Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Class of 2020 defined by resilience, says grad and NAITSA rep

‘We’re in this together’

When it comes to school or life, Alessandra Medeiros (Bachelor of Technology ’20) likes a certain amount of routine in her day.

As the final weeks of her last term in B-Tech drew to a close this past March, Medeiros counted on familiar study and work habits and regular touchpoints with instructors and peers to get her through final exams and projects like her capstone.

Most of us know what happened next. The global pandemic shifted almost everything – including workplaces and post-secondary institutions – online in mere days.

“I like certainty. Uncertain times bother me a lot,” says Medeiros, vice-president academic with the NAIT Students’ Association.

On top of the regular pandemic chaos, Medeiros was 11,000 kilometres from her husband and family in their hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil. As an international student, she’d become accustomed to living alone, but self-isolation introduced a whole new challenge, especially as a member of the class of 2020.

"Uncertain times bother me a lot.”

The “Class of COVID,” as this cohort is sometimes called, is a special group that will forever be associated with entering a workforce and economy unlike any in recent history. But apart from that unfortunate bond, it’s a group of graduates that people like Medeiros hope will be remembered for much more.

“I hope that when employers see we are from the class of 2020, they will appreciate our resilience, our patience, being adaptable and looking for creative ways to find solutions to everyday problems.”

If there’s anyone who can speak to the capabilities of NAIT’s class of 2020, it’s Medeiros.

Lessons in adaptation

Alessandra Medeiros, nait bachelor of technology grad and international student, at Edmonton's ice castle

During her two years at the polytechnic, Medeiros has become a fixture at campus events, in leading student advocacy and as a welcoming face, especially for her fellow international students.

“Some friends used to say it’s hard to walk on campus with Alley because she’s always saying ‘hello’ to everybody,” she says with a laugh.

That deep connection to school and her peers is a shift from her first undergrad, in the United States. She spent that degree, in video and television, “in and out of school just for classes.” The rest of her time was spent juggling part-time jobs.

When she arrived at NAIT, Medeiros was determined to do things differently.

“I decided, you know what, I’m going to join a club. I’m going to do volunteer work. I’m going to work on campus, I’m going to get engaged in the events on campus,” she says.

Part of that came from maturity. She spent the previous eight years working at one of Brazil’s public broadcasters where she was chief of technical operations overseeing aspects of the transition from analog to digital – everything from cameras to satellites.

When she arrived at NAIT, Medeiros was determined to do things differently.

She was already in a leadership position but felt she lacked the “fundamentals” to be the type of manager she wanted to be, which is what drew her to the B-Tech program.

During the past two years, she’s volunteered for the International Centre, worked as a peer mentor, helped her program run events such as capstone presentations and, most recently, was elected to NAITSA’s executive. She practically lived on campus, arriving at 8 a.m. for a two-hour peer mentoring shift and staying even though her classes weren’t until the evening.

“It was very rewarding and different from everything else I knew in higher education.”

Pandemic pressures

Alessandra Medeiros, nait bachelor of technology grad and international student, having coffee with a friend

When the pandemic hit, Medeiros’s entire routine was thrown off. The move to virtual learning meant that a large portion of activities she’d normally do in class were now done at home. It also meant figuring out how to present a capstone project online and how to prepare for finals.

“It required a lot of planning and a lot of discipline,” she says. “At first, I was freaking out.”

As a NAITSA representative, she also bore the pressures of the wider student body that was also learning to adapt to virtual but in some cases worried about program disruptions, loss of income and overall uncertainty about the future. For her fellow international students, those worries were sometimes compounded by the need to work to sponsor a child or spouse to live with them in Canada.

“At first, I was freaking out.”

“The anxiety has been so high, I can say that it keeps me awake some evenings,” she says.

Medeiros considers herself fortunate in that she has a job as a NAITSA executive. She’s also not as isolated as some international students because she lives with her sister, who joined her at NAIT this year studying Photographic Technology.

Her experiences as an international student have also helped. She’s just as comfortable in a group as she is in self-isolation. “I do very much enjoy being by myself.”

A resilient future

NAIT grad Alessandra Medeiros on set at Brazillian TV station

Medeiros says she’s proud of how well students responded throughout the pandemic, especially those in previously hands-on programs. She also credits instructors for doing an amazing job ensuring students got the most out of their courses.

“The whole of NAIT adapted to this.”

This fall, Medeiros plans on enrolling in Open Studies so she can take several B-Tech courses that wouldn’t fit in her schedule last year but also looks forward to dabbling in areas outside her experience such as interior design – and to seeing “where life takes me.”

It’s a departure from the routines of the past couple of years, but perhaps it’s one of the most important lessons from being a member of the Class of COVID.

“I learned I’m a lot more adaptable than I thought.”

Alessandra Medeiros, nait bachelor of technology grad and international student, class of 2020


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