When co-op comes full circle

From Waterloo to Tokyo

Jeff WentworthJeff Wentworth (BASc ’06) recalls virtually every co-op term helping him not only advance his technical skills, but also improve his communication skills and ability to collaborate in an office environment. But there was one work term that took his development to a whole new level.

In the middle of his degree, Wentworth packed his bags and moved to Japan for a year – an experience that took him out of his comfort zone. At the time, there was no Google Translate or Google Maps and, for Wentworth, it was both wonderful and lonely.

Immersed in an unfamiliar culture, job and place, Wentworth uncovered new skills and independence that he would use in his future life and career. He enjoyed the experience so much that he moved back to Japan shortly after graduating. He thought he’d stay for a couple years.

Fifteen years later, he’s still in Tokyo, where he founded Curvegrid with William Metcalfe (BMath ’04), whom he met during that international co-op term. Wentworth and Metcalfe now find themselves on the other side of the co-op process, hiring students who have an interest in international travel and cultures. They try to make the experience as smooth and rewarding as possible, reimbursing students for plane tickets and helping them secure visas and other necessities. They even offer two weeks of vacation, so students can make the most of their time in a new country.

“This is our way of paying it forward,” Wentworth says. “We hope they have a similar cultural experience to the one we enjoyed as students.”

Valued members of the team and community

Jessica BondyIn her final work term, Jessica Bondy (BA ’08, MA ’13) felt like she was more than a co-op student at the Royal Ottawa Hospital: “I was very much a member of the team, and my experience was valued. It was an incredible opportunity to test out my professional skills, understand the complexity of working in healthcare, and ask myself some important questions, like, ‘Why do I want to get into this work?’ and ‘What are my passions?’”

Today, Bondy is still focused on serving others through her work. As the Housing Services Director at Waterloo Region’s House of Friendship, she draws on the skills and dedication she developed in her work terms. As a co-op employer, and previous co-op student, she knows the tremendous value students can bring to a non-profit organization.

Co-op students are important members of our team. The new ideas that students bring, the fresh perspective – tech-savvy approaches, ability to use data – it’s incredible to see the things they can help us with.

“We believe in a place where everyone can belong and thrive, and that includes our staff,” she explains. “Co-op students are important members of our team. The new ideas that students bring, the fresh perspective – tech-savvy approaches, ability to use data – it’s incredible to see the things they can help us with.”

Through multiple roles and projects, Bondy has seen students leave an important mark in House of Friendship programming and the community they serve. She’s quick to mention the growth she sees in the students as well: “Students who work with us get exposure to some very challenging ways of life and complicated social issues like homelessness, addiction, mental health challenges and poverty. When folks work for House of Friendship, they also learn what it means to be a member of a community. It’s a true joy to see someone’s thoughts shift and to see them develop an interest in non-profit work. It gives me more energy to do the difficult things in my job.”

Finding the right fit

Vikram HardattBefore his first co-op term, thought he wanted a career in geographic information systems (GIS). Hardatt took elective courses on the topic and for his first work term, he found a job where he could focus on GIS.

“I thought I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” he explains. “But after working and studying GIS for a year, I realized maybe this isn’t actually what I want to do.”

For subsequent co-op terms, he shifted his focus and found a new passion. While at the City of Hamilton, he worked on the team that was planning and implementing the City’s new bike share program. He enjoyed this work so much that he returned to the City of Hamilton for a later co-op term, and eventually a full-time job with a local consulting firm, IBI Group. Today, he’s a passionate consultant focusing on bringing micro-mobility systems, including bike-sharing and e-scooter programs to communities across Ontario. He’s also a regular user of the Hamilton bike share program that he helped implement.

Without co-op, Hardatt knows he might have spent his degree preparing for a career that wasn’t the right fit. When he works with co-op students today, this experience is always top of mind: “While I’m super passionate about micro-mobility, I realize that this might not be what our co-op students are feeling. I encourage them to give this field of work an honest try, ask questions as they come up, and talk openly about their thoughts. That way, I can work with their interests and tailor their tasks to their individual goals.”

Hardatt hopes his open approach helps them do their best work at IBI Group, but also in the future. It’s part of the process to build a fulfilling career.