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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 01 | Jan. 11, 2001

At home and abroad they prosper

The Arts Co-op Program is a hit with both students and employers

by Daria Wojnarski staff writer

The one-year-old Arts Co-op program at UBC is shattering the myth that Arts students don't have value in the labour market, says the program's director.

"In fact, in the knowledge-based economy, people with exceptional writing and communication skills are the hardest to find and the most valuable," says Julie Walchli.

"Employers tell us they're looking for problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, the ability to analyse and the ability to write well. They say the technical skills are more easy to teach in the workplace."

The past year has been incredibly exciting and challenging, she says.

The program placed 133 students with 100 Canadian and international employers.

Government and crown corporations accounted for 40 per cent of the employers, 40 per cent were in the private sector and 20 per cent were non-profit.

Walchli says the Arts Co-op plans to place 200 students this year.

Among the students who participated in the program in its first year of operation was Michael Ross. He found himself teaching business communication to marketing managers and accountants in Beijing.

The 24-year-old, who's completing an Integrated Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Asian Studies, spent six-months in China with the Canadian Institute of Business and Technology.

"The benefits are that you can try on several different hats without having to make a career commitment," Ross says. "At the same time, you get to learn more about yourself."

Ross's co-op experience has helped clarify his career, academic and personal preferences.

"I now know what I like and don't like about working," he says.

Ross, who wants to pursue a career in sustainable development and environmental awareness, says the co-op experience showed him that he's a good teacher and can easily relay his ideas.

While in China, Ross recalls he had a few closed door sessions with his students.

One of the issues they discussed was the 1989 events of Tiananmen Square when thousands of Chinese students took to the streets to demand democracy and human rights.

On an outing to a beach, Ross says he also had a chance to talk to members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"We broke down misconceptions -- their misconceptions of foreigners and ours of the PLA," he says.

"We sat on the beach and played volleyball and drank beer. It brought a human aspect to the competitive forces of China.

"The trip made me really appreciate UBC because it provided me with many quality learning experiences," says Ross, who also participated in a six-month student exchange at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

"I think the international opportunities here at UBC are fantastic. You can plug into so many places here because the university is large and has so much diversity."

While Ross laboured in China, Kirsten Thorarinson's experience took place closer to home.

The 21-year-old, who's majoring in Modern European Studies, spent two four-month co-op terms working in the policy and communications branch at the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

"Many people assumed that since I was working with DFO, I must have a background in ocean sciences or biology," she says.

"There are so many people in fisheries with Arts degrees, but I found I still had to explain why I was there. The writing, the research and the communication skills I learned in my classes are important aspects of these co-op jobs."

Three of Thorarinson's colleagues at DFO began life there as co-op students, she says.

Thorarinson says she was always interested in participating in a co-op program and was glad when the Faculty of Arts introduced one.

"I wanted real world experience and to be able to put it on my resume," she says.

Thorarinson says there was no typical day for her on the job. One day she would conduct interviews at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, the next she'd be back in the Vancouver office working on the career development Web site.

"My first day conducting interviews was definitely the most memorable," she says. "I was outside in the pouring rain transporting chinook fry from a hatchery to sea pens with a community adviser. It was a long day, one made longer by the fact that there were no toilets at the hatchery. Unfortunately, this situation popped up more than once over the summer."

The Arts co-op is the fifth co-op program on campus. The faculties of Science, Forestry, Applied Science and Commerce and Business Administration also offer co-op programs.

Students enrolled in the Arts co-op must file a report on each of the co-op terms.

For her efforts, Thorarinson won the first Arts Co-op Work Term Report Award, presented last month. She shares the award, which is worth $300, with Eric Tung.

Walchli says the program's participants are exceptional and highly motivated students who are keen to get the most out of their education.

"They challenge us to find jobs for them that are meaningful and connected to their studies," she says.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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