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Mechanically Inclined

Picture of John Pesce, Centennial College 50th Anniversary Success Story

Back in 1966, John Pesce was quite content forging a career as a Mechanical Designer at Northern Electric, later to be renamed Nortel.

"It was a great place to work," he says. "Northern Electric was a high technology leader at that time and I learned a lot. I began in their London, Ontario, location right after graduating from Ryerson in 1961 then later moved to the Bramalea office."

However, things were about to change. That summer, John saw a newspaper advertisement for instructors at a new applied arts and technology institute that would soon open in the east end of Toronto – Centennial College.

"I ran my finger down the list and saw they were looking for an instructor for a two-year mechanical drafting technician program," he says. "I'd thought about teaching in the future so I decided to apply."

He got the job.

When John arrived that September, only course outlines had been developed so he had no time to prepare a detailed teaching plan.

"We began almost immediately and I taught all the drafting classes and ran the labs," he says. "They were often planned on a day-by- day basis! Fortunately, we were all new and we helped each other. Everyone worked their butts off but still managed to have fun. It was a fantastic atmosphere."

Despite the challenges, John and his students quickly settled in and the following year, new faculty took over and John turned his attention to developing and teaching the second year of the program.

Within a few years, both a two- and three-year drafting technician programs were available and John's role continued to grow. Within three years he was program coordinator, a position he held until he assumed the role of Acting Chair of Mechanical Engineering Technology in the early 1980s. In 1985 he was named Chair, where he remained for the remainder of his career.

During that career, John saw his profession transform.

"Everything was done by hand in the 60s and 70s but the advent of CAD (computer-aided design) software and CNC (computer numerical control) technology for metal machining changed the industry," he says. "But one thing never changed – our students were always in high demand. In the early years, many had jobs waiting for them after they graduated."

John credits the program's advisory committee for helping to keep Centennial's mechanical engineering programs relevant.

"They told us what the industry currently needed, what would be needed and what changes were happening," he says.

The mechanical drafting programs also employed a project approach whereby students selected something to design and build then, in different classes and labs, presented their ideas, designed, built, tested and managed their project before presenting a final written report of their results.

"They had to do it all," he said. "By the time they graduated, they understood all aspects of the industry."

In 1996, after almost 30 years with Centennial, John decided to retire.

"I knew I'd been at the College a long time when a student came up to me and said that I'd taught his father!" he laughs. "But I stayed with Centennial for three decades because it was so rewarding and so enjoyable. I worked with wonderful people and we had really great students. I'd do it all over again."