Imtehaze Heerah on Camosun’s new Interaction Lab: 'The need is there and the resources are here.'
Release Date: September 29, 2017
As a child, Camosun Mechanical Engineering faculty member Imtehaze Heerah was fascinated by his father’s work as Manager of the Public Works department for the town of Vacoas, Republic of Mauritius.
“My dad was always surrounded by heavy machinery and he was dealing with operations, people and sourcing all day,” he recalls. “I was exposed to the whole field from the bottom up and I took a liking to it.” At home, he’d dismantle his toys to discover how they worked. “My thinking was that if someone put it together at some point I should be able to take it apart and figure it out—that was just a natural thing for me.”
His childhood curiosity about how things worked led to a career in mechanical engineering and a lifelong passion for applied learning. He earned a scholarship to study at the University of Mauritius and later moved to Canada to pursue a Master’s degree in Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto where he specialized in robotics and automation, graduating in 2002.
In 2003, his wife was accepted into graduate studies at the University of Victoria and the couple decided to move out west. “We had no idea where Victoria was. We just packed everything up and we drove across the country and we got here,” he says, recalling how the trip opened his eyes to the country’s natural beauty. “We didn’t know what to expect, but Canada is absolutely stunning. The roads were clear and anywhere you would stop, there were always friendly people around.”
Arriving in town, Imtehaze seized upon the opportunity to learn more about the capital region’s growing technology and engineering sector. “Victoria was new to me so I didn’t know who was doing what,” he says. “I started reaching out to companies, cold calling them and visiting them and learning more about them. I created my own database of companies and contact people.”
Within weeks, Imtehaze was hired as a term instructor at Camosun. “One thing leads to another and here I am 14 years later,” he says, noting that his database was useful when working with the college’s co-op department to help facilitate student placements.
As an experienced instructor, Imtehaze believes that bringing real-world problems into the classroom enhances the student’s learning, as well as their employment prospects. “Students don’t want to learn an equation for the sake of learning an equation. They want to know what is it going to be used for? What does that look like in reality?”
For years, Imtehaze has connected local businesses with students to work collaboratively on engineering projects. “I found out that a lot of companies in town always had projects that they wanted to tackle but they didn’t have an avenue to do that,” he says, noting that they were often too busy running day to day operations. “I started working with some of these companies, helping them to solve problems and bringing those problems back into the classrooms as an exercise for student capstone projects.”
The response was extremely positive —both from the business community and from the students—who were energized tackling tangible top of mind issues rather than studying less relevant examples from many years ago. “The projects end up becoming an informal interview process for the students,” he notes. “The employers often know it’s a no brainer to hire the student who’s proven themselves already.”
During his career at the college, Imtehaze has served in various leadership roles, most recently as Manager of Camosun’s Technology Access Centre. In addition to his regular teaching and research duties, he currently serves as Project Manager for a ground-breaking pilot performance study, spearheaded by the Camosun Innovates team. In every capacity, he keeps his eye on achieving tangible results. “When applied research started being structured and talked about more recently, it was just the right fit for me because I was already doing it in the classroom for many years and now there was a name for it.”
As Camosun prepares to launch its game-changing Babcock Canada Interaction Lab on October 24, Imtehaze is envisioning the positive impacts it will have on relationships with local industry. “Businesses will gain, because they will have access to some very advanced, expensive and unique equipment along with expertise from the Camosun Innovates specialists,” he says. “From their perspective, why would they buy a half million dollar machine if they are only going to use it twice a year? It’s a resource we have available here and they can work with us and tap into it. That being said, we always make sure we are not competing with local businesses but rather enhancing the technological capabilities in our region.”
Beyond the equipment, Imtehaze argues that the lab’s focus on ‘interaction’ is the secret ingredient that will allow Camosun to excel as a key driver of regional growth and innovation. “Businesses know their needs best and sometimes they are beyond the technological aspect. A local business could require help with branding or marketing or business planning. The Interaction Lab is a place where we can work together with super qualified people from any department at Camosun who are on top of their game to create the link and bridge that gap,” he says. “We have the talent pool within the college, and the Interaction Lab is the perfect avenue to connect all those dots.”
Looking ahead, Imtehaze credits the college leadership for fostering a culture where innovation can grow and prosper. “The focus on applied learning has gained a lot of momentum and that is because we took the steps necessary over many years to get to this point,” he notes. “I think that we’re at an exciting tipping point now where we can build upon our successes and embrace the whole college community and business community through the Interaction Lab. The need is there and the resources are here—it’s a natural fit.”
Communications & Marketing Strategist
Camosun Mechanical Engineering faculty member Imtehaze Heerah in the new Interaction Lab.
Last updated: September 29, 2017 3:46 pm