Squaring Off with Tesicca Truong

Mon, 24 Apr 2023

Gabrielle Parent,
Communications Lead, SFU Public Square

Welcome back to Squaring Off, the series where we catch up with past team members to reflect on our ten years of community engagement. As we embark on the final installement of this series, I want to thank all who participated in the interviews, wrote reflection pieces, and to the readers who engaged with Squaring Off. I hope I speak for many when I say, I am looking forward to the next ten years of SFU Public Square.

For this final piece, I spoke with Tesicca Truong, who worked at SFU Public Square back in 2015 and has gone on to have a tremendous career in community and citizen engagement, youth empowerment, and resilience building. She co-founded CityHive, a non-profit on a mission to transform the way young people shape their cities and the civic processes that engage them, and co-created the inaugural Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference. She worked in Ministerial Offices both federally and provincially and most recently, Tesicca was the Manager of Social Enterprise and Engagement at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.

I met with Tesicca on an unusually cold but sunny day in late February. But the weather did not deter her from longboarding to our meeting location, which was a coffee shop because after all, we are millennials. Almost immediately, I was struck by the intelligence, friendliness, and easy confidence that Tesicca radiated. As we began the interview, I asked my pre-prepared questions but our discussion quickly moved towards more casual conversation, discussing everything from our shared love for cold ocean dips and our experiences as younger women in male-dominated industries. Eventually, after over an hour of conversation, we realised that our time was up and we both had to rush back to work. It was by far one of the most enjoyable meetings I have attended.

The following article is an accumulation of questions I asked during our coffee together, as well as written conversations over emails following the initial interview. Sections have been edited for comprehension and readability. 

Gabrielle: So I know that you were an Engagement and Program Coordinator at SFU Public Square in 2015. Can you tell me a bit about your role and how you came into this position?

Tesicca: Well, I basically just cold-emailed Janet Webber [the Executive Director of SFU Public Square] and said, “I really want to work here!” When I volunteered for the Renewable Cities Global Summit, I met a ton of people, including Janet. And by the end of the day, she told me that she’d seen my resume and wanted to schedule an interview! She essentially created a new position for me based on my skill set, which was really nice.

What did you work on during your time at SFU Public Square?

I worked on and helped with We the City: the 2015 Community Summit, which was 14 events in 9 days. It was all about bringing the campus to the community so that SFU wasn’t just “the campus on the hill” but doing work for and by the community. It was a wild time because the team wasn’t even five people and we were hosting such big events. But it was really great. And I was thrilled to be part of the team because I had read about SFU Public Square in the newspaper and it was one of the reasons that convinced me that SFU was the university for me!

Really? Can you tell me more about that?

Well, I was graduating from high school and SFU Public Square had their first Community Summit on the topic of loneliness, urban isolation, and the feeling that people don’t have anyone to turn to. I don’t know if that’s changed – Vancouver can be a very lonely city. And so I read more about the creation of SFU Public Square in the newspaper and thought that it was amazing, which then drew me to SFU!

What has stuck with you the most from your time at SFU Public Square and do you have a favourite memory?

Definitely the Community Summit that I worked on. One of the events that we did – Campus to City – spanned three different cities and we had the break-out sessions on several buses as they moved from city to city. So we started at SFU Surrey with breakfast and the opening ceremony, then went to SFU Burnaby, and then to SFU  Woodward’s Atrium in Vancouver. It was an amazing conference because we brought together about 170 people from 17 different campuses from across seven provinces and territories. One of my highlights was convening a Student Advisory Committee made of students across the country to help guide the conference. So it was really wonderful.

What impact has SFU Public Square had on your life since leaving this position?

I met so many incredible people that I’m still friends with, and then I come back to SFU as a manager at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. So it’s a very full circle moment. SFU Public Square was such a launching point for me because I was in my first or second year of university and it was my first “big girl job”. And afterwards, I was recruited through Twitter by someone at a planning and design engagement firm who had seen my work with Public Square. The person who reached out to me had gone to many of the Community Summit events and seen our work, so they hired me when I was still a student. And I think really that’s one of the goals of Public Square – to help students get enough valuable experience that they can then bring to their next position.

As you mentioned, you have worked at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, which does truly fantastic work. Can you describe what you did in this role and reflect on some principles that guided your work in this position?

I worked as a Manager for the Social Enterprise and Engagement Team, which really builds off the skills I developed at Public Square and other organisations I’ve worked at and co-founded. I really think that the skills I learned at Public Square helped me launch CityHive, helped me get a job with the consulting firm, and then eventually with the Centre for Dialogue. I was first linked to the Centre for Dialogue as a Dialogue Associate through my work at CityHive because we collaborated so much on youth engagement. It became a really good synergistic relationship because we had access to researchers and resources at the Centre for Dialogue and they had access to youth engagement practitioners. And then eventually that led to the role I had most recently, which really focused on consulting for municipal, provincial, and federal governments. It was so lovely because it’s such a diverse range of work and topics - climate work, a national framework for diabetes, a gender-based strategy for the province – and it’s these projects that gave me so much energy right now.

As someone who is actively involved in the community – running for public office, co-founding CityHive, co-creating the inaugural Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference, and so much more – what advice would you give to people looking to get more involved in community engagement?

Just go for it! Don’t second guess yourself. Or do and do it anyways! If there is someone that you look up to or would like to work with, just reach out to them for a meeting. You never know where that could lead. If you have the time to volunteer, it’s a great way to figure out what you may or may enjoy doing, as well as make invaluable professional connections and even some lifelong friends! You’d be surprised how open folks are to mentoring and sharing what they know. I certainly know that I have so many mentors to thank for impacting my life in incredible ways.

What’s next for you? Anything we should be keeping an eye out for?

I’m looking forward to taking care of me and my health, spending more time with my loved ones, adventuring lots with friends and exploring as much of the world as I can. Life’s short and I intend to live well!

Of course, I’m going to continue to organise and mobilise for a more just, resilient, and connected future. I’m currently advising the Vancouver Foundation for their BIPOC LEVEL programming and grant funding and the YWCA’s CityShift Campaign for equitable policies in cities.

What are you currently reading/watching/listening to? Or any book/podcast/series you’d like to recommend?

I love rereading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I love listening to the Brown Sister’s How to Survive the End of the World.