Alumni Spotlight: Get To Know Monica Kwong

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Headshot of Monica Kwong

In our second edition of our Alumni Spotlight, meet Monica Kwong, a Chemical Engineering graduate of Ryerson University circa 2018. Monica is currently an Operations Lead for Ingredion, where she oversees the syrup loadout department at her plant. We asked Monica to share some advice and here’s what she had to say.

Who is Monica Kwong? Tell us about yourself.

I graduated from the Chemical Engineering program in 2018, with a specialization in Management Sciences. Right after graduation, I started off as a Process Engineer at Sofina Foods in various primary and further food processing facilities for three years. Earlier this year, I started my new role as an Operations Lead with Ingredion, where I oversee the syrup loadout department at my plant. At Ingredion, I’m in the Global Talent for Operations Program, where I’ll be rotating roles annually over the next three years.

Currently, I spend my spare time taking courses in the Project Management certificate program via Chang School, hip-hop dancing, cheering for the Toronto Raptors, and spending time with friends and family whenever I’m in the GTA.

What was your experience like at Ryerson? What are some of your fondest memories from your time in the Engineering program?

The fondest memories from my time in the Engineering program were the extracurricular activities I was involved in, including RyeChemU, RSU, and the Canadian Engineering Competition 2018. These activities allowed me to meet amazing people and build my leadership experiences. It was also a special memory for me to represent my class at the Iron Ring ceremony.

Do you think it was beneficial to you in the long run to be involved with so many things during your time at Ryerson?

My participation in extracurricular activities played a significant role in my career development and leadership experiences. I was able to learn what my leadership style is, how to collaborate with people and manage conflict, how to make decisions involving unfavourable constraints, how to manage projects and events… similar to what happens in the world outside of school. Extracurricular activities provided me with a safe environment that allowed me to gain these experiences, make mistakes, and learn accordingly. In addition, they have also helped me showcase what I have to offer during various job searches.

Have any of your aforementioned experiences helped you with the work you do in your job today?

My aforementioned experiences definitely have helped with my current role today. I lead a team of 12 people in my department, and although I’m still fairly new to the job, the extracurricular experiences have prepared my mindset on how to approach different scenarios that are out of my comfort zone.

How do you think Ryerson Engineering set you up for success?

Particularly in the Chemical Engineering program, I definitely felt that the mandatory co-op program plays a huge role in where I am today. I’m very thankful for the different opportunities it helped me land, whether it helped me expand on my Excel skills, taught me different water treatment processes, or showed me how a supply chain works together with customer service, production schedulers, and sales in a manufacturing environment.

What advice would you give to current students?

School is the best time to experiment with different techniques that work for you in time management and maintenance of your physical and mental health. Everyone is unique, so don’t get frustrated if someone’s morning and evening routines don’t work for you. Once you are able to establish this, you can carry this foundation with you throughout your professional and personal life.

Take advantage of the different programs and resources available at the university: career center for resume and cover letter writing, technical skills workshops, mentorship programs, startup programs, networking opportunities, discount programs for entertainment.

Alumni Spotlight: Get To Know Amar Latchman

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Headshot of Amar Latchman

As a student, one of the things that often helps you get through the tough parts of school is advice. Advice from people who care, who have insight and best of all: who have been in your shoes before. That’s why we’ve decided to create an Alumni Spotlight series where we feature one alumnus who has graduated from the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science. These alumni will share their career trajectory, what helped them at Ryerson and of course, their wisdom for current students.

First up, we have Amar Latchman, an Industrial Engineering graduate of Ryerson University circa 2019. He’s currently working as a Business Analyst for Deloitte’s Technology Strategy and Transformation Consulting Practice! Here’s everything from his favourite course at Ryerson to what his day-to-day looks like…

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I currently work at Deloitte and the technology strategy consulting practice. My day-to-day mostly includes my standup meetings to figure out what it is the client is going to need, and we go through project plans to determine what a client’s new ERP system should look like. For example, should they be completely replaced, should only certain functions be replaced? We build plans with a client and [work on] a big picture strategy to determine how the business and technology can align with each other and support each other moving forward.

Thinking back to your time at Ryerson, what was that experience like for you?

Oh, Ryerson was a lot of fun! It was pretty amazing because there’s so much diversity in the community and in the school, not just within the programs. My favourite part about Ryerson was––especially my program––the amount of hands-on experience that is available for you and experiential learning opportunities. They force you to get out of the classroom and visit companies to do your projects at. 

What are some of your fondest memories from your time and engineering program?

This was the moment I knew that I wanted to become an engineer, and I really knew this program was meant for me. It was the MEC 325 course, Introduction to Design. And that was the course where it really forced you out of the box to not just memorize or calculate equations, but [made me] truly think what does the user need at the end of the day, and [how can I build] those requirements out? At the end of the day, it made me wake up and say, “Okay, I want to be an engineer. This is meant for me, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Were there any student groups or activities that you were involved in?

I started the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Club at Ryerson! That was a really big passion for me because I have a huge interest in both quality improvement and continuous improvement organizations, but also for healthcare. So I got to align those two interests of mine and find other people in the Ryerson community with that same interest.

Have any of your aforementioned experiences helped you with the work that you do in your job today?

Definitely, every student group that I’ve been a part of. Because when you’re in student groups or working in group activities, even with a project for one of your classes––you’re going to have a lot of conflicts, you’re going to be butting heads, and sometimes people are not doing their work, and sometimes people are doing your part of the project. I think all those conflicts really help you in the real world because you’re going to be working with individuals every day. Right now [in] my job, I work with these two amazing consultants, and they [ask] every single day for feedback. I’ve butted heads in the past and in school, so I know how to take that constructive criticism properly and also how to deliver criticism properly as well.

How do you think Ryerson Engineering has set you up for success?

People are passionate about helping each other at Ryerson, you can walk around and ask a random person on the street for anything, and they will help you to the best of their ability, and they won’t ask for anything return––they won’t even ask for your name. And they’ll just keep going about their day; that’s something that is unique to the Ryerson community. I think that when you apply that within yourself, and you’re down to help anyone, you become the best kind of person people will want to work with. Because that’s the kind of thing others want to see in their everyday life. People always want to give and support others. So I think that mentality, that personality is so contagious at Ryerson of giving and helping others. It’s what sets you up for success the most.

Navigating Feedback: How This Skill Will Help You Succeed

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Two women speaking over a table with a paper infront of them.

By: Sidrah Noor

Why should I listen to what others say?

As communicating beings, we receive a tremendous amount of feedback. This constitutes a B+ on a test, a coworker telling you “to be more assertive” or even your partner nagging you about constantly leaving your socks on the floor. 

In all these situations, you are the receiver of the feedback. How you choose to respond to it will influence the effect of this experience. For example, you received a B+ on a lab report and moved on to the next evaluation without a second thought. There’s a pretty high chance you’ll repeat your rectifiable mistakes and eventually get another B+. Had you chosen to speak to your professor and taken the time to understand why you made a mistake, you might have found your blind spot and turned that B+ into an A+. You may have found a new way of thinking or even ended up illuminating the professor about the fact that you had already mentioned what they were looking for. 

An example of the former is when I once wrote lab reports and submitted them but couldn’t push past an 80%. In one of my classes, a student asked the TA during the tutorial what he was looking for. Our TA pointed out that the difference between a good and an excellent lab report is one that compares the results that we found with other research articles and literary sources. It wasn’t just about establishing an expected behaviour, stating the results, seeing how we performed compared to that and listing sources of error; it was about critically analyzing how our study influences the literary body. This small lesson transcended my class. I started to do well in lab reports across all courses. During my master’s degree, I realized it wasn’t optional to compare your results; it was required.  

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Feedback delivery may trigger you, but let’s aim to look beyond it

Now that you are convinced that feedback can change your life, let’s talk about feedback delivery. Yes, often, feedback is delivered poorly, triggers you to your bone, and can end in an unpleasant fight or falter. But my goal here is to help you work beyond those short-term reactions, identify the source of the feedback, and hold a productive conversation. Once you know the comment’s roots, you can decide if it’s something you want to act on as an autonomous human. I do not mean to tell you that all feedback is correct and worth acting upon. I want you to dig deep when you get feedback because you may find that either it is due to a misunderstanding between the feedback giver or receiver, or you will learn something that you can improve on, whether personally or professionally. If it’s just a misunderstanding, you can clarify it, enhance your relationship with the said giver and strengthen your future communications. Because there is potential for such greatness, it is worth digging deeper, even if, in the end, you just conclude that it’s lousy feedback.

The anatomy of feedback

The anatomy of feedback consists of two things: data and interpretation. The feedback giver sees that you are carrying out a particular behaviour and makes an interpretation. For example, your boss overhears you saying to another colleague that you cannot help them. They think that you are not a team player. In this situation, the data was your conversation, and your received feedback is that you aren’t a team player*. This is most often the case. People tend to give their interpretation rather than the data it was based upon. This giver could have limited data, interpreted it from a different context, or didn’t even express themselves adequately. Hence, when speaking to someone who has given you feedback, your goal is to identify their interpretation AND data. This is important because if they did have the complete data and shared a particular viewpoint, it may help you identify things that you aren’t aware of yourself. In contrast, if the data was incorrect, you have the opportunity to correct it and save yourself from the dire consequences that may follow it. 

Often when we receive feedback, it hurts. There is a chance that your manager’s perception of you explains why you didn’t get that promotion or that C- in the exam testified against your failures, so now you can do anything but think about it. Those are valid emotions. But our heightened emotional response could result in reinforcement of past behaviours. Moreover, we could also understand the feedback as our mischaracterization, leaving us feeling attacked. Once we enter that fight mode, not only are we not listening, we are also doing anything we can to preserve our self-image (telling ourselves how wrong this other person is). We can pass out an opportunity to understand where the giver was coming from by doing this. For example, someone expresses their distaste towards my opinionated self*. I hear this and think:

“WOW! Aren’t you great? Can’t handle an informed and ‘woke’ person? I don’t see where I asked for your opinion.”

What my giver perhaps really meant is that while expressing my opinion, I am stern and do not listen to anyone else. This makes the conversation one-sided and frustrating. In this situation, it’s pertinent for me to establish mindfulness: recognize that I feel triggered, but push myself to understand where they are coming from. In my personal experience, I have found that doing this diffuses my reaction and decreases the acute emotions of personal attacks that I may experience.

In terms of university tests, this comes into play a lot! Students can often jump to finding how professors have unjustly deducted marks. But if you take a minute to review your answers and the answer sheets, you might find what you were missing out on. This is not to say that you will not feel frustrated with the lack of return on your hard work. I often do too. In this case, I set up a meeting with the professor to have an honest conversation about issues with my submission. During these conversations, I find that evaluators express their expectations to you and can guide you on how you can improve in the future. 

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Feedback without actionable goals is not feedback

It is important to note that feedback that only interprets your behaviour is just a comment. Even though the person might be thinking that they are giving ‘feedback,’ they’re just making a comment. This is incomplete. Like this sentence. Such feedback doesn’t help direct your behaviour or trigger critical thoughts about alternative solutions. In the instance of our employers or professors, the purpose of their feedback ought to be an improvement in your performance.

In contrast, your coworkers or group members may be trying to show you the consequence of your actions. In either case, the goal of the giver’s feedback may not be apparent until you take the initiative of clarifying it. Unfortunately, most people do not explain it. 

If you take the step of asking your feedback giver why they made a particular comment, they may already tell you what your next steps will be (should you choose to follow their advice). If the feedback conversation clearly lays out actions for you, then it is complete. For example: if someone tells you to become an indispensable team member, that is not very helpful*. What does “indispensable” mean? It could be such a subjective term. If a trustworthy person is giving me this feedback, I will want to hear more about what an indispensable person looks like to them. I would want them to provide me with examples or, even better, an algorithm to achieve a particular goal.

Another example of this is the lab report scenario I mentioned initially. If my classmate had just stopped when the TA said, “provide more details,” we wouldn’t have learned anything. Everyone would just leave the class with their own understanding of “more details.” Perhaps some would think providing a staircase material that you used for a simple energy transfer experiment is important (it’s really not). We clearly understood what the TA was expecting from us by pushing for examples and subsequently implementing them. 

All in all, my advice would be to respond to feedback and not react. Over the years, through my employment and education, I have been able to store wisdom from people I interacted with because I pushed to have a conversation that was uncomfortable for me. The rewards of this have extended beyond just improving myself; I heard stories about people’s experiences, how they learned to overcome obstacles and how they enriched their personal and professional lives through minor improvements. I hope from reading this you can also learn to receive feedback well and exponentially improve your personal and professional lives. 

*Examples obtained from “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. I highly recommend this book for those who want to learn more about this.