Tourism and Parks Canada

How Rachel landed her dream co-op job

I wasn’t sure what to do after I graduated from high school. Should I take a year off? Maybe start my own business like my parents? It was kind of confusing, because I didn’t really know what I wanted. I had worked with youth in Cadets as a music teacher and recruiter and really liked it. All I knew for sure was I loved teaching and the outdoors. I thought maybe I could work for an organization like Parks Canada. I just wasn’t sure how to get there.

I knew it was important to keep my options open so in grade eleven I went to a university fair to see if there were any courses that might work for me. You know, something involving youth programming and outdoor activities. And of all the booths I looked at, Waterloo’s Recreation and Leisure Studies Tourism program was the only pamphlet I kept. I hauled it out again in grade twelve, and decided to go and check out the campus.

Honestly? That was it for me. I met the team at Applied Health Sciences and everyone had so much life, and was achieving such great things. It’s crazy, but I felt like I was home.

Finding focus

Rachel speaking with a child at the Parks Canada outreach booth at the Toronto Zoo.So a lot of people ask me about “Applied Health” and how tourism fits in. I tell them that recreation, tourism and leisure are all part of living one’s best and healthiest life. So far in classes and on co-op we've focused on the fundamental question "why." Why does anyone choose to travel, or recreate? What are the benefits? How can we create a space in which it interests them and suites all of their needs? I enjoy developing programming that makes learning fun and delivers the right experiences for a variety of audiences at different life stages and needs.

I've had the opportunity to explore various career paths through co-op which gave me the skills and experience to develop and teach interpretive ecology programs. I found out that I really love creating lesson plans to teach kids about conservation, preservation, and ecology.

Urban outreach with Parks Canada

Rachel speaks with children at the Toronto Zoo.

My teaching experience gave me the confidence to apply for a position with Parks Canada. I’d had some good work experience and had done so much interviewing that I felt really confident. I went for it, and I did it! I got a position with Parks Canada as a member of the fourteen-person Urban Outreach Team based in Toronto. As a Partnership Program Developer, my job was to help create educational programs and games. The aim was to highlight the partnership between Parks Canada and places like the Toronto Zoo. Some games highlighted conservation efforts, location, and ecology for specific species. It was pretty fast-paced and busy! Some days we interacted with as many as 2,000 visitors at the Zoo and it was tiring, but it was an awesome experience!

My background in tourism and my passion for environmental conservation allowed me to excel in this position. Plus, it felt good. Encouraging someone to get excited about how a species – even the scary ones like snakes or arachnids – can be super important to a whole ecosystem is important. It’s cool knowing things like that, being able to talk about it, seeing the light bulbs go off for little kids and their parents.

A variety of toy snake species on display at the Parks Canada outreach booth.

What's next

I’m in my 3A term. After experiencing the amazing opportunities organizations like Parks Canada have given me, I would love to further explore a more managerial environment. Event management and marketing would allow me to harness my previous experience as an interpreter and take it a step further, teaching me many new skills and strengthening ones I currently possess. I’m kind of excited about it. And even though I’m not sure where I’ll end up, I’m willing to go wherever the opportunities are!

Keep your doors open. You never know where life is going to take you, and everything is a potential learning experience you can grow from.

Learn more about Waterloo's Tourism Development major.