“One has to stay hopeful. The last thing that dies is hope, but we have to believe that everything will be better.” That poignant reminder to stay hopeful amid devastation comes from a 20-year-old war survivor struggling with his internet connection as he speaks to us over a Zoom call. Vladyslav Honcharuk, a young Ukrainian has his life flipped over into a dystopian reality since the conflict in Europe escalated. There is one thing that has always brought him joy, his deep love for learning. And this part of his life came to an abrupt halt with the war, when uncertainty, fear, and stomach-churning anxiety became constant companions.
And while he was looking for a way to continue his education, he found Emeritus’ Ukraine scholarship program launched in 2022 to help Ukrainians impacted by the war to rebuild their life. Given his long-standing interest in data science, machine learning, and its applications in healthcare, he chose the Professional Certificate in Data Engineering course from MIT xPRO.
The young Kyiv resident speaks to us about negotiating the challenges of studying as a war rages on, digging deep for the determination to pursue his dream, and living life with incremental pauses amid the din, chaos, and air alerts.
Life Before the War
“Around the time when the pandemic hit, I was a sophomore and had enrolled for a bachelor’s degree at the University in Kyiv, where I live. My minor was in data science,” begins Honcharuk. He adds that he has always been interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence, particularly their application in healthcare, biology, and medicine. “I used to attend scientific conferences too. I also volunteered for a European student organization which greatly improved my soft skills,” he recollects. All this was during the pandemic, so he could still attend classes online even though he was stuck at home most of the time. “I was leading a normal life of sorts. In fact, I was doing great,” he says.
“I was 18 when the war started. We had to move out of Kyiv, which was the capital and thus vulnerable to strikes,” he recounts. But didn’t he try to leave the country for safer shores like many of his compatriots? Would that not give him a better chance at survival? “Men of fighting age aren’t allowed to leave the country even now. At the moment, I cannot be drafted into the army because I’m a student. The government thinks students are more useful on the science front. But in case there is a need for more men to fight, I will have to sign up,” he explains.
“I will fight and die for my country willingly if the need arises,” he adds with such poise that we have to remind ourselves that there is a teenager on the other side of the screen.
“So, we moved to my mother’s parent’s home in a different city,” he continues. “Everyone was depressed and anxious. I was ready to join the forces if necessary. But then things looked promising, and the success of our defense gave me hope,” he says.
Honcharuk decided to try and continue his studies. “Our men were fighting and dying on the front lines, and if I was just sitting around doing nothing, what are they dying for? So I wanted to do something to improve myself somehow,” he says while explaining why he chose this data engineering course using the scholarship.
Discovering a Learning Opportunity With MIT’s Data Engineering Course
“I want to do important work in the healthcare field,” says Honcharuk. But to do that, one needs data dexterity and soft skills to go with the technical ones. Once his university halted classes, he began looking for alternative learning opportunities. “I was surfing the internet and stumbled across a website about educational opportunities for Ukrainians. That is how I found the Emeritus scholarship,” he exclaims. He also adds that he thought it would be an excellent opportunity to master skills he already had while gaining new ones.
Finding the Right Course
“As I researched programs aligning with my learning goals, I realized that most of them were designed for people who already got their bachelor’s degree.” This left Honcharuk worried as he was still in university at the time. He tried to find a program that did not require a degree and was delighted when he stumbled upon MIT xPRO’s Data Engineering Course.
Choosing MIT xPRO Professional Certificate in Data Engineering
“Everyone knows that MIT is one of the best technical universities in the world, and I had no doubt that a program from MIT would greatly benefit my development,” says Honcharuk. From implementing algorithms to managing big data, the course covered all the vital aspects of data engineering. Signing up for the program was the very obvious next step. His love for data science and machine learning and excellent curriculum made the program an ideal fit for Honcharuk.
The Learning Experience: MIT xPRO’s Data Engineering Course
Due to frequent power outages in Kyiv, Honcharuk had to manage his time smartly. A stable internet connection was a luxury too! “Initially, I could keep up with the curriculum and dedicate 15-20 hours per week for each module. However, once the blackouts began, my pace slowed down. But having downloadable material made it easy to keep learning,” he recollects.
From the program perspective, he learned so much— advanced programming languages, knowledge of tools used for data engineering and data science, and essential modern technology. The course did not have many prerequisites, making it apt for a learner like Honcharuk. “There is no theoretical knowledge you need before entering the course, though I already knew some concepts from university. The course covers the most basic and complex concepts later on.”
Supportive Learning Facilitators
“It helped that the faculty was so great. Dr. Abel Sanchez and John R. Williams covered the topics brilliantly. And, of course, my learning facilitators were great too. They covered the curriculum and explained concepts like we were in high school!”
During the course, Honcharuk completed eight projects with the help of his peers and learning facilitators. The one he particularly enjoyed involved the creation of a reinforcement learning model using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithm. The project involved aggregating the most efficient path for a robot to move from the starting point to the exit in a room.
Why Learning With Emeritus Worked
A course is only a part of the learning journey. The learning platform, tools, curriculum, faculty, and projects add to the experience. One such aspect that helped Honcharuk was the Emeritus learning portal. “I liked the learning platform owned by Emeritus – it’s intuitively easy to find the right buttons to click on and has a good user interface,” he adds. From downloading class videos to asking for submission deadline extensions, he was able to do it all in a few simple clicks. The scholarship program helped him learn new concepts, build a sense of purpose, and move toward a goal.
Hoping for Peace and Promise at the End of a Long and Dark Tunnel
“I’m incredibly ambitious and want to do as much as possible to progress professionally and personally—engage in numerous academic activities, competitions, and conferences. I want to gain a master’s after my bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D., if possible, in the next five years. And I hope to work in healthcare and dedicate my life to science,” he sums up.
Honcharuk also wants to relocate to a country like Canada or Japan, with excellent scientific communities conducting ground-breaking computational medicine research on AI applications in medicine. And he hopes to do so on a scholarship one day when the war is over, and his country needs him in research instead of on the frontlines.
“We have to rebuild after the war. And we need science for that,” says a poignant Honcharuk, sounding too mature for a 20-year-old. But his heart is in the right place as he dreams of a future without armed crises where development will be the key focus of his country, and he will be a meaningful contributor to the same.
The Emeritus Advantage
Emeritus Careers affiliated with the Professional Certificates offers participants a complimentary and optional Career Development course and helps them access additional, individualized career coaching and resume referrals to employer partners. We have partnered with organizations like TTEC to connect with prospective employers. Brands looking to reach out to great talent like Vladyslav Honcharuk can learn more here.
By Gauri Kelkar
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