Sparking change from Waterloo to Austria

Jessica Bona (she/her) is a fourth-year Environment, Resources and Sustainability (ERS) student pursuing a minor in Peace and Conflict studies. As a recurring residence don at United College and Captain of the University of Waterloo dance team she is a pillar of the school community. Jessica discusses what drew her towards ERS, the value of working for a non-profit and her experience conducting research in Austria.  


Jessica's co-op journey


First work term: Through the Global Citizen Internship, a program that provides funding to charities and non-profit organizations to hire students, Jessica started her co-op journey at the Food System Roundtable of Waterloo Region. As a special project administrator, she conducted research on food distribution strategies for an upcoming proposal to the local government.

Second work term: Jessica worked as an environmental advisor for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). In the environmental division, she reported and advised on hazardous waste management, creating new policies for the TTC to follow.  

Third work term: For her third co-op, she accepted a research position in Austria at the Technische Universität Graz. Ranked as outstanding, Jessica gathered data and online research for a 2030 carbon neutral plan. 


Q&A with Jessica


Jessica smiling at a lookout point in Europe.What is the Global Citizen Internship and how did it impact your first and future work experiences?

“The Global Citizen Internship program enables charities and non-profit organizations to provide paid opportunities for students, especially organizations that focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since non-profits don’t pay their co-op students, it wouldn't have been possible for me to work at the Food System Roundable of Waterloo Region if the university didn't have the outside sponsors, donors and partnerships that allow for this award.”

“For a lot of students, their first co-op term is not always relevant to their field of study. Thanks to the Global Citizen Internship, I got to get my hands in ERS work from the very start. My two jobs after that were great because I already had relevant experience.”

“Also, the bulk of my job involved research, which I really loved! There's not a ton of research jobs out there, but non-profits have so many research positions! [That experience] helped improve my research skills in school because 90% of my degree involves research and writing.”


What accomplishments are you most proud of?

“Working at a non-profit was such an accomplishment for me as I've had the goal of working for a non-profit at some point throughout my degree. They’re so important and it's such a rewarding experience to know that you're working for a company with good intentions. Knowing that my work was making a difference in the community was super rewarding. I think that's why I did the ERS program in the first place; I wanted to pick a program where I could go out and change the world.”

“I really enjoyed the job at the TTC. Unlike my other co-ops, it was super hands on. I got to see different kinds of environmental damage firsthand like waste pile ups and spills. I actively reported the damage and helped the mechanics fix or reverse whatever damage was done.”

“At my most recent co-op in Austria, everything about it was a huge accomplishment. I learned a lot about sustainability and Europe while working on the European Sustainability Reporting Standards. It was essential that it was done right, and since TU Graz didn't have environmental students to study the topic, it was nice to help out as someone with an environmental background.”


Famous clock tower in Graz, Uhrturm.What made you want to complete a co-op term abroad?

“It's actually super funny. I applied on WaterlooWorks and I didn't get an interview, so I thought ‘okay, I'm not going to get the job’. Then, two days before rankings I get an email saying that Technische Universität Graz does not run interviews, but they’ve decided to rank me first. So, I had two days to decide if I was moving out of the country.”

“I talked to my parents and they told me to go for it. For most of my life, my parents have encouraged me to jump in and take risks, even if it seems a little scary. That's why I quickly knew I was going to say yes and go.”

“I didn’t speak German. I still don't. I know a few words, but I don’t think you should let your lack of knowledge in the area deter you from working abroad. Overall, it was a huge learning experience.”


What advice do you have for students considering a term abroad?

“In terms of advice, it is a lot easier to apply to international jobs through WaterlooWorks. They have a ton there, so I would look there first.”

“If you do get an international job, the visa process can be quite annoying. For my co-op in Austria, I had to go all the way to Ottawa to get my visa, which is not something that I had anticipated. I did the trip all in one day, but that's because I have a car. Some people don't have that option and might have to spend extra money to stay in a hotel for the night. I did talk to somebody in the co-op office about letting students know in the future.”

“My main piece of advice is to go for it. Don’t let the rest of the world scare you, it’s a lovely place.”


Why did you choose to study Environmental Science?

“Major throwback, but when I was in elementary school one of my favourite teachers ran the Eco Club. I loved it; I was in the club every single year throughout elementary school.”

“We got to go on a trip with the York Region District School Board. They brought together a bunch of students who were passionate about the environment, and we spent a few days doing environmental education and activities in the woods. Since I was given the experience to learn about the environment at such a young age, it’s something I've always had a passion for.”

“Throughout high school, I really wanted to study business, but I realized that if I were to go into business it wouldn't be as beneficial to the world as an environmental studies degree. I wanted to do something that would help other people and spark change — and that’s environmental studies.”


Jessica working from a cafe in Graz.What skills have you improved over the course of your co-op journey?

“I’ve done research in all three of my co-ops, but my first and most recent were fully research-based. I like how connected these positions are to my program since I’m always researching. It’s been nice to build on those skills.”

“My first and last co-op were quite similar. I got to work on time management because my supervisors would only check in every so often. At Food System Roundtable, they checked in once or twice a week. They gave me a list of tasks with a deadline, but I set my own schedule.”

“In my last co-op, my supervisor checked in once every three weeks. I think this goes to show what the work environment is like in Europe. My supervisor had so much trust in us. It was me and another student from the University of Waterloo working together on the research. He gave us an office and said that we could work there, outside if it's a nice day or go to another country! He also told us to take some days off for vacation to see the world. As long as we got our work done within the three weeks, we were good.”

“When you're in Europe but you also have work, time management is so important. The other student and I made a schedule to plan where we were going to work and how much we wanted to have done every three weeks.”


You’ve been a residence don for a couple of years. What made you want to support first-year students and what are the pros and cons?

“I've always worked as a camp counsellor and I find that they both have similarities.”

“Half of the job involves talking to people and running events. But the other half, involves overnight duty shifts, which can seem daunting to many people. So, you might get a call at 3:00 AM and you will have to wake up. But being able to help students and make sure they know they are not alone is also the most rewarding part of the job.”


What advice do you have for first-year Environment students?

“First year is the time to learn about yourself, so don't be upset if you make mistakes or don’t get the exact grade that you want. Take this time to learn what your study habits are and how you work best in school. When you get older, your grades might be looked at for grad school admission, so testing your new study habits should be done in your first year.”


What are your plans for the future?

“Starting in January, I'm going to work for Toyota at their Cambridge location as an environmental engineer. I’m going to be working on their recycling program because they use a lot of unique materials throughout their assembly process. Part of my job is also going to involve educating engineers on environmental topics through fun activities.”

“Technically, I'll be on an eight-month co-op, but I want to do two four-month terms instead. For the spring term, I’m open to going anywhere. I think I want to use my last co-op term to try something new. I'm thinking Vancouver would be lovely or anywhere international because my international co-op not only gave me knowledge through the work I did, but also through living in a new environment.”

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