In this series, ACE bloggers will be interviewing various practitioners who have served the Co-op profession for many years and asking them to share their wisdom!
1. When did you begin your career in co-op and in what capacity?
My involvement in the co-op program started back in 2000. I followed two fantastic instructors who managed the Tourism Co-op Program before I was hired by what was then Capilano College as a faculty member. Dave O’Leary and Jessie Pendygrasse were the co-op program heads before me. I was a mature student back then at Cap and was actually in Dave and Jessie’s co-op preparation workshops. Co-op then was a valuable experience to me, especially in terms of networking into the local tourism community.
Prior to this experience as mature student in a Canadian co-op program, I had completed an internship in my early twenties while completing my degree at San Diego State University. The experience led to my ‘dream job’ back then – working on a cruise ship (I wanted to be Julie … from The Love Boat!)! I would never have landed a position with the cruise lines without the networking associated with my internship.
When Dave and Jessie moved on from Capilano College, I was asked to take over and build out the Tourism Co-op Program. Challenge accepted! The ACE PD sessions and related co-op conferences were so helpful to me in my early years as a practitioner. I was and continue to be an ‘office of one’ so having the ability to reach out to peers for ideas and suggestions has been fabulous.
2. What brought you to seek a career in co-op?
I place a high value on helping to make connections. I absolutely love teaching adult students but know that theory paired with hands-on experience is crucial in terms of early success in the workplace. I think that the mix of being in the classroom, while also working with industry and providing match-points for students is a real blessing. How many of us in the education system get to do that? Awesome.
There is nothing better than watching a student get really excited about an upcoming job. Well, actually it’s pretty fantastic to see both student and employer really happy at the site visit. Then, of course, it is pretty great to see a fabulous evaluation at the end of the work term – and chat with a student who had a really good placement. I guess the best piece is when a student keeps in touch after graduation and recognises how impacting their first job was. It’s pretty great to get those thank you messages down the road. Ok – I like it all!
3. What are your own personal considerations as to the value of co-op education?
My own daughter recently completed her third co-op work term. As a parent, I would not have encouraged her to enrol in co-op if I did not believe in it a thousand percent! I guess that is truly walkin’ the walk!
4. As a co-op practitioner, what do you consider some of your biggest success over the years and why?
In a landscape where resources are limited and program cutbacks are a real threat, the fact that I’ve been able to more than double the size of our Tourism Co-op Program speaks for itself. Having said that, while I am an ‘office of one’, the program would not exist without the support of our department leadership. I’m lucky to be surrounded by faculty and admin who understand the value of work integrated learning. Our department teaching is highly experiential and co-op fits right in. The Tourism Co-op Program is also the only official co-op program at Capilano University. I’m proud to have been able to help in the growth and sustainability of the program. I’m also lucky to have a dean who supports co-op and building relationships in our community. You can’t do it alone. I’m grateful.
5. As a co-op practitioner what have been some of your biggest challenges and how did you address them?
Program growth does not always come with additional resources. I am constantly working on providing high value while streamlining the administrative side. My number one goal is to place students in meaningful jobs where learning is the key focus. My students come first. Keeping my eye on that ball is how I stay grounded when things are a bit crazy.
I also teach. Sometimes we forget how much prep time it takes to deliver really great courses to our students. There are times in the year where work-life balance simply does not exist for me.
6. In reflecting back from when you began your career in co-op, is there any advice you could give those commencing their co-op career as to priorities and goals?
Lean on your support systems such as ACE. So much of what we do is not black or white. Every student/employer working relationship is unique. While there are some straight-forward pieces to our work, much is in the greyer area. Don’t be afraid to ask others if they have come up against similar situations or challenges. No one is perfect and we are asked to advise both students and employers on a regular basis. It can be a bit challenging when you are approaching a situation that is new to you. Listen to your gut, then check-in with some trusted co-op colleagues.
7. What are your thoughts as to how co-op has evolved over the years and where do you think it is headed for the future?
Experiential education is getting a lot of profile now and it is important that we continue to impress how co-op fits in. I believe that the perceived value of co-op will continue to increase – especially with the high number of international student who needs a helping hand in navigating employment in a new environment. With this comes challenges, and the need for new training for co-op practitioners. Challenge accepted!
Thanks for participating, Christy!