Career doors open for English co-op students

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

Reiko Tagami, one of the first students in the English department's co-operative education pilot project, says her work experience has reinforced her intention to take a master's degree in Archival Studies. It has also put her in touch with her Japanese-Canadian roots.

Tagami is one of eight English students who worked this summer with the government, cultural and social agencies and at UBC. Another 13 will spend four months in co-op jobs this fall and winter.

Tagami, a fourth-year English honours student, spent her summer at the Japanese-Canadian National Museum and Archives as a museum and archives assistant.

Among her assignments was to collect historic photographs and personal histories to tell how Japanese-Canadians resettled after Second World War internment. The display was part of Vancouver's annual Powell Street Festival held this summer.

"In addition to bringing me back to my family history, the job has been an amazing link to the Japanese-Canadian community," says Tagami. "It's also given me a lot more ideas on how to apply my English degree."

Bonnie Leung, a fourth-year English major, says her experience as a communications assistant with the Burrard Inlet Fraser River Estuary Management Program sparked her interest in an area she hadn't considered.

"It opened up the communications field as one of my career options," says Leung, who previously had only considered elementary education.

Prof. Laurie Ricou, associate head of English, says employers described the co-op students as diligent, motivated and self-directed.

"The general impression of the English co-op pilot program has been amazement that it's developed this quickly and this well," says Ricou.

In looking for employers, Julie Walchli, the co-op program project co-ordinator, says she didn't have to do a lot of explaining about what English students could do for an organization.

"When I emphasized our students' written and oral communications skills, employers said that was exactly what they were looking for," Walchli says.

Karen Kelm, communications co-ordinator for the Burrard Inlet Fraser River Estuary Management Program says she would have hired any of the four English students she interviewed.

"I think the co-op program is a win-win situation for students and employers," says Kelm.

The English department's co-op pilot project was established with a grant from UBC's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund. The second year of the project will also be funded.

This fall the UBC Senate will be asked to approve a co-operative education program for the Faculty of Arts. If it's approved, Walchli says the plan is to continue the English co-op and phase in programs in the faculty's 17 other departments.

Co-op programs have tripled at UBC in the last five years. Including the English students, there are now more than 1,100 co-op students in the faculties of Commerce and Business Administration, Forestry, Applied Science and Science.