Capilano University instructor Christy Dodds takes cooperative education extremely seriously. To her, it’s far more than job shadowing for a few weeks.
“It’s monitored, it’s interpreted, there’s a reflective piece, and there’s faculty support all the way through the process,” she told the Straight by phone.
As the coordinator of cooperative education in Capilano University’s tourism management program, Dodds places between 45 and 50 students on work terms, which are a mandatory component of the program, usually in their second year.
Students need to have a certain number of credits before they’re eligible to enroll in a career management course, and then ladder up into the co-op work term.
Dodds teaches this course so they can define their skill sets, develop a short-term and long-term vision for their career advancement, and get down to the nitty-gritty of learning how to write résumés and performing well in job interviews. There’s also an astonishing number of interactions with people in the industry before students do their first co-op.
“The students in my course this September, had they chosen to attend all of the additional opportunities available to them—such as industry-panel day and a number of on-campus activities where employers came to recruit specifically the co-op students, as well as some off-property networking opportunities—they would have had the opportunity to meet over 100 industry members just in this semester, and literally engage in one-on-one conversations,” Dodds said. “It’s not just meeting strangers in a large networking situation but very specific opportunities. The industry members are aware that these are co-op students who have committed to the industry.”
Capilano University’s tourism management co-op program is accredited by the Accountability Council for Co-operative Education and Work Integrated Learning, a.k.a. ACCE-WIL. According to Dodds, this council provides and encourages consistent program guidelines and standards.
“There’s a lot of criteria that goes on with providing a substantial co-op program,” she said.
Capilano University’s tourism management program has had a co-op component for as long as Dodds can remember, and she has been working there for almost two decades. Over the years, it’s expanded from a two-year diploma program to include a four-year bachelor’s degree, with specialties in general management, hotel and resort management, and adventure tourism.
“I’m really helping my students build their professional brand very, very early in their studies,” Dodds said.
One way to achieve that is by ensuring that they go on co-op terms with reputable employers. They can range from destination management organizations—such as Tourism Vancouver or Tourism Whistler—to top hotel chains like Fairmont to established local companies such as Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain Resorts, and Harbour Cruises.
As part of the co-op program, Capilano University tourism management students can also transfer to the University of California Riverside, where they take courses before being assigned to work at Walt Disney World. In this instance, the student is away from Capilano University for six months.
“It’s an international program and they reach out to only a select number of Canadian universities, and we are one of them,” Dodds said.
Dodds won an Alumnni Award of Excellence in 2016, in part because she has such a high level of enthusiasm for what she does.
“I get energized by my students,” she says in a video on the Capilano University website. “I get so excited when they land positions or co-op placements that they were just really pining for and prepared for and interviewed for. They get accepted and I get to celebrate with them.”More