In 2016, UVic Sociology student Finn Deschner was awarded the “Co-op Student of the Year” award from his department after his successful placement with Alberta Environment and Parks. We spoke to Finn during his second Co-op term, asking him to reflect on the experience of working a long way from his home institution and how he has used his first placement to secure further opportunities.
ACE: You completed your Co-op in Alberta – what was the biggest challenge you faced in making the decision to complete your Co-op away from Victoria?
FD: Although I am very open to travel, and keen on any opportunities to visit new places that present themselves, one big challenge in taking on this particular adventure was the strain it placed on my established relationships back in Victoria. Maintaining long-distance relationships, not only with my girlfriend, but also with friends and family who were unable to visit me throughout the summer was a difficult aspect of working in a fairly remote, northern part of Alberta and away from my home in B.C. While I was fortunate enough to quickly find avenues to network and connect with awesome people in Alberta, this relationship strain remained one of the biggest challenges of long-term work in a new place.
ACE: Thanks for your honesty, Finn. Was the social element of your placement important then? How did you find the experience of working in a team, as a part of a large project?
FD: My co-op experience was extremely social in the sense that, although my everyday work team in the field consisted only of my direct work-partner and myself, our work day often involved interview opportunities with hundreds of park visitors, as well as interactions with diverse staff across North-East Alberta’s parks and recreation areas. The social aspect of conducting thousands of interviews based on surveys we designed, particularly in parks near First Nations reserves, or when dealing with the countless evacuees fleeing Fort McMurray and the Anzac area, was very significant, often requiring careful messaging and cultural sensitivity. In numerous other projects alongside this major summer interview endeavor, I worked alongside Environmental Technicians, Conservation Officers, GIS Technologists and Geomatics specialists, and many others, occupying both leadership and supportive roles in dynamic team environments with diverse opportunities for skills-based learning and personal growth.
ACE: It sounds like your placement was a very dynamic one – if you could define your Co-op experience in 3 words, what would they be?
FD: Co-op was Adventurous, Empowering, and Inspiring
ACE: How will Co-op enhance your future employment opportunities?
FD: Aside from the countless skills in mapping, survey design and implementation, environmental conservation, and many others, this position offered hundreds of interview hours with park visitors, an invaluable contribution to my future skill development in sociology, and for other research goals involving interview work and interactions with a diverse public over time. Furthermore, this employment opportunity certainly played a significant role as a resume building opportunity, which I am confident contributed to my current position as Visitor Safety Ambassador for Parks Canada in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Generally speaking, I have become more confident in both my personal skills, ranging from effective communication to time management, teamwork, or adaptability, and in my ability to find meaningful, worthwhile niches in the working world to apply myself, learn, grown, and apply my education and life skills.
ACE: Thanks a lot for your time, Finn. What advice would you give to a student considering Co-op?
FD: If I could say nothing more, I would say simply that with the ongoing support of Co-Op resources, I was able to find and secure (so far!) two extremely positive Co-Op work positions, which have allowed me to reflect critically on and apply my studies in a real-world context in places, with individuals, and in circumstances far exceeding my expectations. These are experiences which may well have been inaccessible to me without the Co-Op program, and which I can’t imagine having to go without. I would highly recommend this program for the doors it can open and the connections it can provide to you. Be open! Take full advantage of the job search board, apply to as many positions as you can, and ensure you cast a wide net and have a footing on lots of solid ground rather than limiting yourself. Be willing to accommodate changing schedules and new locations, and follow whatever opportunities really get you excited; love your work and you’ll never “work” a day in your life, right?
Finn Deschner is a Sociology and European Studies student at the University of Victoria