The best way to find out if you are truly passionate about something is to try it out for a while.
That’s just what fourth-year Computer Science student Nina Gill did with her recent co-operative education experience. After taking a course on cyber security, the 25-year-old wanted to explore whether a career in this area was for her.
Nina works for VIU’s Information Technology department, part-time as a Student Technical Support Assistant, while she finishes her degree. She has been working for the department since 2017, after graduating from VIU’s Information Technology and Applied Systems diploma program, at first full-time and then part-time after starting on her degree in 2018.
“I was having a one-on-one meeting with my manager one day and she asked me where I saw myself in five years,” she remembers. “I told her that I have an interest in cyber security. That informational interview started the conversation.”
Following that conversation with her manager, the department created a co-op position that aligned with the interests Nina had expressed to her manager and in May 2021, she joined the Information Security Team.
One of the main projects she worked on was a suite of awareness-building and educational activities for Cyber Security Awareness Month in October. She was given full responsibility for the project, from start to finish.
“I had all these activities planned for each week, and the launch turned out really well,” she remembers. “The co-op position exceeded my expectations because I didn’t realize that, as a student, I would be given so many responsibilities. There was trust there. It was a four-month position when I originally applied for it, but I liked it so much I stayed. I decided to take a semester off and really enjoy the opportunity.”
Throughout the position, Nina worked remotely, which she found increased her ability to participate in things like online conferences and webinars to expand her knowledge. She also had the opportunity to meet with external vendors to vet products.
“This co-op position showed me that I’m not doing this degree for nothing, it will be applied somewhere,” Nina says. “Sometimes when you’re sitting in class, you have those moments where you’re wondering how what you’re learning applies to the real world, but it does. I’m more excited to go back and finish my degree, having had some experience with the hands-on application of what I’m learning.”
VIU’s Computer Science program is one of many that offer an optional co-operative education experience as part of the degree. Co-operative education is a structured method of combining classroom learning with hands-on learning experiences.
Nina wants more students to consider doing co-ops as part of their degree for the reasons she mentioned above – the ability to apply what they are learning in the classroom to real-life situations and explore areas they are passionate about – but also because it could lead to finding a team you can see yourself working with after graduation. If there isn’t anything available in the system that really speaks to you, take the initiative and do a little legwork to design your own work term, she suggests.
David Woodward, a Work-Integrated Learning Coordinator with VIU’s Centre for Experiential Learning, encouraged Nina to pursue her tailored co-op position.
“In today’s labour market, employers often want to see relevant work experience on students’ resumes by the time they graduate,” he says. “VIU’s co-op and internship programs offer students real-world work opportunities to apply their studies in safe learning environments with mentorship and coaching provided, as well as plenty of self-led learning opportunities, as Nina demonstrated in the proactive development of her work term with VIU’s IT department.”
Nina believes the experience has opened doors for her, and hopes other students will pursue similar opportunities.
“I do want to pursue a career in cyber security in a higher education setting, and hopefully I can stay here and do that,” she says.