Getting out of my Rut: How Co-op Changed my Life

Getting out of my Rut: How Co-op Changed my Life

By: Jason Wallace | Mechatronic Systems Engineering
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Jason shares how co-op has helped him develop personally and professionally.  He takes us back in time and back as he shares his life before co-op and contrasts it to where he is now. 

Co-op placements can be exhilarating.  It is a place where you can take the knowledge given to you by schooling and implement it, while you gain valuable experience. You can learn about things you had never seen before, try tasks that bring out skills you did not even know you had, and receive feedback However, what is even greater is when a co-op placement changes your life. This is what my recent co-ops have done for me. The people I have met and the jobs they have given me have realigned my life.  My co-op experiences got me out of the rut I was sitting in.

My Initial University Years

My name is Jason and I came to SFU straight out of high school, and into a Mechatronic Systems Engineering degree. I spent my time in my initial years being a student, and practically nothing else. As time went, on I saw my friends less, and drew away from everyone else. Halfway through my second year, I was just a face in the crowd who went to school, listened to lectures, did homework, and went home. I spoke to practically no-one, often going days without needing to speak. Now, this is a very destructive lifestyle, and I knew that at the time. However, I could not get out of it myself, and I was too afraid to ask for help. Amazingly though, it did not affect my grades. On paper, which is what most of the administration look at, my paperwork says I am doing completely fine. It took a large shift for these destructive tendencies to come to light.

Entering the Co-op Program

That shift was entering the co-op program. I entered it not because I wanted to, and could you blame me? I couldn’t think beyond classrooms, and if I tried, my own self-critic would block the way.  But I had to take Co-op; it was a requirement for my Mechatronics Degree.  With immense help from the Co-op Coordinators, through coaching and support, I learned to write a decent resume and landed interviews. After a few interviews, I did in fact secure a co-op and another one in the following year. The first co-op was at the Biometric Systems lab at SFU, run by Dr. Edward Park. The second co-op was at the Lab of Alternate Energy Conversion, a thermodynamics lab also located at SFU run by Dr. Majid Bahrami.

The “Transformation”

By mid- way through my co-op experience, I felt confident, excited, connected and I was contributing at levels that I had never guessed that I would.  With the various projects I was doing, and the other engineers in the lab supporting me, I was finally actively challenging myself and redefining the new me. These opportunities helped me to bypass my self-critic, which gave me the chance to see my abilities and myself in a new light. I could finally counter thoughts like 'I am not good enough', 'I shouldn’t try’, or “the other candidate is probably be a better fit than me” by simply proving them wrong with my actions.  For example, one of the projects I was situated on was to assemble and program a test-bed. I was given requirements on what it needed to do, and followed them accordingly. I built a system capable of running, displaying, and saving the necessary data. To me, I had done nothing spectacular, just the bare minimum. However, based on the feedback I got, not only did I complete the tasks faster than anticipated, but also the program’s automated functionality was far beyond their expectations. I was able to prove my inner critic wrong, and it was not the last.

Where am I now?

Before my co-op journey, where my focus was on school, my personal life was extremely bland. All I did was play video games, so I could stay away from my inner critic and get out of my head. After my co-op experiences, I have begun to expand my life beyond my distractions. I have looked into restarting sports I used to do, getting in contact with old friends, started to think about doing my own projects at home, and started to actually feel good about myself. I still have a long way to go before I take proper steps into these areas, but with my self-critic slowly receding its grip on my life, I have a good path to follow into the future.

My experience in the co-op program has been overwhelmingly positive and transforming. It is one thing just to have a good experience in the workplace, but when that experience transforms you and changes your life, it is worth sharing with others. The co-op program has done more than just given me jobs, it has let me expand my knowledge base, increase my various skills, and has had an extremely positive effect on my personal life. 

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Posted on August 20, 2015