Stories of Connected North – Justin Chin-You: From Jamaica with Love
Justin Chin-You is a Systems Engineer at Cisco Canada. When he’s not busy innovating and building solutions for our customers, he is hard at work with the Connected North and TakingITGlobal teams to provide a fun, interactive learning experience to students in remote northern communities. In this interview, he explains why an outsider is the last thing he feels like with these students.
NA: Tell me a little bit about how you became involved with the Connected North program.
JC: I originally got involved with Connected North while I was working with one of our Distinguished Engineers; we had worked on a few CSR projects before including a TelePresence launch with the David Suzuki Foundation. I learned about Connected North during the pilot phase and from a technical standpoint, I was interested because of the challenges that came with it, but also because of my experiences growing up in Jamaica where technology was not always readily available.
“[A]fter one or two sessions, they’re hooked. You can actually see the technology being adopted and welcomed into the classrooms and making a difference.
NA: So what are some of the other challenges you face in these remote communities, from a technical or cultural standpoint?
JC: It’s kind of funny – I have an interesting perspective on it, because for everyone else that goes up I think you’re quite distinctively different from the folks that are there. When I go, everyone looks at me and runs around and says, “Is he from here? Where is he from?”
I remember the first time I went up, and I didn’t understand what was happening as everyone was having side conversations in the classroom. And I was just like “ok, I guess I’ll just sit here bolting stuff down.” We go back to the hotel and I was told that everyone kept asking if I was from Igloolik… and my colleague told the kids I was Jamaican and they said “What? What do you mean he’s Jamaican!?” [laughs]
I’d say on the technical side, you need to plan ahead. Here in Toronto if I forget something, or a part, I could get it same day or next-day delivery. In the North you have to pretty much bring everything with you. I’m never sure what I’m going to run into, and there is no hardware store where you can just grab a screwdriver—it’s just not possible.
NA: What kind of technology requirements are needed to support a Connected North session? How is that sustained without an engineer like yourself or IT support at these schools?
JC: The tech requirements are fairly straightforward and simple: a video conferencing endpoint and an internet connection. In the North what we’ve done is worked with service providers to help provide the internet connection, which makes life easier. Having the support of a service provider paves the way for a lot of possibilities.
Technology-wise, for the video conferencing endpoint — we really just plug it in and it runs; you don’t have to worry about it after the initial tweaks we make. Usually a one-hour training session with the teachers and they’re off and running, and we never have to revisit it. With internet connections, that’s really where the challenge comes in, but the service providers really work with us and provide technical expertise to maintain the network. They’ve actually gone so far as to build a dedicated service for us, they’ll help manage those connectivity points, or provide me access so I can help manage them as well.
I think for the entire time Connected North has been running we have had one switch fail – and it was because of a power outage.
NA: Where do you think the program is headed next? Do you think there are there any new technologies or innovations driving this?
JC: A lot of the discussions that are coming forward from use cases centre around how we can make it more interactive, and not just do lecture-delivery type sessions. To get the students to actually do things like writing. Technologies like Spark Board will be a huge component of that. Cisco Spark today is almost at the point where we can use it within Connected North, but there are still some network challenges that are restrictive as it is a cloud service. But we are seeing that need start to come forward, and as we evolve [the program and solution] we will get there.
NA: Tell me about your favorite Connected North memory.
JC: My favorite Connected North memory was at Cape Dorset, the first install I did. I was in the school and the students and teachers were questioning why we were there. They’re not sure how this is going to work, or if it’s going to be something we pack up in a closet two days from now and never see again.
And I still remember, it was a couple of weeks later I got a call [to help resolve an issue]. So I picked a time to call the [TelePresence] unit when I doubted anyone was going to be in the library. The unit answered and as I’m making adjustments there are four students at the library, all staring at me. They’re like, “Hey where are you from, what are you doing? Do we have a session today?”
What was really cool about that moment was that they were questioning and uncertain of us three weeks before. They weren’t really sure where this was going, and after having one or two sessions, they’re hooked. You can actually see the technology being adopted and welcomed into the classrooms and making a difference.
“[E]veryone kept asking if I was from Igloolik. My colleague told the kids I was Jamaican and they said “What? What do you mean he’s Jamaican!?”
NA: To build on that, how has Connected North impacted your life – either personally or professionally?
JC: I’d say there are several ways I could answer that question. One of the ways it’s really impacted me is by getting me into something I’ve always wanted to do. Finding ways to help make a difference and change the world somehow. Further to that, I made the transition from Jamaica to Canada, and in Jamaica I didn’t have things like the internet in school. When I came to Canada I really saw the impact technology could make. There’s a sense of reward that comes with bringing the same experience to these students, and I really enjoy it.
NA: If you could describe Connected North in a single word what would that word be?
JC: The one word that comes to mind pretty consistently every time I think about the program is ‘inspiring’.