Like a modern day Goldilocks, Laurie Dawkins, a Communication Co-op alumna, spent many years trying out various roles to find the one that was just right. Now, as an award-winning, senior communications professional, Laurie shared how her experience with SFU Co-op shaped how she approached her career.
“What I got out of co-op is a little sense of adventure, that it’s okay to try things out,” says Laurie. She completed four different co-op jobs and explored multiple contracts after graduation. This openness offered her opportunities she never would have expected - from working in Alberta, explaining complex scientific technologies, being at the forefront of a crisis, working behind the camera, having to be in front of the camera, and even as an employer hiring her own co-op students.
Each experience taught her something new, developed her skills, and helped her realize what she liked doing and what type of work environment she could be successful in. Her first placement was working for Triumf, Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science. At first, it seemed daunting to have to communicate highly technical scientific matters in a simple, digestible way. Laurie clearly recalls an instance when a group of international exchange students with limited English skills came to the lab for a tour, and how she had to get creative with her communication skills. When it came to describing an apparatus called a cyclotron, she explained it by comparing it to an Oreo. Seeing the looks of comprehension on their faces, she realized, “Okay, I can do this.”
Laurie’s second co-op working for BC Hydro provided unanticipated challenges. After an unexpected death in the company, she found herself in the middle of a grieving office. Despite being thrown into an unfortunate situation, she managed to stay motivated and took initiative whenever possible.
Next, her adventurous attitude brought her to Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta for her third co-op job where she worked for DOW Chemical on the corporate communications team. She had the opportunity to dabble in internal and external communications as well as community relations, helping her define the tasks she felt fulfilled by.
She landed her final co-op placement at the KJ Lee Agency. She remembers agency life being fun, exciting, and full of mentorship opportunities. But it helped her recognize she preferred dealing with one client at a time. In the agency, she didn’t have the luxury of developing expertise in one area, but needed to be highly knowledgeable in different areas. The time-sensitive billing process required at an agency was also not her preference.
“Co-op was a process of elimination, where you figure out more about the industry but more about the kind of work you want to do and kind of work you don't want to do.”
Agency life was not for her.
After completing four very different co-op work terms and graduating from SFU, she freelanced and explored multiple contracts. She found her home at Vancouver Coastal Health where she has worked for the past 14 years, and now serves as Director of Corporate Communications. Yet within her time at VCH, she’s worn multiple hats as her thirst for learning and growing continues.
Now Laurie sits on the other side of the hiring process, identifying candidates to work as her own co-op students and staff. When reviewing applications, she says applicants that stand out are the ones that identify their writing abilities in their cover letters and resumes. “Writing is one of those fundamental skills for a communicator no matter where [one] choose[s] to specialize.” She also seeks out people with great interpersonal skills, believing that the combination of strong communication abilities and writing skills are what makes one stand out from a crowd.
Laurie has long been involved as a member and leader within her professional association, IABC (International Association of Business Communications) and advocates that young professionals should look to joining their relevant association. She believes that showing continuous interest in learning is crucial in order to grow in your professional development and to expand your network. In fact, Laurie acquired her first job at VCH as a direct result of having volunteered on a committee with the person who would become her boss. And she is regularly recognized for her communications work, earning awards from IABC and respect from her peers in the industry.
Amidst all her success, Laurie remains pretty down-to-earth. When she's not writing speeches for her CEO or creating award-winning communication campaigns, she loves going home to her daughter’s dance parties and exploring the fantasy world of dragons and Minecraft with her son. She doesn't know exactly what is next, but remains open to new adventures and welcomes the unexpected.