Technology, tenacity, and triumph

Meet Natalia Andrea Lucena Henao, a second-year Computer Engineering student from McGill University. We at Cybernews Academy spoke with Natalia about her experience at this remarkable institution, how she came to Canada, and how she discovered her passion for computer engineering.

Arriving in Canada

Having moved to Canada from Colombia six years ago, Natalia had the full high school and university experience in Montreal. The initial move was a big adjustment for this student as she went from speaking Spanish to French in a matter of moments. “It was a hard adjustment initially, but everything went smoothly. Montreal has very lovely and welcoming people from all over the world. I made myself at home here in Canada.” Once settled and having completed her high school studies, she approached the big question: where would she study, and what would she study?

Big reputation

“I knew I wanted to go to a well-renowned university when I was a kid, I always wanted to study at Harvard.” After discovering McGill University in high school, she knew that was where she would study for her undergraduate degree. There were various reasons for Natalia’s decision to pursue McGill, one being the large international population within the university. “People are coming from everywhere, so it gives the institution a bit more culture and encapsulates the city's welcoming nature.” She mentioned that this sizeable international contingent helped Natalia network and learn from other students' varied experiences. “It’s a very welcoming space. McGill has a huge sense of community. This strong community helps when you are studying a very challenging degree.”

Ruminating on robotics

When she left high school, Natalia wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. This future computer engineer explained that she participated in a robotics course in high school and was interested in the mechanics of the subject. Before her bachelor’s degree, Natalia took a pre-university degree and decided to try computer science and mathematics because she is very fond of mathematics and technology. “I knew we had some engineers in the family, so I considered combining my love for technology, mathematics, and engineering. ” That’s when Natalia discovered her love for coding and mathematics, which propelled her towards a computer engineering pathway.

Conquering computer engineering

This student described her course as an outstanding balance of theory and practice. “In our class, there’s a bit of everything. You have classes designed to be more theoretical and others designed to be more practical. You get to see what you like better.” Despite her seamless assimilation into university life, Natalia explained that transitioning from high school to university has been a significant but rewarding adjustment. “It’s very different from my previous studies, but this helps you adapt to a new environment and find new ways of studying and learning the material.” Despite this adjustment period, Natalia has felt supported throughout her first and second years at McGill. “Everyone’s always willing to help. We get a lot of help from the university, teaching assistants, lecturers, and professors,” Natalia told us there’s a lot of liberty when students take their classes. This freedom allows students to personalize and tailor their learning to fit their needs. Natalia also expressed that different professors will have different approaches to learning. Some may be more theoretical, and others may take a more practical approach.

Valuable lessons

Alongside various technical skills she has crafted during her time at university, one of the primary skills Natalia has picked up is adaptability. “The biggest thing I’ve been doing this year is adapting as I have learned that a bachelor’s degree is quite different from my previous academic experiences,” Natalia explained that along the way, she had to adjust and adapt to different situations and circumstances. “I had to acclimate to a new environment and not allow failure or disappointment to get me down. Learning to grow from failure and to be resilient was another thing I’ve learned while at McGill University.” This student told Cybernews Academy journalists that preparation and organization are crucial skills she has obtained while studying at McGill. “Preparing early for classes, exams, or interviews is always better. There are a lot of opportunities at McGill, and there’s a place for everyone to demonstrate what they’re passionate about. However, if you don’t prepare yourself, you can’t take advantage of everything the university offers.”

School of support

McGill University boasts fantastic facilities, a welcoming environment, and a fabulous faculty. The facilities at McGill also support those with disabilities or alternative requirements. Although this is not Natalia’s case, she mentioned that McGill accommodates those who need extra time or struggle to write in French or English. In addition, McGill offers a variety of scholarships that help students get underway with their studies. “The university offers economic support, I have utilized bursaries in McGill, and I also received an engineering scholarship.” Not only does McGill offer scholarships, but they also help you with the application process and inform you of what type of scholarship would best suit your needs. “McGill makes education accessible.”

What does the future hold for Natalia? Once she completes her undergraduate degree, Natalia plans to move to a European country to explore a new culture, language, and environment. This student currently plans to find an internship in Montreal or abroad. Natalia told us that her dream internship would be with a company called MDA, an international space mission partner and a robotics, satellite systems, and geo-intelligence pioneer. Besides finding an internship, Natalia aims to complete her degree and continue enjoying her wonderful university life. Upon commencing our interview, Natalia left us with some words of encouragement: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help from upper years, teachers, or teaching assistants. There are a lot of resources available to you and many people who have excellent advice to give you.”