In 2011, when 15-year-old Muzammil Syed arrived in Canada from Saudi Arabia with his mother and siblings, navigating the education system seemed daunting. While he knew a post-secondary education would be needed to build a good career, he wasn’t sure what programs would allow him to reach those goals.   

When the family first arrived and settled in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, Syed’s father was still in Saudi Arabia. There was no family in Canada to lean on, so Syed was on his own to navigate high school.

“My story is similar to many immigrants in the sense that we are in a new place, and we don’t understand the system, and we have our own challenges, be they economical, lacking a social network, or others,” Syed said in an interview.

Fortunately, he met a fellow newcomer and student who introduced him to the Scarborough Village location of Pathways to Education. The national charity, dedicated to helping young people like Syed graduate from high school and realize their full potential, offered financial help with books, school supplies and bus tickets as well as mentorship and social networking. Through the support and mentorship it provided, the program has helped him soar in his academics and put him on a successful path in medical research. 

Muzammil Headshot

Photo: Muzammil Syed

Approximately 9% of youth in Canada do not earn a high school diploma. That number can be as high as 50% in some low-income communities. Youth who are new to Canada in particular face hurdles in adjusting to a new education system and academic curriculum while learning a language and integrating into social activities.

The Pathways to Education Program gives these students the tools and support required to succeed in school and beyond.

This week, Scotiabank announced a community investment of $900,000 to Pathways to Education through ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year, $500-million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups. ScotiaRISE partners with programs and organizations across the Bank’s footprint that provide the tools people need to improve their education and employment prospects, adapt to changing circumstances and increase the likelihood of financial success.

“Helping youth access the tools they need to succeed in high school and beyond continues to be a key factor in establishing successful careers,” says Meigan Terry, Senior Vice President and Chief Social Impact, Sustainability and Communications Officer at Scotiabank. “Pathways to Education’s holistic approach — combining academic, financial, social, and one-on-one support — to removing barriers to graduation and future success is something we are proud to support.”

For Syed, Pathways has been a compass, or GPS, of sorts.

“For me and for a lot of newcomers, Pathways not only showed us university was achievable but facilitated our post-secondary journey by giving us a roadmap to get there,” he said. “Many organizations tackle one barrier, but Pathways is remarkable in that they helped you figure out a way to mitigate almost every major barrier newcomers to Canada face, whether it’s financial or academic, or mentorship related.”


For me and for a lot of newcomers, Pathways not only showed us university was achievable but facilitated our post-secondary journey by giving us a roadmap to get there. 

Muzammil Syed

That holistic approach has proven to remove barriers to graduation and promote positive youth development during critical high school years. The numbers tell the story: 69% of Pathways graduates transitioned to post-secondary education or training in the 2020-21 school year. According to a third-party evaluation, the Pathways Program increases the employment rate of graduates by 14% and annual adult earnings by 19%, compared with their peers.

Syed was able to continue to rely on support from the Pathways Program as he pursued his post-secondary education. After graduating from high school in 2014, he got a Bachelor in Life Sciences at McMaster University, with much of his tuition covered by the Pathways Education Scholarship, the Dominic and Pearl D’Alessandro Scholarship, and the Big Sister Association Legacy Funds. He also received numerous awards related to his research work in diabetes and peripheral arterial disease to help advance his academics.

This year, Syed received a Master of Science from the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science. He is the recipient of the Whiteside Award 2022, presented by the school to a recent Master of Science graduate who has made outstanding scholarly contributions. Syed’s graduate research work ascertaining the hospital-level burden of diabetic foot ulcers across Canada was jointly supported by a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s (CGS M) award and a Banting & Best Diabetes Centre-Novo Nordisk Studentship.

As for what’s next, Syed said: “I’m thinking about doing the combined MD PhD program, which is seven or eight years. That’s an option I’m seriously considering.

“The way I see it, Pathways is a wealth of resources, and if you immerse yourself in the program and the network you will garner more benefits than anticipated. It’s one of those things that just keeps on giving,” he said.

“And it’s a ripple effect that will continue for many generations.”