provided IT consultation.

After a decade of teaching at DC, the campus has come to feel like home.

“DC is the first place where I got a vibe that they actually cared about their employees and students,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons he went above and beyond in spearheading the creation of DC’s Esports Gaming Arena. He pitched the idea to DC leadership, who were impressed by his passion.

“I showed them the numbers,” said Cameron. “About 70% of the students at the college are playing some form of video game. Gaming brings a lot of the kids together.”

Filled with the latest gaming technology and titles, the arena breathed new life into the Student Centre and facilitated the launch of DC’s own Esports varsity team. Cameron also designed an Esports Business Management program, but the pandemic threw a wrench in the plans. The program is no longer offered and the Arena lay dormant for a while, but its doors are open once again and students aren’t the only ones taking advantage of it. It’s also accessible to DC alumni and employees, and anyone can drop in and watch the action.

“I like to go over there and just watch kids play. I would have loved something like that when I was younger,” he said.

Cameron has reduced his schedule recently to prioritize his physical and mental health and spend more time with his family, and he credits DC with allowing him to do so.

His wife passed away in 2022, but she was always supportive of his passion for gaming.

“People would ask her, what do you think about him gaming? And she’d go, well I know where he is and he could have much worse hobbies.”

He has also forged connections through gaming, from long-time friends he still plays with to his daughter and the students he meets at DC. While streaming, he’ll often dispense advice and wisdom on a variety of topics, from relationships to jobhunting.

“The interesting thing about people on Twitch and students in class is that they can tell when you care,” he said. Whatever the size of his audience, he never takes them for granted.

“I know what 100 people look like in a room. I’ve taught that many. That’s a lot of people taking their time to hang out and chat. I’m getting a good vibe from them, and vice versa.”

Science is a passion for Chemical Engineering student

Student spotlight – Melanie Williams

Melanie Williams had extensive experience in science before she ever set foot on a Durham College (DC) campus.

The third-year Chemical Engineering Technology student had previously studied at two other post-secondary institutions and worked in a hospital setting before deciding to further her education. After three years at DC and one in field placements at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Bruce Power, she is ready to relaunch her career.

In recognition of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, she spoke to us about her passion for science, her educational background, her DC experience and more.

What led you to DC?

I actually went to school initially at St. Lawrence College for veterinary technology. I didn’t finish that but I loved the science; microscopes and biology, it was so fun. Then I did medical laboratory technician at Trillium College, and I got my diploma there. That was my career for a couple years and I just loved it. Then COVID-19 hit, so my career path changed a little bit.

Why did you decide to study Chemical Engineering Technology?

I really like chemistry. The engineering side of it with the physics and everything was very new to me, so that was a huge learning curve. But I know countless people that have come to Durham College, and they loved their experience. I was actually looking at Chemical Engineering and the Biotechnology program. I was really interested in the pathways that the Chemical Engineering program had.

When did you discover your love for science?

I would say when I went away to college the first time. When I was in high school it was something mandatory that you had to take and I don’t think I was really able to appreciate it as much. Vet tech was chemistry but more on the biology side, so I really liked being able to look at samples under the microscope and things like that. It basically just progressed from there.

How is DC leading the way in science?

The professors are unmatched. The labs themselves are so cool. The college is so supportive and they teach you everything you need to know to be successful.

Why is equality in science important?

Having different opinions and perspectives is so important. Everyone’s coming from a different place and everyone has prior knowledge on certain subjects. Having people from every sort of background and every different kind of education come together and share different experiences can definitely help achieve results.

Have you seen a gender gap in science?

I know that engineering can be more male dominated, so it was really nice to see other women interested in it. In the healthcare sector I found it was predominantly women. I think it just depends on the field.

What are your career goals?

I’m hoping to either work at OPG or Bruce Power. I loved every second of working in nuclear. So much of it was similar to what I learned here, all the different instruments and chromatography and spectroscopy. It really helped set me up. Without that prior theory and knowledge of how everything works, I may not have enjoyed it as much.

What is your advice for young women entering science?

If it’s something you’re really interested in, then give it a shot. Coming from someone who’s now finishing their third college program, you can try something and if it doesn’t work out, just try your next pathway. Keep moving forward, and eventually you’ll find something that you love to do. Just go for it.

Professor leading the way for women in science

Faculty spotlight – Christine Hand

At Durham College, students learn from accomplished professors who bring their extensive, real-world experience to the classroom. In this series, we put the spotlight on our passionate faculty members who are committed to helping students lead the way.

Christine Hand is an accomplished scientist with a PhD in Chemistry. After a successful career as a chemistry specialist, she pivoted to teaching at Durham College (DC). For the last nine years, she’s been sharing her expertise with students in the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Information Technology.

In recognition of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, she spoke to us about her passion for chemistry, teaching the next generation of scientists, the importance of equality and more.

What is your role at DC?

I’m the program coordinator for Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Science. When I first started, I was teaching chromatography, pharmaceutics and pharmacology. Then I shifted to basically just teaching analytical instrumentation chromatography, and showing how you can test compounds and solutions.

When did you discover your love for science?

I would say in high school, in Grade 11. I had a teacher, Mrs. Miller, and she taught chemistry. I was always really fascinated with chemistry, and trying to picture these molecules and what they’re doing and how they’re behaving. I’d even look up stuff and come in and ask her about it. Then in my first year of university, the course that I took in chemistry was very in depth and I just loved it. It was really interesting to me.

Why should young girls and women pursue a career in science?

Society will always need people who are curious and who want to investigate. Science doesn’t have to be a narrow lane. There are so many different pathways that you can take. And it gives you such an appreciation for how the world works. It unlocks all this magical mystery of what is happening in the world.

How is DC leading the way in science?

We have a lot of pathways to other post-secondary institutions. They are taking our programs and allowing students to transfer into bachelor’s programs, which means they recognize the quality. We have a lot of students who have gone on to do quite well in science, in government or industrial or commercial roles. They’ve gone on to get very good jobs. Our grads are typically well thought of.

Are women well represented in DC’s science programs?

I’m proud of the fact that DC has so many women in science. We have a lot of women in the science department who are role models and who put in the effort to encourage other women, and all students, to go into science. We’re definitely modeling strong female representation.

Why is equality in science so important?

When we have a monoculture, people tend to think the same way, and science is all about discovery. If you don’t have people challenging ideas, and you don’t have people being curious, then you’re never going to discover anything. We need to have diversity of all kinds in order to challenge those long held beliefs.  

Do you still see a gender gap in science?

We’ve made a lot of strides. There are so many more women in science now than when I started undergrad in 1997, but there are still some programs that have lower numbers of women. I was really lucky that my high school science teachers were women as well, so it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I always had it modeled for me, so it never seemed out of reach. I think that’s important because if you don’t see it, you don’t know it’s achievable.

What is your advice for young women entering science?

In my experience, if you want to find supportive people, you’ll find them. Sometimes you have to look for them, and sometimes you have to cultivate them. But there are always people there who are willing to support you. It’s really just like life; pick your friends correctly, and the people who are going to drag you down, just don’t bother with them.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at DC?

I just try to share my experience and inspire everybody to be in science. I just want people to share my passion for science or to at least cause them to be curious or interested in something. When I hear students say that they got excited about something or they want more information for their personal knowledge, that’s one of the best things.

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.