Megan Balog - Co-op Q & A

BEnv Global Environmental Systems, Soc Extended Minor

Co-op Term: Summer 2020


1.    Where did you work (Department/Organization name and location)?

Surrey’s Natural Areas Partnership (SNAP). SNAP is a unique partnership between three non-profits (Green Timbers Heritage Society, Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society, and White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society) and the City of Surrey. The program is administered by the Green Timbers Heritage Society, but I worked closely with city staff in the Urban Forestry department.


2.    What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?

I was an Urban Forest Outreach Team Leader. I drove myself and my Team Member to various parks around Surrey and we would set up a tent with information and artifacts to talk to park users. We focused on telling people about park spaces in Surrey, nature education and park etiquette. We also spent time walking around parks, picking up litter and talking to people on trails. In the first couple of weeks, we were walking 10-15 kilometers a day!

In addition to our regular tasks, we planned and organized content for SNAP’s Instagram account, and did some small jobs in parks for the City of Surrey. Towards the end of the summer, we spent one day each week refilling information pamphlets in kiosks around the city. We put up signage in parks and had a couple of events where we got to meet local members of the municipal and federal governments. We even had a weekly task where we went to check if the fruit was ripe in the sampling orchard at Godwin Farm Biodiversity Preserve.

As a Team Leader, I supervised one Team Member in the field. Most days, I had about 30 minutes of computer time for administrative tasks before my Team Member arrived, and I spent the rest of the day in the field.


3.    How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?

This was my third coop placement, and it was the first one where I directly used knowledge from my studies almost every day. I ended up creating a series of posts on how to identify native plant species for SNAP’s Instagram. I often talked to people about the local forest ecosystem and soil, as I was able to talk in depth about these topics. A few times I also had to break out random ecology knowledge if a kid asked questions about something unrelated to our exhibit. We used rocks as paperweights for our pamphlets, and sometimes kids were more interested in the random rocks on the table than our animal skulls and tracks. When this sort of thing happened, I relied on my classroom learning to come up with an activity or a mini lesson about basic biology, erosion or geology on the spot!

I learned a lot about nature education and working with kids at this job. It was cool to apply my knowledge about the local ecosystem in a way that got people excited about exploring nature! I also learned quite a bit more about local plants and animals during my time with SNAP. In my classes I mainly learned about the forest ecosystems on Burnaby Mountain. Working at SNAP, I got to learn more about invasive species and shoreline ecosystems.


4.    Can you share a challenge you faced in your Co-op and how you overcame it?

I have a neurodivergence that affects my time and task management abilities, so I found it quite challenging to only have 30 minutes of structured planning and admin time a day. I realized this was going to be a challenge early in the term, and I told my supervisor and coworkers that I was finding it difficult to complete everything in the time allotted. Over the course of the term, we came up with some arrangements that allowed for more computer time when necessary. I also scheduled some time where both my Team Member and I could work on computer-based tasks. In the field, I tried to plan for a mix of activities over the day and delegate certain tasks. For example, my Team Member could walk around and film content in the morning while I was at the tent, and then I could work on admin tasks while he was at the tent in the afternoon. This not only helped us get everything done, but also allowed us to vary our work over the course of the day.


5.    What was your most memorable Co-op experience?

It’s hard to choose just one! Oddly enough, I really enjoyed walking the trails and picking up litter, because I got to have some amazing interactions with parkgoers, and experience nature. We sometimes had profound conversations with people along the trails about why they like being out in the parks. We said ‘hi’ to someone sitting alone on a bench one day not expecting much of an interaction, but we ended up having a great conversation. He told us about how he saw the meadow in front of us as metaphor for life and human interaction and it was quite interesting.

We also saw lots of wildlife, including a harbour seal, great blue herons, a great white egret, bald eagles and countless small woodland creatures. I tried to spend some time walking park trails daily, because I got to have cool ‘nature moments’ almost every time!


6.    What have you learned through your Co-op experience?

I learned a lot about nature education at SNAP, and I also learned that I love working outside! Throughout my time in the Co-op program more generally, I learned what types of work I enjoy, and the pros and cons of different types of jobs. I got to experience working at an office job, working for a non-profit, and working closely with a municipality. They were all quite different work environments, and there were advantages to each one.


7.    What advice do you have for future Co-op students?

Apply for anything you could see yourself doing! It’s okay if it’s outside your field of study. My first placement was an 8-month position in Communications and Marketing. This was completely unrelated to my degree, but I learned so much from the position.

This also goes for multiple similar positions with the same company. I applied to two positions with SNAP and four with my previous Co-op employer. I might not have gotten hired if I had only applied to the one position I found most interesting. Applying to multiple positions meant I could join the team wherever the employer felt I would fit best. In my Summer 2019 placement, I was offered a different position than the one I was interviewed for, because I was the only one of the Co-ops they hired that had applied to all their positions.