Engineering graduate credits his father for the drive to reach out to communities

Positive outlook makes a difference in student experience

Olga Ivanova - 20 June 2017

(Edmonton) Rabib Alam arrived from Chittagong, Bangladesh, in Edmonton on September 15, 2012. Slowly recovering from a strenuous 50-hour flight and settling in his new home at the U of A Lister centre, he soon discovered that instead of catching up on sleep in the next few days he had to hit the books.

"I didn't even have proper bed sheets yet, and I had a mid-term in two days," said Alam.

Putting bedding and furniture shopping aside, Alam crammed 10 days of classes he had missed, due to a study permit delay, into two days of intense study.

"I did well on the mid-term. I was freaking out, but I studied really hard, as hard as I could," said Alam.

A bumpy start to student life at the University of Alberta didn't undermine Alam's successes; neither did a few minor setbacks he encountered on the way to a degree in engineering, rewarding leadership roles, and diverse work experiences.

Alam inherited his unshakable drive and business acumen from his dad, a Bangladeshi entrepreneur who would always lend a hand to his neighbours.

"My dad is the most street-smart person I've seen in my entire life. One instance I would see him talk about selling a car, and another, construction materials," said Alam.

Many of Alam's friends pictured him following in his father's footsteps or building a career in politics, but he picked engineering.

"The engineering background will give me the opportunity to go into any field I want. I have the entrepreneurial spirit, I have the drive, I know I can do something great," said Alam, who graduated this spring with a degree in petroleum engineering.

Venturing beyond the classroom is what Alam has been doing since year one of his undergraduate program. Over his five years as a student, he has amassed a wide array of diverse work experiences ranging from communications, to field engineering, career consulting, program development, and mentorship.

In his second year, Alam, still new to the engineering community, ran in the Engineering Students' Society by-election, campaigning against more experienced candidates. He lost, but his drive pushed him to persevere. Two years later, he was appointed associate vice president of student mentorship in charge of pairing up senior engineering students with the first-year cohort to provide support and guidance. The impact he made in this role was recognized through a Student Union's student mentorship award. He also served as president of the HUB Community Association representing over 800 residents of the student complex.

Despite a full course load, work and campus commitments, Alam never questioned the lessons he learned from his dad. He volunteered at multiple charities raising money for Syrian refugees and helped run events for the blind.

Alam encourages engineering students to find their calling, take risks, and never be afraid to fail.

"Right now, if someone tells me to do something way out of my league, I'm going for it," said Alam.

One of the first things he did as a brand-new graduate, for example, was to join the Faculty of Engineering's Young Alumni Council. The group was established this spring to help strengthen ties between the faculty and its alumni.

When he was finally fitted this spring for the iron ring worn by Canadian engineers, Alam knew he had completed an important chapter in his life.

"When I received the iron ring, I added a life event on Facebook, saying: 'engaged to engineering'. My mom freaked out when she saw it," he said. "Professionalism and integrity. This is what the iron ring means to me. I sleep with the ring, I wake up with it, it's always there."