Co-op students reflect on their Waterloo journey

From left to right: Avery Sudsbury, Danielle Lebowitz, Frances Hallen, Jessica B
From left to right: Avery Sudsbury, Danielle Lebowitz, Frances Hallen, Jessica Bohn and Stephanie Davis
As Spring 2024 Convocation approaches, it is also a time for students to reflect on their successes and achievements over their time here at Waterloo.

Among this year’s graduating class are a consort of recipients of the 2023 Co-op Student of the Year Award who were recognized for their exceptional contribution to their employers.

The University of Waterloo has the largest co-op program at a research-intensive university in the world with more than 70 per cent of students gaining up to two years of employment experience during their studies. The experience gained during their co-op terms is not only rewarding but can help create a path for an impactful future and career after graduation.

We spoke with these new graduates about their co-op experience and how it was a positive influence during their time at Waterloo.

What kind of opportunities did co-op provide to you?

Co-op provided me with diverse experiences in various applications of computer science, such as full-stack development at both a start-up and a corporation, as well as interdisciplinary research in quantum computing and high-energy physics. These opportunities not only allowed me to apply my academic knowledge to real-world problems, greatly enhancing my undergraduate education, but also helped me build a robust network of peers and mentors. My co-op experiences have ultimately led me towards a clear and confident career path in interdisciplinary research in computer science and physics.

The most rewarding aspect of my co-op experience at EDF Renewables was undoubtedly knowing the part I was playing in supporting and accelerating the low-carbon energy transition that I advocate for, in a way that would benefit the communities where it is taking place.

One of the highlights was my research on displacing land used for corn ethanol with agrivoltaics (the practice of both solar and farming as dual-land use), which showed significant benefits in energy production, agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. Seeing the positive reception of this research and its subsequent implementation was incredibly rewarding.

How has co-op helped you establish business relationships and a network for your future?

My two consecutive co-op terms as part of the Master of Public Service (MPS) program enabled me to have more time to build meaningful workplace relationships and learn about career growth from my peers. I was able to contribute to longer-term initiatives and take on more files, which also led me to connect with more people throughout the Ontario Public Service. The MPS program has a very strong alumni network, and my cohort is very proactive in sharing networking connections. Gaining relevant experience through co-op encouraged me to bridge some of those connections that make up my current network.

If there’s one message you could tell yourself when you were a first-year student to help shape your university career, what would it be?

You are teachable. You are adaptable. You are valuable. Do not let the imposter syndrome overwhelm you. Go into your co-op cycles with an open mind and belief in yourself. You will not regret the extra year on your degree because the growth you will experience professionally and personally during this time will be unmatched to any other experience. 

What type of impact would you like to make in your future and how did your co-op experience help shape that?

I would love to bring my enthusiasm for the waste industry to as many people as possible on an individual level. I believe the most effective way to generate positive environmental change is by having conversations with people. The digital age and distancing requirements with the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened a disconnect that we have an opportunity to rebuild. 

To tackle many of the prominent social and environmental issues of our age, I think we have to take the time to listen to voices that have been marginalized and shape the future of our planet on more equitable principles. Through co-op I have learned the power of conversation and the need for public systems that really benefit all people.
Alexandra Gray