As I wrap up my third and final co-op semester at SFU, there are many things I have learned. Continuing my role from the previous semester as an Environmental Coordinator at Nch’ḵay̓ Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Squamish Nation, I have been provided with many opportunities to lean into independence and autonomy, key skills that will continue to benefit me throughout my career development. In this role, I have found freedom in terms of how I can keep myself accountable when it comes to completing my tasks. Prior to this, I had worked many jobs in which I was always under the direct supervision of a superior, mostly in customer service, along with a brief co-op semester in waste management at Urban Impact Recycling, which gave me a change in both scenery and responsibility. I was particularly excited about my current role because of its nature; I am tasked with implementing and researching sustainability initiatives to help align the organization with the sustainable development goals as listed in the Strategic Plan for the Squamish Nation, as well as aiding my boss, the HSE Manager, in any way necessary. As an Indigenous organization, it allowed me to be part of a growing movement towards reconciliation, a rare and unique opportunity that has enabled me to develop my own lens on environmental responsibility through learning about Squamish Nation members’ relationship with their ancestral territories.
When I first began my role back in May 2023, I had no idea what I was doing! I felt like a small fish in a big pond. Since this was my first chance at an autonomous role, it took some time for me to adjust. I would often think of how to approach my projects and come up short, in a dead end, or I simply didn’t know who to ask. The unique startup situation of the organization left a lot of tasks to be up for improvisation, which was a skill I would come to develop after nearly 8 months deep in my work term. Eventually, as I learned more and gained confidence in my abilities, I was chipping away at my tasks and found myself completing my first project, which was to implement recycling at two sites that the organization managed. Fast forward to today, and I am wrapping up our organization’s baseline greenhouse gas inventory as a first step to reducing emissions! As well, assisting my boss with health and safety tasks continues to give me important insight when regarding work safety. As my work term went by, I found that the largest barrier to my own productivity was myself, proliferating negative thoughts that convinced me I was doing a bad job no matter what I was doing, instead of reframing to acknowledge that I am a student. Part of the learning I had to do in my co-op term is to tell myself that I am good enough, I am valuable and that I am here for a reason. Aside from this, some significant personal situations reminded me that to fully support my professional development, I needed to address my personal development as well, which meant prioritizing my mental and physical health whenever necessary, and not as being as hard on myself when it came to facing a challenge.
I believe that a factor to the limitations of my professional development is the lack of specialized mentoring in my role. Sustainability is a relatively new field that is increasingly gaining traction. My superior is the Health, Safety and Environmental manager and as she is alone in her department, most of her time is focused on employee safety. I feel that if I were shadowing a senior environmental specialist, I could have more guidance on whether I am on the right track.
Fortunately, I have been offered to continue my role part-time in the new year. I look forward to taking my classes in the upcoming semester to connect with my instructors for mentoring opportunities and to apply what I learn in my role. I am also excited to explore and develop my role further with the organization. An aspect I have thoroughly enjoyed is being able to not only connect with the Squamish Nation community, but also to assist and witness Indigenous events that have expanded my own worldview. I am grateful to contribute whatever I can towards reconciliation, and I look forward to what I plan to be a productive career.