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Seth Van der Zweep

SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology › General
Co-operative Education

Position Title
Working with SFU's United Way Campaign has been a great experience. I was given the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful individuals at both SFU and United Way BC who I may have never met otherwise.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

For the Application:

  • Make sure to detail what skills you have gained from previous experiences, do not just list previous jobs

For the interview:

  • Be prepared to talk freely about yourself, have about five solid talking points that you can list.
  • Be prepared to talk about your role models or inspirational figures in the industry that you are applying for.
Introduction + Preparation

It was important that before I started working, I became familiar with both organizations that I would be working with. I started by researching United Way British Columbia and figured out as much as I could about their operation. Next, I researched the Simon Fraser University United Way Campaign. Through their existing website, I was able to find some basic information and come to understand their staple events and annual schedule. With this basic information, I was able to feel more confident and prepared to begin my position. I also reviewed the job description to ensure I was ready and prepared to take on all of the tasks. 

Previous Experience

I did not have any previous working experience in this field. That is not to say I don't have experience relevant to this field. Prior to this, I worked in five unique service jobs which provided me with highly transferable skills. From these jobs I became skilled at teamwork, working under pressure, time management and persistence. Most jobs help you develop skills that will be useful in your next position, no matter how distant the two jobs seem. For example, United Way employees remarked on how efficient I was at getting guests through the points of service at events. This ability was owed to my previous positions working at points of service. I was also able to draw from my extensive academic experience regarding the technical skills that this position required such as web design. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

It is important before starting a position to take some time to research the company. Try to figure out what their current projects are and imagine how you can help with them. The more you know, the more confident and prepared you will feel on your first day. Make sure to review the job description so you are well-equipped to take on all of the tasks, consider your past work experiences, even those that might seem unrelated, and imagine how you might be able to apply the skills you have learned toward your new position. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My orientation was part of a scheduled orientation week for myself and about thirty other Campaign Associates, all from different organizations. The orientation took place in a classroom-like setting in the United Way British Columbia offices. We were told all about United Way British Columbia, and our roles as Campaign Associates. We were then sorted into teams of about 4-6 Campaign Associates and assigned a Campaign Manager. Over the next few weeks, I was able to do many important tasks. I got to work a shift at a food bank with my CA team, getting to know them all better, and helping Burnaby's most vulnerable residents. I worked an informational booth at SFU's Streetfest. I was also introduced to SFU's United Way campaign team and got situated in my SFU office space. I had learned a lot, and I felt ready to begin my role. 

Day to Day

This position is a flex co-op which means that I was expected to work only three days each week while also participating in two classes. Every week I would work 1 day at my SFU office, 1 day at my United Way Office, and one day remotely. My days each had a variety of tasks and obligations. Some of the things I would work on day-to-day would be: designing the website, designing promotional materials, distributing the materials, attending meetings with event leads, attending online learning sessions, calling donors and helping other CAs with their events. 

The main project I was hired to work on over the work term was the creation of a new web page for SFU's United Way Campaign. The objective of this project was to make the website more functional and to bring it up to SFU's current web design standards. In particular, updating it from SFU's Common Look and Feel 2 to the Common Look and Feel 4, using the Adobe Experience Manager. Although I received some help and revisions, this project was primarily completed individually. Working through the process of the web page's creation was an insightful experience. I started by making a prototype in Photoshop. A challenge I had to overcome was my inexperience with the AEM and Canva applications that I used to make the site. I was able to follow tutorials and use my knowledge of similar applications to become confident with these tools relatively quickly. The design went through multiple iterations with feedback on early versions of the website stating that the copy was too long and flowery. To combat this, I made several versions with a more minimalist copy. I then went through each page to make sure it still displayed all the necessary info. Because of the reordered campaign timeline, I was able to complete and publish the website by February.

Another major part of my job was helping to organize the necessary labour and supplies for the events, including volunteers and United Way Staff. I created the online form where volunteers could sign up and designed the coffee coupons used to compensate them. I also was in charge of securing the needed resources from United Way BC such as standing banners, the Seymour mascot, point of service machines, and United Way staff to work them. I served as a line of communication between SFU and United Way. 

Learning and Adaptation

One of the most important things to remember during any role is to always stay curious and ask as many questions as possible. Try to learn as much as you can about the processes involved with your role, and how you can make the most efficient use of your time. Things will not always stay the same in a role, they did not always stay the same for me, but the knowledge I built up helped me pivot and adapt to new circumstances. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

The campaign had several successes this year, that were in part attributable to my accomplishments in this role. I was able to complete the new website for SFU's United Way Campaign while satisfying all stakeholders. All of my poster and screen designs were approved and distributed to promote the campaign events. All three major campaign events were more successful this year than they were the previous year. This was great considering the challenges we faced in this campaign. Unforeseen circumstances forced us to move the events from their usual fall timeslots to February and March in the new year, throwing off the expected timeline. A personal challenge I faced was being able to collaborate with lots of new people. I was able to overcome this challenge by forcing myself to become more outgoing, and by reminding myself that it is okay to ask for help sometimes. 

Cultural and Environmental Observations

During this role, I was provided a unique opportunity to observe the culture and environment of two different organizations. Despite their differences, everyone I met in both offices was nothing but kind and welcoming to me. The area I worked at in the SFU office did not have other people working on the United Way campaign, so it was good to be able to spread the word and get outsider opinions on the campaign. Everyone in the United Way office, however, was focused on campaigns like I was. It was good to experience both settings. 

Social and Extracurricular Activities

I was provided the opportunity to participate in a number of social engagements with my coworkers in the short eight months I was with them. I attended an educational cabinet meeting in downtown Vancouver, participated in Pi Day at the SFU office, attended a Christmas luncheon with a view of the Northshore Mountains and joined a wonderful volunteer appreciation lunch in the spring. I even got involved with one of the events by baking and then donating cupcakes to be put on sale. These events made me feel like I was a valued part of a team. 

Wrap Up

I am very thankful for my time with SFU's United Way campaign. Those I have worked with have been very supportive and encouraging of my work. They have made sure to always answer my questions, and help guide me along this journey I have undertaken over these last eight months. I will not soon forget this experience and all the wonderful people I met along the way.

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

There were many aspects to this experience that I found very valuable to me. This experience allowed me to meet a lot of people working in various different roles. I was able to meet faculty and community members at SFU and explore the SFU Burnaby campus. I got to work with CAs who are usually employed in industries like finance, recreation and transportation, forming important connections. 

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Working in this role for SFU's United Way campaign has been a fulfilling experience. It has allowed me to put the skills I have learned from the School of Interactive Arts and Technology to use in the real world. It has allowed me to create my first non-academic web project and develop designs to be used in my portfolio. Although I have worked five jobs before, the position gave me my first experience in an office environment. The experience has meaningfully improved my hireability and has taught me the value of charitable and community endeavours within the workplace. 

Advice for Future Students

As you begin with co-op do not be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Try to take every opportunity that you can, the work term goes by quicker than you think it will and it is in your best interest to get everything out of it that you are able. Being a newcomer to a work environment can be intimidating, but there is always something unique that you bring to the table. Don't be afraid to add your perspective to the conversation and demonstrate the skills you have gained through university so far. Make sure to consider your past work experiences, even those that might seem unrelated, and imagine how you might be able to apply the broad skills you have learned toward your new position.