Corona Class of 2020, Pandemic Cohort, we are being called all sorts of names! However, I believe we are the first digital graduates, the class of opportunities, the wizards of the future, and virtuosos of the current industrial and digital revolution.  


Hi, my name is Fares, and I am a Syrian-Antiguan student studying Global Product Design and Management MSc within the manufacturing theme at Cranfield University. GPDM sits equidistant from Engineering, Design, and Business. I chose this program at Cranfield because of its strong connection to industry, its great reputation, and the overall culture (AKA Cranfield Style). Cranfield alumni are leading technological innovation today, and I hope one day I will too.  

I have joined Cranfield in October 2019 from Saudi Arabia where I permanently reside after finishing my undergraduate studies between Canada and the UK. Given the internationally diverse environment of Cranfield, it was remarkably easy to blend in. I felt right at home.  

Full-time Manufacturing MSc programs are divided into three phases, Modules (October to January), Group Project (February to April), and Individual Thesis (May to August). We have just finished our group projects and currently, we are working on our individual theses.   

The modules we studied in our program were shared among different MSc programs within the manufacturing theme, so I got to meet a lot of people who share with me the same passion, aspirations, and interests, yet they are all unique in their own ways. We all became like a huge family. 

My group project focused on developing a framework to use Augmented Reality Digital Twins to enhance maintenance activities. My thesis will focus on Futuristic Maintenance of High Value Assets. 

During the course of our group project, we were witnessing the global unravelling of the events following the COVID-19 pandemic. These unprecedented circumstances soon required extra special measures to be taken. First we continued to work carefully on-campus observing physical distancing. At some points, we used the Telecommuting Robot at the Through-life Engineering Service Institute to minimise contact. 

After that, we had to move online since some of us started heading home for the lockdown and the campus was closed for work. We started using different tools made available to us through the university licenses. We used video conferencing tools like WebEx and Microsoft Teams to continue having discussions on our project. We used SharePoint to share and collaborate on files and documents.  We also used some more advanced tools to access servers and services on campus from abroad. Of course, to keep the level of enthusiasm and creativity high, some video meetings included very interesting webcam backgrounds and effects.  

It is immensely affirming to see how prepared Cranfield was for such a situation. IT and other services continue to wholly support us online. I borrowed a laptop from my lab – that had the software we were working on – to continue working on the group project from home with as little disturbance as possible.

 Aside from studying, I have been keeping myself busy with other lockdown activities. I am still living in Cranfield Village so I occasionally go for mini hikes around the area enjoying the green scenery and the nice weather, and sometimes practicing some photography. I have discovered some interesting public paths that connect the village to the campus and explored new areas around me.  

                     

For a change of routine, I would sometimes grab a bite from the Turkish Kebab food truck on campus and have a mini picnic in the large field next to the sports hall. 

I have also been taking online courses in different topics to fill my time at home with professional growth. LinkedIn Learning has been a great tool for that. I learned from experts in their respective fields, got certificates for finishing workshops, and added new skills to my CV.  

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The Holy Month of Ramadan started on the evening of Thursday April 23rd, 2020. Cranfield Islamic Society (one of the student clubs at Cranfield) has been extremely generous by handing out dates on the first night of Ramadan, and providing me with meals to break my fast with delivered daily to my doorstep. This meant a lot to me as this is the first Ramadan I spend in isolation, away from friends and family.  

There is no doubt that these days carry a huge load of challenges, however, they also carry a gigantic load of lessons and opportunities. The group project phase has prepared me for the last phase of my MSs, the individual thesis. It has been a great practice in anticipation of what the future work environments and possible obstacles would look like, and the tools and methods to use to cope with them. We are now putting to test our digital and physical flexibility, infrastructure, and resilience. So far, they have proved to be reliable. Lastly, to quote Oprah Winfrey, we are the “class that has been called to step into the future, with more purpose, vision, passion, energy, and hope”. I would like to remind you to stay safe, seek growth, and never give up. Good Luck on the rest of your academic year, we are almost there!  

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