Alumni Showcase: CMNSU Interviews Dana Beaton at SFU Residence & Housing

Alumni Showcase: CMNSU Interviews Dana Beaton at SFU Residence & Housing

By: Aninditha Kamaruddin
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This article was originally published on the SFU CMNSU Website on January 4, 2015. View the original article here: Alumni Interview: Dana Beaton – Assistant Director – SFU Residence and Housing

As we are just a couple of days into a fresh new year, it is an opportune time to look back at the year you’ve had. What were some of the highs and lows you experienced? Did you emerge a different person as a result? What things did you find yourself mulling over? Was it that job you found tedious? Or was it that foreign country you’ve always dreamed of visiting?

Maybe it’s time to seriously confront some of these thoughts, especially if they’re still on your mind in the New Year.

As you reflect, you might find that perhaps that job you found tedious wasn’t quite suited to your personality type, and perhaps going to that dream destination of yours is in fact in the cards— made possible by opportunities like SFU’s Study Abroad program. Whatever it is, if you want it badly enough, you should be willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

Dana Beaton, the Assistant Director of Conference & Guest Accommodations at SFU Residence and Housing, reminds us that the journey to make your recurring day dreams a reality may not always go the way we expect it to be. “I think people sometimes forget that you may have to be willing to do some of those not-so-fun jobs to get to where you want to be,” Dana said.

You have to be willing to make a bit of a sacrifice, and it may not be the experience you are looking for, but you have to get your foot in the door.” As one would imagine, this takes a lot of effort and dedication from our end, which is why Dana advises us to, “Get involved, get on committees, and get to know people.”

Be sure to read on, as Dana shares some interesting and refreshing insights on SFU’s Communication and Co-op program. By the end of it, you might have a different perspective on things.

A: What attracted you to the Communication program at SFU?

D: In high school I was interested in journalism, but didn’t know whether I really wanted to be a newspaper writer or an on air journalist. Communication seemed related to that field, but without the performance aspect of journalism.

A: What was your first impression when you came to SFU and did the first few Communication classes?

D: It was fascinating and really interesting. CMNS 110 was my first course with Gary McCarron and I remember he just looked like the quintessential university professor with the long shaggy hair and Birkenstocks. Well, this was the 90s, so I don’t know if the quintessential university professor has changed. He looked like this hippie intellectual academic who was so enthusiastic about the subject matter that even though it was one of those massive first year lectures, he was really engaging. I found it fascinating to be studying popular culture in that way.

A: What are your thoughts about the fact that SFU’s Communication program is theory heavy?

D: I think you need to learn some of the theory in order to back up the arguments that you’re making about culture. If you’re going to critically look at something, you have to have a frame of reference that people are going to understand, and that’s where theory can come in. You don’t have to agree with the theory, but to be able to apply something that other people are going to understand, either helps them to accept your argument or reject it.

I think people who come to university expecting it to train you for a job are going to leave disappointed. Universities are founded on higher learning— teaching you to be critical and think differently. In order to do that, you need to study theory. If you were going somewhere just to learn skills to get a job, then you’re better off at a technical college. I think that’s the big difference between technical colleges like the BCIT and a university like SFU.

A: Did you do Co-op?

D: Yes I did. My first Co-op term was the summer following my second year and I actually did it in the residence office. I found my own Co-op job, because I had applied for Co-op, and the job came up here to be a student conference assistant so I went into the Co-op office and asked if this would work and they said yes.

ADid you ever envision yourself coming back here?

D: Not at all. Conference, events and university residences were not on the radar in terms of career choices. I think I ended up doing 5 Co-op terms. In addition to the terms at the residence office, I did one for the Coquitlam school board and two with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

A: How did you feel the Co-op terms helped you in preparing for the real world or getting you the skills you needed in your career?

D: From here it was pretty direct because I did two terms in the residence office as a student. I had wonderful Co-op supervisors that would give you real jobs to do. I had friends who ended up photocopying for 4 months. I never had a Co-op job like that— I had jobs where they said, “Here’s a project. We need you to do it. Let me know if you have any questions.” They were willing to let you sink or swim, and I think that’s the best way to learn.

I gained a lot of just real world, practical experiences that I never would’ve gotten if I had gone and gotten a restaurant job or a job at Starbucks. I might have made more money, but when it came to applying for jobs after university, having those 5 co-op terms with jobs that actually had some meat behind it, was actually a benefit.

A: If you got the chance to do over your years as an undergrad, what would you do differently?

D: I’d probably get more involved with things.

A: What would you characterize as the most memorable moment during your time at SFU?

D: Of my time as a student, probably going to my convocation. That’s what made it all real. I know some students think, “Oh it’s just convocation, I have to put on this dumb gown and walk across a stage.” But this is what you spent four, five, six years of your life building towards, so go and celebrate it! That is probably the most memorable moment— just walking across that stage and hearing them say my name and getting that piece of paper.

A: Do you remember what your favourite class was?

D: The most memorable one was just CMNS 110 because it was my first university class and it was so different than high school. I remember the textbook was called Amusing Ourselves to Death. There was a whole chapter on whether Sesame Street was educational programming or rotting our children’s brains. It made me realize that we are allowed to look at culture that way and not just take everything at surface value.

A: What did you like most about being in Communications?

D: I think it was just that you’re looking at the things you see everyday in a different light and learning to turn a critical eye to everyday life.

A: What were you like as a student?

D: I was very quiet. I was very introverted and I still am, but I am in a position where I have to be a little extroverted. As a student I didn’t speak out in class and always lost marks for participation because I would sit there and take it all in, but didn’t necessarily voice my own arguments or opinions.

A: What habits do you think makes a good student?

D: You have to have some balance. I think a student that’s all about academics is going to do well in university, but they’re not going to have the same fond memories of university life. University is about figuring yourself out, and if you only focus on the academics, you’re kind of taking the focus away from who you are and what you like. I think it’s about finding that balance, which is why I say get involved and try things out. As a university student, you have to apply yourself, have discipline and study skills, but you also have to be in classes you’re interested in and passionate about.

A: Let’s fast forward to today. What are some of your responsibilities as the Assistant Director of SFU Residence and Housing?

D: I manage the guest accommodations operations. We have a fourteen-room hotel and we utilize about half of the residences, which are empty in the summer, for conference groups, sports teams and summer camps. We make revenue to support the residence and housing program.

A: How has your education at SFU helped you in your career?

D: Having been a student up here, done Co-op, and worked in a variety of departments helps me in my job because I already know the university. The Co-op positions gave me some experience for my resume, but also gave me experience in working with unions.

I was part of a union when I worked with the school board, and that was really eye opening for me, because their unions were way stricter than anything up here. Working for a government office like I did gave me lessons in bureaucracy and the fact that like it or not, there are ways that things had to be done and you need to recognize your place in the totem pole. You have to know when it’s appropriate to say I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and when it’s appropriate to keep your mouth shut and just do it.

A: It’s interesting to hear perspectives about what doing a good job actually entails, and sometimes it really is about knowing your place and recognizing when is the right time to speak up. There is this pressure I feel in Communications to be extra extroverted and ensure your voice is heard— loud and clear.

D: I’m the opposite, because I’m very introverted. That’s a good lesson that there are communications related jobs for everybody. You don’t have to be that extrovert, out, networking all the time. There are jobs on that side, but there are jobs that are more kind of back of house, not so up front for people who enjoy the theoretical parts of Communications. You just have to find your niche and what works for you.

That is what’s so great about Co-op — it allows you to try some of those jobs without it being a career making decision. If you think you could do one of those more promotional marketing type of job, go do it as a Co-op student. It’s four months of your life. You can do anything for four months. If it’s not for you, you’ll know that.

A: What were the jobs like when you were in Co-op?

D: A lot of positions were research related. One of my jobs with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada was that I had to go through all of the days’ newspapers to find stories on agriculture. I also did contracts for writers that are produced materials for newsletters. That’s not an extroverted job. I think one of the things Co-op taught me was that it isn’t all about the flash and the talking. There is an administrative side to things, which is better for introverted people. I hired a marketing person because I am not a salesperson, I’ve done it for a few years and that’s not me.

You need the deep thinkers, the introverts to support what the extroverts do what they do best. Not everything communications is marketing, that’s why they are separate words.

A: Lastly, is there a quote or philosophy you live by?

D: Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect. You go into university with certain expectations of,  “I’m going to come in, I’m going to do my degree in four years because that’s what people do, and then I’m going to get a job.” I think if we go through life expecting that it’s going to go exactly the way we have it planned out— those are the people that have a midlife crisis and think, “what on earth have I been doing for the last 45 years?” I think we have to be adaptable, and understand that change is good. It helps us grow and be more successful.

There you have it—fresh insights for the fresh New Year from a former SFU Communication student. These insights show that a little contemplation and evaluation to get to know yourself better can go a long way. As a result, you’ll start steering yourself in the direction best suited for you and be able to march to the beat of your own drum.

 CMNSU LogoThe goal of the Communication Student Union (CMNSU) is to promote and protect the welfare and interests of Communication students within the School of Communication, the Faculty of Communication, Arts & Technology (FCAT), the SFSS, and the University. To identify and promote the academic, intellectual, recreational and career concerns/interests of Communication students. 

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Posted on January 30, 2015