From Academic Probation To Co-op Student Of The Year

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For someone who had no interest in pursuing a business career, winning a national award for his work at a marketing agency is an unexpected path.

In March, Mahfuz Chowdhury, a third-year business student at Sheridan College, was named Co-op Student of the Year by the Canadian Association For Co-op Education (CAFCE).

“Don’t just settle for something less because you can’t find it.” 
Mahfuz Chowdhury, Business Administration graduate, Sheridan College

The organization recognizes one college and one university student who are making an outstanding contribution to their employer, co-op education and the community at large.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be recognized for years of hard work,” he says. “It’s almost like these are bread crumbs telling me that I’m going down the right path.”

Mahfuz always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it wasn’t until two years ago, while attending the University of Toronto, that he fell in love with marketing. It was one particular class assignment, when he had to analyze a shoe company’s marketing strategy, which really ignited his passion for the industry. “I loved the creativity involved in that assignment and that there were no right answers,” he says.

At the time, Mahfuz was on academic probation and would eventually be kicked out of school. “I was $25,000 in debt and felt on the edge of depression,” he says. After taking some time off to rethink his path, he entered Sheridan’s business program.

He took the passion he’d developed for marketing and started exploring opportunities in that area of business. Mahfuz had a particularly strong interest in social and digital media. He recognized how they were changing online marketing strategies and set out to find an organization that was helping companies with this.

Using LinkedIn, he researched all the companies in the Greater Toronto Area specializing in digital and social media marketing. That’s when he came across Darrell Keezer, President of Mississauga-based Candybox Marketing. He says that the company’s unique branding drew him into wanting to find out more. “I was looking for a company that I could fit into well. Candybox looked like they had a fun personality,” he says. “The CEO calls himself the ‘Candy Co-ordinator’ rather than just a bland job description. It was things like that that stood out to me.”

He leveraged the commonalities he had with Darrell, who was also once a Sheridan business student. LinkedIn messages turned into coffee meetings, which then turned into a job as a social media marketer at Candybox. His new job title? Social Sweet.

During those meet ups, Mahfuz made sure to show his future boss how he could be a valuable asset to his team. “I didn’t worry about asking what Candybox could offer me,” he says. “I pitched what I could bring to them.”

What does it take to be named Co-op Student of the Year? In his nomination letter, Darrell wrote that Mahfuz “doubled attendance in our social media workshops; brought in a few major customers through his networking, amounting to a major increase in our sales for the year; acquired more than 1,000 followers on both Twitter and Facebook for our company; and improved online awareness and ranking on Google for many of our small business clients . . . (he) made such a mark on our company that we offered him a full-time position.”

The award is just the beginning for this digital marketer. Mahfuz will be travelling with the Candybox team, across Canada, on a social media tour. They’ll be hosting 12 events in 10 cities, meaning one busy month for Mahfuz. The purpose of the tour is to educate small businesses and consultants on how digital and social marketing can help grow their companies.

On top of this, he is working on a project that has a definite personal connection. Project Reinvention is an initiative that’s inspired from his U of T days. During that time of his life he lacked direction and wished someone could have offered a helping hand.

Instead of wallowing away, Mahfuz began attending personal-development seminars and reading books on leadership. His personal motto is, “It only takes one season to change your life from tragic to magic.”

Within four months he saw his passion re-emerging. It’s this experience that inspired Project Reinvention. “If I went through this phase then others must be going through the same thing. I want to be their helping hand,” he says. Mahfuz travels to schools telling his story. He didn’t realize how powerful his seminars until, after one presentation, a student came up to him crying because she had been so touched.

For students looking to create their own positions at a company, Mahfuz encourages the use of social media sites, like LinkedIn, to reach employers directly. Putting yourself out there in a unique way is valuable.

If this is something you are weary about, he suggests reading up on the person you’re contacting. “When you know your research on the person, it’s not hard introducing yourself,” he says. But, most importantly the key thing is to find something you love doing. “Don’t just settle for something less because you can’t find it,” he says.

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