How Co-op Helped Me Engage With the Community

How Co-op Helped Me Engage With the Community

By: Natalia Vinueza Vanegas
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My Co-op position as the Intercultural Engagement Coordinator at the Global Student Centre (GSC) at Simon Fraser University was an amazing learning opportunity. The GSC is part of the International Services for Students (ISS), a department which provides support and resources for all students seeking information regarding a variety of international learning opportunities. My office was located in the Academic Quadrangle on the Burnaby campus in a lounge open to all students on a daily basis. As the coordinator, my responsibilities and daily activities were varied. First off, I made sure that the GSC’s operations went smoothly and efficiently. I was responsible for marketing events through several promotional channels, and lead the Global Engagement Student Committee (GESC). I also worked closely with another Intercultural Engagement Coordinator, various student clubs, and GESC members to plan and execute intercultural events. Managing the GSC, alongside other projects was a major life experience for an international student like me. Throughout my eight month co-op experience, I have gained three very important lessons that I would like to share with my fellow students and peers.

1. Stay focused and organized

The coordinator´s responsibilities were so diversified that sometimes it was hard to stay on top of all my tasks. A big part of this role was event planning and project management which required a lot of multitasking. As the coordinator, I was not only in charge of brainstorming what kind of event I wanted to do but also, had to plan and execute it. Each event took up to three weeks of planning in which day-by-day I had to work out every single detail. Even though I lead most of the events, I wasn’t alone in the process. I worked alongside the GESC committee, and received valuable guidance from my supervisor. As I had already been in the role for four months before the fall semester started, I had developed useful event planning skills and had learned the standards for leading events on the SFU Burnaby campus. Hence, when the fall semester started I was familiarized with the working environment and with what was expected of me. However, the semester from August to December was a much steeper learning curve than I would have ever imagined. My work load increased and so I had to become sharper than ever to tackle all of my duties. On top of handling medium-to-large scale events, I had to monitor the lounge, respond to multiple e-mails, lead a volunteering committee, peer coach some students, manage a budget and much more. During my Co-op experience, being organized was key to succeed; some of the things I did included: 

  • Carrying a little notebook with me at all times. I relied on it to write down my tasks, feedback from assignments, meeting notes, important dates, etc.
  • Keeping my workspace clean and tidy. This was important because I needed to feel comfortable in my office so I always kept my computer and desk clean. This also includes maintaining all of the GSC supplies (food, office supplies, decoration, etc.) organized and in the place where they belong.
  • Setting daily and weekly milestones. This was particularly useful when handling multiple tasks at the time. It was important for me to be realistic and know how much progress I would be able to make on the project(s) due in a specific period of time.
Taken in October 31, 2019 on Halloween with most of my co-workers at ISSTaken in October 31, 2019 on Halloween with most of my co-workers at ISS

2. Maximize your potential

In the workplace there are always professional growth opportunities and as a Co-op student, one should be willing to take advantage of them. You should not settle to only fulfill the minimum expectations of the role nor stick strictly to the job description. You should look for ways to challenge yourself and get out of the daily tasks. During my Co-op, I was always willing to take any extra tasks for projects that weren´t particularly a part of my responsibilities and I was open to learning new things. For instance, I helped with events such as the Kick Off party for the Global Community at SFU program and I was the bus leader for the ISS´ trip to Whistler.

Additionally, I liked that my role had flexibility in terms of the kind of personal projects each Co-op student wanted to undertake. In my case, I was able to work specifically on tasks related to HR, which is my intended BBA concentration. I worked alongside my supervisor to recruit one part-time position, the next Co-op student, and pre-screening the group of GESC volunteers for the next semester. I enjoyed reading their applications, interviewing them and having a say in the hiring decision making. As well, I updated all of the training material for future student staff at the GSC and drafted an onboarding checklist. My last project was to compile material from previous GESC trainings to create a GESC manual for all future volunteers. The key is to accept new projects and challenge yourself to learn as much as you can in the limited period of time you have in your co-op term.

3. Enjoy and have fun!

Now that I am approaching the end of my eight month Co-op, it surprises me how quickly time has gone by. I am glad I was given the opportunity to learn as much as I have. A piece of advice I would like to give to any student doing Co-op would be to take advantage of all the time spent working but to never forget to have fun in the process and enjoy. In my case, I was lucky to encounter such a friendly working environment in which I felt very supported and cared for. I loved working at the university because it gave me a very different perspective on my school. I was the kind of student who didn’t really get involved on campus for anything else other than academic purposes. This Co-op opportunity has showed me how much effort is invested into students feeling included, welcomed, and part of the community. Being in this role, I felt involved in a warm community I didn’t even know existed at my own school. I have met many people and made good friendships as well. Overall I had a great time at the events that I put so much effort into planning, which was extremely rewarding. 

The pictures in this blog were taken during my Co-op term and are representative of my work environment: diverse, fun and engaging.

 Taken in October 30, 2019 during our Halloween event “GSC´s Treasure Hunt”Taken on October 30, 2019 during our Halloween event “GSC´s Treasure Hunt”

NataliaNatalia is a 3rd year Business student concentrating in Human Resources Management and International Business. She just completed her 8-month Co-op at International Services for Students and will go on exchange to Sweden from January to June 2020. She will be completing her undergraduate career in the fall and graduating in June 2021.  

Beyond the Article

  • Stay connected with Natalia Vinueza Vanegas on LinedIn.
  • Want to get engaged like Natalia but not sure how? Take a look at Navdeep's tips on getting involved!
  • Natalia isn't the only student to have fun on the job, check out these adventures with the BC Lottery Corporation.
  • If you are looking to find a community like environment on the job, Shonnah's experience is a great read.
Posted on February 27, 2020