Northeastern recognizes resiliency of computer science graduates at Vancouver convocation

graduates throwing their caps in the area at Vancouver convocation
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Northeastern University celebrated 121 master’s degree recipients during Thursday’s Vancouver campus convocation at The Centre for Performing Arts.

The lively ceremony included the traditional pomp and circumstance, and speeches by students, graduates, administrators and noted Canadian public servants.

But the most memorable moment wasn’t scripted. It happened just prior to the event.

The platform party, led by Assistant Dean and teaching professor Bethany Edmunds, was lined up on one marble staircase leading to the auditorium. On the adjacent staircase, the soon-to-be graduates began their slow ascent.

The platform party—Dean Steve Eccles, Provost David Madigan, Senior Vice President Mary Ludden and others—erupted in a loud ovation that lasted until the final graduate had passed.

“That shows you how much they care about you at Northeastern,” one graduate said.

“They celebrate success here,” another said.

Thursday’s convocation—the Canadian equivalent of a commencement—is one of several being held across the university’s global network. All graduates were part of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences.

Like the others, it recognized Northeastern’s focus on student success, diversity, and experiential and lifelong learning.

His Northeastern experience

Parth Patel was the first graduate to arrive—nearly two hours before the start of the ceremony. Accompanied by his father, mother, sister and brother, Patel was all smiles when recapping his Northeastern experience.

“I would highly recommend it to anyone,” he said.

Patel’s sister, also a computer scientist, helped him discover Northeastern.

“She knew about all the top computer science schools in the world and Northeastern was at the top of that list,” he said.

Patel applied to the Boston campus, but attended the Vancouver campus instead.

“I’ve always wanted to live in Vancouver,” Patel said. “It was a perfect fit for me.”

A co-op last summer at Unity Gaming Services in Montreal resulted in a full-time job. He will move to Quebec on June 1.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Patel said.

University with high standards

Sommer Marie Harris, Thursday’s student speaker, earned her undergraduate degree in liberal arts from Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia. That’s where she met professor Richard Hoshino.

When Hoshino moved to Northeastern in Vancouver, Harris knew that’s where she wanted to pursue her advanced degree.

“For me, it showed they had very high standards,” she said. “He is a professor of the highest quality.”

Harris said members of the class of 2023 spent countless hours building applications, websites and games. They also improved algorithms, built linked lists and conducted research. 

But many of her peers learned these skills while communicating in a second or third language.

“I hold deep respect for those who accomplished this,” said Harris, who grew up in Washington state.

In addition to being culturally competent, Harris said Northeastern-Vancouver graduates are also well positioned to have long, successful careers. 

After all, she said, only 8.2% of Canadians hold a master’s degree or higher and a much smaller percentage have a master’s degree in computer science.

Harris has already landed a full-time position with The Tech Collider.

‘It doesn’t get better, you do’

Ria Agarwal received her diploma from Northeastern last May. Now a software engineer at video game developer DemonWare—she works on the Call of Duty game—Agarwal returned Thursday to share her experience with this year’s graduates.

“Some days were a breeze and others were challenging,” she said.

Agarwal asked the graduates to consider the changes they made along the way—and take full credit for them. 

“You didn’t know that it would happen, but in the thick of it, you incorporated feedback to better adjust to the world around you,” she said.

Those changes are evidence of growth, Agarwal said. 

“It doesn’t get better, but you do,” she said. “Your growth here, both professionally and personally can never be taken away from you and is a stepping stone to the rest of your life.”

Agarwal was part of the second cohort of students to attend Northeastern in Vancouver. She thrived at the university because of its small class sizes and accessibility to professors.

“You get a lot of facetime here,” she said.

British Columbia is a thriving place

With 13 campuses in three countries, Northeastern graduates join a thriving global network of accomplished students, alumni and parents living in more than 190 countries. 

Speaking to graduates Thursday, Brenda Bailey asked them to consider settling in Canada or British Columbia.

Bailey is the province’s minister of jobs, economic development and innovation and a member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver-False Creek. She also co-founded Canada’s first women-owned and operated video game studio, Silicon Sisters, in 2011.

The creative tech industry, Bailey said, is moving British Columbia toward a more knowledge-based economy and computer science graduates are playing a vital role in that transformation.

“Whether you are upgrading your skills, starting a business, developing new technologies, or teaching the next generation of tech enthusiasts,” she said. “BC is a thriving place for computer science and technology professionals.” 

She congratulated all of the graduates, but singled out the women in caps and gowns. 

“When I started my career in tech, women made up about 5% of the industry,” Bailey said. “Since then, we’ve seen that number grow to over 20%. With 40% of today’s graduating class being female, I know we are on the right track.”

Adapt to your environment

Thursday’s convocation speaker, Sarah Roth, earned her MBA from Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. She is now president and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation, British Columbia’s largest philanthropic funder of cancer research and care. 

Before that she was assistant dean of development and alumni affairs at the University of British Columbia Medicine. That job brought her to Canada from the United States. It also taught her a valuable lesson, which she shared with graduates—you must adapt to your environment.

Roth was experiencing instant success at UBC. She had recruited top talent, revamped fundraising practices and earned the respect of the faculty. But her boss, the dean of the medical school, began to decline her meeting invitations.

Why? Because she was fixated on her own success and hadn’t taken the time to observe, understand and appreciate her new surroundings.

“I was so wrapped up in my work that I wasn’t considering how I was adapting to important relationships and the culture around me,” Roth said. “I just expected people to adapt to me!”

Roth eventually changed her ways and earned the trust of the dean, a gynecologic cancer surgeon, who later recommended her for her current position.

“I doubt that would have happened if I hadn’t learned to recognize that I was in a new environment, and to tailor my approach to it,” she said.

David Nordman is executive editor of Northeastern Global News. Follow him on Twitter @davenordman.