Jobs that challenge

Oct 16, 2003, vol. 28, no. 4
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Some students finance their education with scholarships or student loans. Others owe a debt of gratitude to generous parents. And then there are those who pay for their education the old-fashioned way: by working.

The eternal challenge, of course, is to find work that goes beyond the mythical McJob - an unchallenging, underpaid gig at the local mall.

Tolek Strukoff, Marc Jopson, and Jonathan Dillon, are proof that student employment needn't be soul-destroying. All three fulltime SFU students found a way to fatten their wallets without numbing their brains.

At 22, Strukoff already has four summers under his belt as a firefighter with the B.C. forest service. Always a “challenging and exciting” job, it proved to be a particularly “character-building” experience this summer, says Strukoff, a business administration student.

Fires rampaged across the province in August, some of them uncomfortably close to Strukoff's hometown of Grand Forks.

“My school was one of several in the province that recruited Grade 12 students into the junior initial attack training program. I went to work on July 1 right after graduation and my first fire was at Christina Lake. How many other jobs are there where you fly off to work in a helicopter every morning?”

Although Strukoff and his small crew often laboured under “horrific conditions” this summer, he says he benefited from some “very exciting leadership opportunities. As a crew leader, I had to make decisions quickly and confidently, and I had to build my interpersonal skills. No matter where I go in my career, that'll always come with me.”

Jopson (right), like Strukoff, was still in high school when opportunity knocked in the form of information technology classes at West Vancouver secondary school. “I started programming on a Commodore 64 when I was about 10, and by the time I hit high school I sort of knew I had an aptitude for computers,” says the 24-year-old computer science student.

For the past year, Jopson has earned “better than Starbucks wages” teaching night school computing courses through West Vancouver school district's continuing education program.

“I like that it's more flexible than my previous jobs, where I was up at 6 a.m. and home at 7 p.m. And it's been revealing. You don't realize what you know until you teach it to someone else.” As a result, Jopson is leaning toward a teaching career at the college or university level.

Dillon, who will complete a history degree this year, isn't making plans too far into the future, but is considering enrolling in SFU's community and economic development program as a natural complement to his work at Vancouver's new supervised injection site.

The 28-year-old father of two preschoolers works the night-shift 30 hours a week at Insight, which opened in the downtown eastside in September. The former musician has been a downtown mental health worker - a job he describes as “a cross between a concierge, a security guard and a therapist” - for the Portland hotel society since 2000, and as such came to realize the “drastic need” for the service offered by Insight.

“It is a way for me to give something back to a desperate community,” says Dillon.

“A job is a statement about yourself. It tells the world where your values are. I'd rather be doing something I believe in, and I really feel this is the right thing. It sounds corny, but it makes me proud to be a Canadian that we have made this happen here.”

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