Jesse Preston conquers barriers to find success
At Centennial College, we lead students to do great things. We’re also all about overcoming barriers to education, assisting our students through institutions like the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD).
Jesse Preston came to Centennial College for Business and Project Management. He also has dyslexia, a disorder that makes reading words and numbers difficult, and that impeded his education before he came to the college. The CSD helped him succeed by giving him tools to overcome his own challenges, and the School of Business gave him the education and resources to excel and connect to a rewarding career. Now he gives back through his work with Epilepsy Toronto, helping people overcome barriers to his employment. Here’s how he got there.
Jesse’s early life plans were very different from where he is now. Due to seemingly poor academics, he first went to a business technical institute to study trades, until he encountered his own personal barrier that changed everything.
“I found out I have dyslexia, and I couldn’t read a ruler, hence trades were probably not the best place to be,” he says. Specifically, his learning disabilities included dyslexia (reading), dyscalculia (math), and dysgraphia (writing), as well as ADHD. An even worse barrier: He wasn’t getting help for them, and they’d been the reason he hadn’t been able to get his academics to college level.
“I wasn’t properly accommodated for most of the time I was there,” he says. That all changed, though, when he came to Centennial College.
“I actually had no interest in going to college,” he admits, “but some family members and influential people in my life convinced me to go back to college. So I looked at this program for Ontario Basic Skills (now known as Career and College Transition) and connected with the Centre for Students with Disabilities.”
“Initially, I was going to walk in there and demand my rights, and I didn’t have to,” he continues. “I walked in, and the counsellor there turned around and said, I’ve read your assessment, what accommodations would you like? No one had ever bothered to ask me that before.”
They’d set him up with counselling, learning strategies and adaptive technology like tape recorders, Dragon NaturallySpeaking software and a reading program called Kurzweil. He was also trained in how to use them, a skill he still uses in his career today.
A path into business
“I’m a person that believes that people should have a chance to show their potential, and up until Centennial College, I didn’t have that chance,” Jesse says. “As I said, they didn’t really accommodate me in high school and I left there with a really bad taste. Centennial was the first place to give me a chance to show my potential.”
After upgrading his learning skills, Jesse studied Business Administration, and then switched to General Business so he could do a Project Management postgrad. The reason for his choice has involved a project he’d been a part of during Ontario Basic Skills that had been a complete disaster.
“One thing that we walked away with an appreciation for is that we needed education and we needed training,” he says. “I had decided that business and management was a way to accomplish that.”
“Business is all about solving problems to me,” he continues. “Every business exists to address a problem, and that’s the reason why I picked business.”
He wasn’t content to just learn during the program, either, spending time mentoring for the Centre for Students with Disabilities, creating a mentoring club called the Access Club, and worked with the CCSAI to develop a business plan for its spa operation.
“For the SASS Spa, I implemented all the project management techniques I was learning,” he said.
As for now? “A lot of the courses I took in human resources, recruiting, professional selling, that were from general business, I use those on a day to day basis. Many of the tools and applications from project management, I still use.”
“I wanted to help people, and I was missing the stuff I was doing with the CSD, supporting people with disabilities,” Jesse says of his career choice. Jesse currently works at Epilepsy Toronto as a Job Developer and Facilitator, connecting people with disabilities to careers.
“I go out to the employers, find out what their needs are, what kind of skills they’re looking for, what kind of people they’re looking for, and then I go back to my pool and find candidates that match and make introductions,” he explains. “In addition to that, I do a lot of setting up of people with mentors and do a lot of information sharing. An outcome of that is I introduce people to hiring managers and many people get jobs. So essentially what I do is non-profit recruiting, with a specialty in epilepsy, as well as learning disabilities, ADHD, and dyslexia.”
He lists an interesting example of his recent work to explain what he does.
”We set up a really cool accommodation where we had a person with glaucoma, and a severe memory disability,” he says. “His vision and writing were atrocious, to the point where he couldn’t even read it. The problem was that he got a job answering phones, and he’d take a message, but no one knew what he was writing, and he wouldn’t remember what it was.”
“We set him up with a tape recorder and Dragon NaturallySpeaking software,” he continues, “and any time he answered the phone, he’d turn the tape recorder as a backup, and turn Dragon on.”
“I get to show people’s potential. That is the best part,” he says. “There are times when I didn’t even do anything except pick up a phone and make one introduction, and I got someone a job. There’s nothing like going from watching people that couldn’t succeed because no one’s given them a chance, to seeing them succeed and reach their potential.”
The importance of volunteering
When it comes to advice for others looking to follow in his footsteps, Jesse has one important recommendation: Volunteering. If Jesse hadn’t volunteered, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that crucial early work with the CSD and SASS Spa at Centennial.
“Basically, my career wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” he says. “Just be open to learn, even if it’s a short-term loss in money, just to get that experience.”
“If you go out there to be known as a professional,” he adds, “and you learn how to do that better, then people will eventually hire you. At the very least, you’ll make a bigger impression.”
“Learn as much as you can,” he finishes. “Because at the end of the day, we’re all unique and we’re all shaped by the experiences we go through in life.”
By Anthony Geremia