For university instructor, mentorship led to new role

Dr. Esam Mustafa arrived in Calgary with an impressive CV. Equipped with a PhD in technology management, he’d built up a successful academic career in Malaysia as a lecturer and researcher.

But when he came to Canada in March 2017—moving here to join his wife, a Canadian citizen and an AISH Generalist with the Government of Alberta—he was starting anew in many ways.

He had teaching experience. He had deep knowledge of his field, including subjects like operations management and organizational behaviour. But Mustafa knew he needed another ingredient in the mix, and turned to CRIEC for assistance.

“My basic interest in the mentorship program was about the culture,” says Mustafa, who is originally from Sudan. “How to interact with Canadian culture, how to understand it.”

CRIEC connects international talent—professionals such as Mustafa—with champions across the city in strategies designed to lead to successful employment outcomes. Mentoring is a flagship strategy.

Mustafa got paired with SAIT business instructor and longtime CRIEC mentor Blake Kanewischer. At first, Kanewischer doubted whether he’d have anything valuable to offer his new mentee, given Mustafa’s academic pedigree.

Kanewischer was relatively new to teaching, having started at SAIT after a 15-year career at the City of Calgary, where he was a leader in project management and other areas.

“I’m a new instructor two years in,” recalls Kanewischer, “and here’s this guy who’s been a prof for four years and has a doctorate. He’s published peer reviewed articles, he’s got research grants, he’s done conference proceedings.

“And I’m like, OK, I don’t know what I can teach you!”

A lot, as it turned out.

“The good thing about the mentorship with Blake is he has long years of practical work in City of Calgary and previously in other companies,” says Mustafa. “All of this is advantageous experience that helped me have a comprehensive view of the society here.”

Kanewischer quickly discovered that he had more to offer Mustafa than he initially thought. “Probably within the first three weeks we ended up having a really good conversation about how Calgary is the biggest small town in the world — where the networks of people are really critical in a way that they’re not at some other cities,” says Kanewischer.

With each meeting, Mustafa felt more confident as his understanding of Calgary grew. “I got to understand the community,” says Mustafa. “He opened my eyes to the local culture.”

In addition to discussing the Calgary ways of doing things, they also reviewed Mustafa’s CV, with Kanewischer giving feedback.

Mustafa applied for an instructor position at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. After he got a call for an interview, Kanewischer helped Mustafa prepare.

“For example, Blake taught me how to respond to interviewer questions,” says Mustafa. “I answered in the way he showed me and it was very effective.”

Mustafa learned that he got the U of C instructor job in June for the fall semester. “That was pretty awesome,” says Kanewischer, recalling when he first heard the news. “I was really impressed that Esam had been able to distill all of this stuff very quickly and very effectively.”

Mustafa credits his CRIEC mentorship experience with Kanewischer with his success in finding a job.

But he also has sage advice for other newcomer mentees: don’t focus on finding a job to the exclusion of all else.

“I think you should start the mentorship program with the expectation that you are a member of a community,” says Mustafa. “Not because you are a lecturer, or engineer, a social worker—or any professional.”

“When you start from this perspective, your discussion with the mentor will be very useful. When the mentee expects that the mentor will guide him through the community—not through this firm or company—I think the learning will be more useful and effective.”

Want to make a difference in your community? Become a CRIEC mentor today!

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