Joaquin Suarez and His Drive for Communication Research

July 19, 2023

Joaquin Suarez, a CMNS Undergraduate Honours Student, melds his passion for history and communications in his honours project about sustainable transportation.  

I sat down with Joaquin to chat about his CMNS journey (and his recent award win!).

Tell us a little bit more about what the SAIL award is and what it means to you?

The IABC SAIL Award is an award for a student advancing in learning, a student who has shown promise and is excelling in what they do academically and in their professional life. This award is a nomination award, so it's put together by people who see the value in your work which came as a very big and pleasant surprise to me.

My nomination package included written comments from people in my professional, academic, and volunteering life. They wrote this amazing and beautiful document about why I deserve this award and why I’m the best candidate for it. It was truly heartwarming to see the responses of everyone and how they view me as a person, professional, and student.

Being recognized for the work that I do is why this award means a lot to me. I think in a lot of what I do, I tend to feel like it might not be appreciated, but this award is assurance that there are people that see what I'm doing, and they're very proud of me. I'm very thankful for all the support that everyone in my circle has given.

I want give a big shout out to Natalie, my current Co-op supervisor and the person who headlined my nomination. She's been an exceptional supervisor and has really supported me in all of my work endeavours. She's a huge role model to me, so a big thank you to her for getting everyone together to write this package and give me the award.

What is IABC and your connection to them?

IABC is the International Association of Business Communicators. Essentially, it's a global network of professionals in which people get to meet each other and get to know the different aspects of being a communications professional. Most of what they do involves sharing professional advice through programs and networking sessions. Both senior communicators and people starting out their communications careers can attend. As a student who's graduating soon, I'm technically still not part of IABC, but it's definitely something I will be applying for in the next month so that I can be more involved with the community.

What has been your favorite part of Co-op so far?

I really enjoy everything about it. It’s difficult for me to single out a particular area of Co-op that I like the most. However, one area that I find to be really underappreciated is the process of creating applications, seeking, and finding where different opportunities lie. It's nerve wracking, but it can also be super exciting. The process of composing your resume, writing cover letters, and interviewing for jobs is a really huge learning experience. It will come in handy both in the long term and short term.

It's also really fun to test out your strengths, identify where you really find yourself to be comfortable, and what you’re strong at. You can also identify where you might need improvement. “What do I truly like doing? What's something that I really don't like doing and I hope to not continue in the future?” When we graduate or move on after Co-op, it's nice to know the answers to these questions and what we might want for our future job.

What have you found to be your biggest strength in the workplace?

My biggest strength that I've discovered through my various work experiences is being able to take initiative on big projects and lead people towards a goal. I really enjoy being able to work with team members, identify each person's strengths and comfortability, and manage the way that we collaborate.

I think the biggest leadership role I've taken on was being the Vice President of Events for CMNSU and leading a team of four lovely coordinators. I'd like to give them a shout out too: Kristen, Erica, Sandra and Eden. They've all been really great, and I had so much fun working with them. I really enjoyed getting them to feel passionate and driven to create successful events for the Communication Student Union.

For my current Co-op, I do a lot of speech writing and composing as the first ever Communications Assistant for Joy Johnson. I really enjoy writing for a public figure, taking various factors into consideration and trying to replicate the SFU voice. Being the first co-op student in this role means that I have to lay out all the foundations, prepare all these different documents, and set of rules for the way that this role is going to function in the future. Being the one to lead that has been really cool, and I can't wait for the next person to step in and feel ready to go.

How do you balance doing all of that and also having time for yourself?

Sometimes it can be challenging and you might feel like there is no time for yourself. The one thing that's really helped me out is constantly reminding myself that this is what I want and this is a challenge that's going to help me grow. I think that mindset in itself keeps me in a positive state and grounded. The other thing that really helps are the people around me. I'm really lucky to have peers and close friends who are all very driven, composed, and super passionate about what they do. I think having them around me and being able to work, have fun, and study with them makes being productive feel a lot more fun.

Sometimes on the weekends when I schedule out my time, I try to put everything that I have to do on the weekdays. So, from Monday to Friday, I schedule everything I have to finish, no matter how much it can be. Then on the weekends, I make sure that I have time to rest and relax and do things outdoors or go to a museum. Whenever I do these activities, it makes me feel re-energized for the following week.

Do you have any tips on how to make friends that have the same drive and passion as you?

The main thing is really to get involved. Many of my close friends are people I've met through clubs and through CMNSU. It can be nerve wracking for sure, because you're entering a space where you don't really know anyone or it's not something that you're comfortable with. But when you put yourself out there, you'll be surprised at how many people are able to really help you grow and support you. From there, it becomes a domino effect; you meet new people that are on the same wavelength as you, then they introduce you to more people and it just goes on.  

You mentioned that you've had to work on stepping outside of your comfort zone. Did you always have this drive and motivation, or is it something that developed?

I am an international student from the Philippines. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I've always been a passionate soccer player. My aspiration was always to play professionally and I've shown that in the hard work I've put into playing. I played for the Philippine youth teams growing up, and I came to Canada with the purpose of becoming a professional soccer player. I arrived here in 2019 and started playing in the primary division to prepare myself to potentially play for SFU, and move up the ranks in soccer. Then COVID happened, and on top of COVID I fractured my ankle and tore one of my ligaments.

Experiencing these changes stopped me from being a professional athlete but didn’t prevent me from being passionate. I thought about where I could transfer my drive and passion and how to keep the momentum I had going. I ended up transferring my energy into communications. It was a super big jump, but I thought that if I put that same drive I had before into this new purpose, then I could go somewhere with it. It takes a lot of time, and that's something that I found challenging at first because I started from the very baseline of things. But now that I'm seeing a lot of results and recognition, it's definitely very motivating. It's really nice to see that I am making a lot of progress and will continue to do so.

What drew you to communications specifically?

I think it was definitely not something I thought about in high school too much, but I think that’s with every communication student. I had two teachers I was very close to in high school who I would go out to eat lunch with and spend most of my free time with. One of them was my English teacher, and the other one was my history teacher. They both told me that I’m good at writing and have a good understanding of history and should look into communications. I think it can be a good mix of both so I took their advice, and it’s something I enjoy. Researching and writing are things that I'm very passionate about and bringing that here to SFU has been really fun.

Can you tell us about your experience in the CMNS Honours Program and how it helped shape your success today?

My honours research project was a very big passion project of mine that took me about ten months from beginning to end to complete. I had the privilege of working with Stephanie Dick who is an amazing person. Her class really inspired me to see communications in the way I wanted to. She is a historian of science and math, so combining all these different aspects of academia into the broader topic of communication was something that I really liked, and it was something that I could only achieve with Stephanie.

I emailed her and asked if she would be willing to do an honours project with me as my supervisor. I really wanted to do this project with her because she's someone I knew could lead me in the right direction and guide me in new ways. I'm very grateful for Stephanie and this whole experience.

My project focused on sustainable transportation issues in Canada and BC through a communication lens. I examined archives of policy and meeting documents from the past to see what sort of discursive practices could be used to look at electric vehicle and sustainable transportation issues of today. I learned that we rely on vehicles, that private vehicles have become the dominant form of transportation in North America. The way that Canada prioritizes electric vehicles over shared modes of transportation has emphasized how we function as a society in terms of consumer capitalism. Our consumer culture encourages the purchase of new electronic vehicles rather than doing what is truly sustainable—relying on public transportation.

Big shout out to Stephanie for guiding me and helping me find sources from various researchers and people. Everything that she recommended I still think about to this day. It was a super fruitful project, and I'm so happy that I was able to do it with her.

What are your future goals after graduation?

My biggest goal or plan is to be able to lead my own research and artistic rendition of a community organization. I want to grab research from different academic disciplines and incorporate it in a directive film or abstract storytelling. The idea is to take a topic that's super complex – for example, maybe something about cells or molecular biology – and bring it into a short, animated story that explains the research and why it's important in a way that’s enjoyable and easy to understand. That's something I hope to lead in the future and is a very long-term goal.

But the next step for me is to apply for grad school. For my Masters, I hope to continue with communications and build off my honours research project. The one program I am hoping to get into is at McGill in Montreal. They have this specific program called the McCall MacBain Scholarship which brings together scholars from different academic disciplines who then work together to solve world issues from all our different perspectives. Being able to work with scholars from various disciplines will help lead me to my long-term goal.

I am also working on developing my professional life, building off of my experience in Co-op and volunteering. I want to learn more about what it means to be a professional in communications and find something that I feel like I can thrive in. I hope that in the long term, I can become a communications director as well. Being able to lead a team is something that I've enjoyed throughout my time in undergrad, and I hope that in my professional life I can have that same opportunity in the future.