Reem El-Ajou measuring distances between chairs using at tape measure

Full circle: UTM grad returns to campus to work at vaccination clinic

Blake Eligh

When Reem El-Ajou (HBA, ‘20) graduated in the middle of a pandemic, she didn’t expect to see her alma mater again so soon.

The U of T Mississauga grad is back on campus, where she is playing an important role supporting the largest mass public vaccination initiative in Canadian history.

El-Ajou, who grew up in Jordan, applied to UTM’s commerce program, but a passion for writing and digital work soon drew her to the Communication, Culture & Information Technology (CCIT) program where she studied digital enterprise management (DEM) and professional writing. Students enrolled in the program gain experience with e-commerce strategies, communications, project management, and web design.

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In her final semester, before the pandemic began, El-Ajou connected with Trillium Health Partners (THP) at a university job fair. The local hospital network brought the then-student aboard to provide IT support during the implementation of new health management software. That experience led to another role supporting a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic located within the hospital system.

By early 2021, a new and urgent initiative was in the works. THP had partnered with Peel Public Health and U of T Mississauga to launch the first mass public vaccination clinic in the Region of Peel.

THP tapped El-Ajou to help shepherd the UTM-based clinic through the setup and operational phases of the clinic, which launched on March 1, 2021.

As a project analyst with the vaccine leadership team, El-Ajou was in touch with every part of the clinic to keeps tabs on the clinic’s complex operations. She monitors the progress of plans and projects, and pitches in to troubleshoot when challenges arise.

With detailed project management plans, she tracks and updates the progress of all clinic plans, like ensuring there’s enough furniture and hardware available, IT concerns are addressed or helping the clinic meet accessibility needs of all visitors, such as those who might require more privacy during a vaccination.

“I track that things were being completed and were up to date,” she says.

The UTM alumna puts in long days at the clinic, but says she thrives on the fast-paced environment.

“There are a lot of moving parts. It’s a fast-paced environment,” says El-Ajou, who adds that every day presents new opportunities to contribute. She says it’s exciting to respond to whatever the day throws at her, from new directives from the Ministry to requests for IT support.

The CCIT grad says that undergraduate studies gave her a solid foundation of skills that she uses in the clinic every day.

“I benefited greatly from the DEM program, which gave me a bird’s eye view of how different workstreams come together and impact each other,” she says.

“DEM taught me to get the complete picture. When you apply things from a project management implementation perspective, that helps to make better decisions and form better opinions.

“The DEM program opens up so many different doors,” she continues. “You have the freedom to do a lot with this degree and go wherever the world takes you. This training has allowed me to work in an industry that I never thought I would be working in. But I have realized that it really does feel like it’s where I’m meant to be.”

Reem El-Ajou setting up a queue using yellow dividers
Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn

Amid the details of her busy workday, El-Ajou always has her eye on the human impact of her work. Since the launch, the clinic has delivered more than 100,000 vaccinations to protect residents in the Region of Peel.

“You hear comments from patients about the vaccine, or hoping to see their nieces and nephews in person or get to hug their parents again,” she says. “For them, 34 to 40 minutes in the clinic can change their entire life.

“I hope to always end up in a position where I can see the impact of the work I’m doing on the community. Giving back to the community and helping other people is one of the most important things for me.”

In the meantime, El-Ajou is happy to be back on campus and seeing a few familiar faces above the facemask when she takes breaks in The Meeting Place.

“I loved being a student here. I had amazing experiences,” she says, adding that it seems like destiny that she would find her way back to campus somehow.

“It’s like I’ve come full circle.”