Ex-soldier helping others transition to civilian and student life at Ryerson

Ovais Ahmed is no longer in the armed forces, but he’s part of an important battle to help fellow soldiers cross the bridge “from uniform to suit.”Ahmed is the head of the Ryerson University Veterans Alumni (RUVA), a campus group he started to support ex-military students.

“The aim of this group essentially is to help be that network for that ex- or current military member, and advise them, guide them, because we’ve jumped through those hoops before,” Ahmed said. “We know what it’s like.”

Ahmed served two tours in Afghanistan in an armoured reconnaissance patrol unit. He joined the military right out of high school when he couldn’t decide what to study.

When he arrived in Toronto after his second deployment, he registered at the Chang School, which provided the necessary flexibility for a man with a family.

Ahmed was assisted with the transition back to civilian life by Canada Company, a non-profit organization which runs the Military Employment Transition Program (MET) for veterans.

Ovais Ahmed, head of Ryerson's veterans alumni group, wants to help support ex-military students. (Charlotte Arnold/Ryersonian Staff)

Ovais Ahmed, head of Ryerson’s veterans alumni group, wants to help support ex-military students. (Charlotte Arnold/Ryersonian Staff)

Through RUVA, Ahmed puts other soldiers in touch with the program, which helps with everything from finding the right school to creating a LinkedIn profile.

Soldiers have managerial skills and discipline that make them ideal students and employees, according to the MET’s director Dwayne Cormier, but there can be a challenge getting everyone “to speak the same language.”

Cormier said companies need help to understand what it means for a soldier to have attained a certain rank. Similarly, the program has worked with colleges to recognize credit equivalents based on a soldier’s experience.

And now Ryerson is leading the charge for universities, Cormier said.

Ahmed is working alongside Chang School dean Marie Bountrogianni to research international best practices for recognizing soldier’s credentials. Bountrogianni told The Ryersonian administrators “hope to have a set of recommendations ready for senior management to look at in the next few months.”

Already, Ahmed says RUVA has 17 members, but it’s not known how many ex-military are enrolled at Ryerson. He is reaching out to professors to take a moment and mention RUVA to their classes so former soldiers can hear about the group and access its resources.

He said vets often feel alienated when they start school, likening their isolation to “an international student whose English is not their first language.”

Ahmed said the best way for civilians to help smooth the transition is to be aware of both the difficulties a veteran might face, and the skill set they can bring to employers.

“I feel that it’s just acknowledging that there are men and women out there who have made sacrifices,” Ahmed said, noting soldiers who have served in Canada’s longest military engagement can come back with physical and mental injuries. “And I’m specifically relating this to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Maybe keep that to your heart and soul. So when you become a top boss one day, and you have an applicant in front of you who’s displayed on their resumé or CV that they have been a serving member, that you do hold that with high regard.”

Cormier points to Ahmed’s initiative as exemplary of why soldiers and sailors do make such valuable members of the workforce.

“It’s a testament to that military culture. He’s still looking out for his comrades-in-arms.”

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 11, 2015.

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