Building Dreams in Calgary

Asfa Riyaz shares her experience growing up, studying and working in Calgary. 

Asfa Riyaz J5 web

In Calgary, possibilities are within reach. From participating in a welcoming community to building a great life and a thriving career. This is the story of Asfa Riyaz and her experience studying and working in a city where everything is familiar. 

Why did you choose to study in Calgary?

I grew up in Calgary, so I’ve always considered it my home. When I was looking into programs and universities, I knew I wanted to be close to my family, my friends and the community I’ve built in Calgary. Studying here was non-negotiable.  

When I finally selected Information Design at Mount Royal University (MRU), I discovered that it’s the only program of its kind in Canada and that the class sizes are much smaller in comparison to other universities. I knew this would help me to form better relationships with my peers and professors. All these factors made Calgary more desirable.  

How would you describe your experience studying in Calgary? 

Studying in Calgary was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Being close to home, having the support of my family, and not needing to adjust to a completely new environment made it easy. 

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on my program because half of my third year and all of my fourth year were virtual. Information Design is a collaborative program, so having to do it virtually took that component away and made it challenging. Despite these pandemic-related challenges, one of my professors recommended me for a research assistantship position in my fourth year and that has opened a lot of doors for me. 

One of them was the opportunity to work with the Indigenous Primary Healthcare and Policy Research Network on a project led by two MRU professors in Nursing and Social Innovation. One of the professors also recommended me to the MRU School of Nursing where I worked as an Information Design Consultant. I worked in this role even after I graduated. 

What type of work experience have you had in Calgary? 

In my second year at MRU, I did an internship at the TELUS Spark Science Centre which the school helped to secure. I worked there as a junior exhibit developer, and it was an invaluable experience that helped me build connections and set me up for future success. I don’t think I would have gotten that opportunity anywhere else in Canada because of how unique the Information Design program at MRU is. 

After graduation, I found out about J5 Design through a friend and met the CEO, John Vardalos over coffee. I was amazed to find that Calgary has an innovative and creative design studio that creates unique experiences for people locally and beyond.  

From a design perspective, how would you describe the creative industry in Calgary? 

I think there's a growing understanding of the need for thoughtful design in our spaces and communities, and to solve problems. Design is about problem-solving while considering the experiences that people have with the systems that they live, work and play in and ensuring that those experiences are human-centred. When we think about design along these lines, even business problems can be seen as simply human problems.  

I look forward to a future in Calgary where designers will have more opportunities to collaborate with professionals in thriving sectors, and I hope this collaboration will lead to more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary projects and innovation. 

What opportunities exist for new graduates in your field in Calgary? 

I think there are plenty of opportunities, but new graduates need to be proactive about seeking them out and connecting with individuals who can support them. This practice needs to be adopted by students early on, and they need to have the aptitude to create connections.  

New graduates also need to tell impactful stories about their work, because good design is good storytelling. It’s important for them to cultivate the mindset of being a lifelong learner, identify their niche within design and channel their energy and learnings towards developing those skill sets.  

What are your favourite things about working, studying and living in Calgary? Where do you draw inspiration from? 

Calgary gives a good blend of city life, small-town vibes and easy access to nature. Also, my parents tell me about how much Calgary has grown in population, diversity and multiculturalism over the last two decades.  

My community is a huge part of my experience growing up here. For example, the mosque I go to plays an important role in shaping me into who I am, and I have a lot of memories tied to the place because it’s where I go to connect to my faith. 

I draw inspiration from everything around me, from the mountains surrounding the city to my work with local communities and people. I also turn inwards to draw inspiration from my spirituality, and I think that’s the case for any creative. Our experiences and how we view the world shape how we show up at work. 

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