We sat down with 25492 Maj. Mohamad Iskandarani, RMC Class of 2012, Lecturer Electrical and Computer Engineering, Special Assistant to the Dean of Engineering Royal Military College of Canada for a Q&A interview to find out what he’s been doing since graduation.
eVeritas: When did you know you wanted to become a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, and what led you to join RMC?
These two questions are one and the same for me. Three factors spurred me to choosing this career initially. Actually, joining the CAF for me was a means to an end: receiving an education at RMC. I do apologize to the readers if my motivations initially seem unconventional. Firstly, I did not enjoy socializing with others when I was in high school, maybe a combination of stress being a new immigrant with an overgrown desire to succeed or maybe the ill effects of a difficult puberty. Either way, these tendencies encouraged me to seek a very different university experience, one where I would have to change my mentality. Did I recognize unconsciously that things had to evolve? Secondly, I was by no means wealthy or excited to take on student loans, a massive burden for a young person starting out in life. I would have to drag this massive responsibility like an anchor for a few years after graduation. The avenue of any other institution immediately became a total turn off. Despite my young age and lack of experience, I realized that RMC offered a long lasting career – with its own challenges mind you – but without being weighed down by financial stress. I do believe that current students and alumni share this same motivation but sometimes hesitate to express it. Lastly, and this will come as no surprise, being an army cadet in my youth was also reason for considering a different university education and career. To this day I believe this program is an excellent experience for youths regardless of their future choice of career. While it may sound stereotypical or even institutionalized, discipline and structure does wonders for a young mind.
eVeritas: You are currently a Lecturer for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at RMC, what is your favorite part of your job?
I have forgotten how patient students are, stuck in a classroom for eight hours a day while specialists lecture them: it fires me up when they sometimes humor me and laugh at my silly jokes. God only knows I try to make my classes interesting not just with the materials but with sarcastic quips, gentle banter or sometimes going on (small?) tangents related to the real world. When students actually react positively to this and the side effect is the retention of course material, I inwardly smile, feeling confident I accomplished my mission (especially when they pass the exam, phew). All jokes aside though, my first motivation is when a student looks at me with hope, following a personal conversation, some advice or a warning for the future after graduation. I am by no means wise beyond my years, I am on a journey myself, but I share enough with the students that they realize that I made mistakes and they can avoid them; I’ve just saved them a lot of time and heartache. While never openly expressing it, some of them get motivation in thinking, “he made it and I can do it too”. My second motivation is when my students stop me in the hallway or at the gym and express gratitude for teaching their class. It warms my heart because I feel like, even in my small sphere of influence, there was some positivity and hope for the future. I am equally glad that they were able to look past the tons of mistakes I scribbled on the board: at least they were paying attention.
eVeritas: When you were an OCdt, did you ever think you would be back as a professor? What’s it’s like to have this full-circle moment?
Excuse the overconfidence here but yes, I always knew I would come back to teach at RMC. I was one of the fortunate few right after graduation in 2012 that was successfully chosen for the post-graduate on scholarship program, which gives you the opportunity to complete a Master’s degree immediately. This was such a positive experience in my life that it solidified my belief that I can pass along these same opportunities to others in the future. Through research and studies, challenging my patience many a time, I published a few academic papers and presented at conferences around the world. Few institutions would have given me such an avenue for adventure. Moreover, RMC offered such a vibrant environment, full of curious people yearning to learn, that I secretly hoped I would come back to join them eventually. Finally, my experience as a cadet was formative enough, chalk full of valuable memories, that I knew I had to be part of it once more. “If” was not the question but “when”. My time at RMC was by no means always rosy mind you, and I empathize with many of my friends and alumni that have had a harder time here. However, at the end of the balance sheet, personally, the benefits outweighed the hardships and I am glad to be back.
On a lighter note, sometimes I forget my age and due to my past relationship with RMC, it feels as if I am still a student capable of conquering the world. However the bags under my eyes and my hair loss says otherwise.
eVeritas: As an RMC grad, and now RMC Lecturer, what are the main differences from your time at the College as a Cadet to now as a teacher that you see?
I believe the institution is making strides in improving its culture. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, cadets are flexible and smart enough to get back into teamwork mode, albeit slowly. We should not underestimate how the pandemic has shaped the cadets not only as a student body but also as a cohort of future leaders. They inadvertently had to work individually and limit their social interaction but suddenly they were thrust back into in-residence teaching and reestablishing those social rules with their colleagues and profs. I believe that those who will learn this balancing act quickly will be great assets in improving our struggling institution in the future. This situation is definitely very different from my time as a cadet and I commend the Cadet Wing for making it through. On another note, I was present at the unveiling of the Class of 1981 and 1984 Female Cadet Statue on 20 May 2022. I was honored to be present during this historical event and I now finally have an important RMC moment that I can share with whomever would listen.
eVeritas: What makes you passionate about teaching our future leaders?
Sometimes we wrongfully consider the RMC cadets as institutionalized automatons, born and bred for specific tasks: to be a future leader and uphold the institution. Now while this is true in essence, I would like to expand the definition further. Accordingly, what makes me passionate about teaching is opening their horizons to not just their career objectives but giving them whatever advice I can muster about the world at large. We forget that the Cadets have interesting views on all sorts of subjects; those deserve consideration as well. While the objectives above remain unequivocal, we should not shutter the cadets away from the world. Myself and many of my military colleagues in Faculty, attempt to give them academic, military and life mentorship to the best of our abilities, a tough balancing act indeed. I have made some mistakes in my career, but by sharing them and displaying some vulnerability, I hope they can avoid them in the future.
eVeritas: If you could provide one piece of advice to the Naval and Officer Cadets of the Canadian Military Colleges what would it be?
Patience. You need to be patient (and this is coming from an impatient, hyperactive person). RMC is a marathon not a sprint. It’s a slow jog but I am confident you’ll make it. Help others around you make it too. Do it with compassion. The future is bright.
eVeritas: How did your career prepare you for teaching?
While my career was not tailored for teaching at RMC, I had some opportunities to hone some skills. During the pandemic, I was the course director for the signal officer course up the hill at the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics. With a tightly knit team, we navigated this challenging time in order to graduate about 80 junior signal officers. These junior officers made it into the stream and are currently contributing to the institution’s force generation and deployment requirements. I was proud of our work and I attempt to bring this to the forefront in my teaching. Moreover, I spent a few years at CFB Valcartier, deployed with the headquarters and signals squadron and the 3rd Royal 22ième Régiment on OP UNIFIER (Ukraine) in 2016. I am deeply fulfilled by this work and I try to use anecdotes from this experience to show Cadets that there is a life after RMC and it is positive. My career has given me many challenges, taught me patience, empathy and understanding. While we need to be constantly reminded of these lessons, sharing them with the Cadets is both cathartic and reinforcing on a personal level.
eVeritas: What do you feel is the most important quality a teacher needs to have?
Engagement. A teacher needs to engage the student and find the best way to pass the message across. With engagement comes creativity. As an RMC student, I was always falling asleep in class and my profs powered through and taught me. I take inspiration from their years of struggle.
eVeritas: What is your favorite part of Engineering?
Creating efficiency. Many things are wrong around us, either personal or professional. While it’s healthy to complain every now and then, action is what is necessary. Engineering is seeking efficiencies, optimizing conditions and creating solutions to real problems. I enjoy creating efficiency in my personal life and modeling improvement over time. In our own little sphere of influence, let us try to engineer a better future.
eVeritas: If you could provide one piece of advice to your students before they graduate what would it be?
Apologies, but I have more than one and I hope we can include all of them. I have a host of advice but I will try to limit it to the intriguing, important and hilarious:
- On winter training, don’t close your army sleeping bag around your head if you’re cold. The humidity from your breathing will freeze and give you hypothermia.
- Don’t just read books from your boss’ reading list. They don’t have to hold the words leadership, teamwork and synergy in the title. Open your horizons to all sorts of subjects and don’t stop learning. A well rounded officer intellectually can connect with anyone.
- Consider doing a master’s degree early in your career (maybe right after RMC?). You’re still in learning mode and you’re brain is apt to the challenge. Your future career will thank you.
- Educate yourself on finances: personal budgeting, cashflows, interest rates, taxes, mortgage payments, investments etc. It’s not sexy but financial literacy is essential in the modern, highly evolving world. Your future kids will thank you.
- Don’t close yourself off from others. Keep socializing and creating connections. Form worthwhile memories, good and bad. At least, if they’re bad, you’ll have one hell of a story to tell.