The University of Waterloo is known for educating future-ready graduates. Our students have earned a reputation for having the skills, knowledge and experience to add value within their first days on the job. Much of this learning happens on campus, but at Waterloo the learning continues during co-op work terms at leading companies across Canada and around the world.  

Many students spend their co-op work terms at tech firms or corporations. Others make an impact at non-profit organizations, thanks to several co-op programs that fund student work terms at non-profit organizations, like Global Citizen Internships, Co-op for Social Good and the Co-op for Community program.

Co-op for Community is a partnership between United Way Waterloo Region Communities and the University to help United Way-affiliated organizations create meaningful co-op jobs for students from all disciplines. The program depends on donor funding to pay for the co-op positions. Ten thousand dollars covers one four-month co-op work term at United Way.  The program is partially funded through Giving Tuesday donations.  

“Regardless of a student’s career path, having the opportunity to work in a not-for-profit can be life-changing and help to develop key competencies for the world of work,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education at UWaterloo.  

Finding inspiration from helping others 

Zeeyaan BourdeauZeeyaan Bourdeau, a third-year student in Health Sciences, is one such student. In January 2023, Bourdeau began a co-op placement at United Way as a project coordinator. Bourdeau says UWaterloo’s co-op program helped draw him to the University. 

“Co-op allows me to have meaningful, real-world experiences using what I have learned in the classroom. These are opportunities that I only saw being possible at Waterloo,” Bourdeau says. 

Growing up in the Toronto area, Bordeau has long known the ground-breaking work that United Way organizations do. He says he first learned about the United Way during annual fundraising campaigns in elementary school.  

When he saw the opportunity to work at the United Way Waterloo Region Communities for a co-op work term, he recognized the alignment between United Way’s mission and his studies. 

“In my program, we often talk about the social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, poverty, and racism,” says Bordeau. “The United Way is focused on addressing these issues, and they have a passion to make a difference.”  

The difference locally is impressive. United Way Waterloo Region Communities provides funding and support to regional non-profits. In 2022, they provided over $3.1 million in funding to 209 non-profits, including SPECTRUM Waterloo Region’s Rainbow Community Space, Food4Kids Waterloo Region Inc. and the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW. 

Bordeau says his family instilled in him the value of giving back to the community. The co-op work term with United Way was a natural fit, especially with his goal of learning more about the community he calls home as a student at Waterloo. 

“I saw this as an opportunity for me to get to know the Waterloo Region community because this is where I happen to be studying. I can confidently say that I’m still feeling the benefits, impacts and growth of that co-op experience, even though it ended many months ago,” Bordeau says. 

Turning education into impact 

Bordeau’s co-op work term allowed him to see United Way’s impact first-hand, especially in the post-pandemic environment. Many organizations supported by United Way had to limit their service provision due to pandemic restrictions. As those restrictions ended, these organizations had to transition how they delivered support while economic conditions led to increased needs.  

The Co-op for Community program provides a lifeline for these [organizations] because some of the [organizations] who use this program themselves cannot afford to hire a co-op,” Bordeau says.  

“The program provides [organizations] with access to future-ready talent that cannot just think about the needs of today, but also the needs of tomorrow.” 

Another impact for Bordeau was getting a sense of where the problems are and how they are addressed. As a student, he says that the placement allowed him to gain exposure to the issues and problems our communities face, learn how an organization addresses these challenges and apply these lessons to his studies.

“The significance of their [the United Way’s] work blew me away, and I developed a much greater appreciation for what they do. This co-op placement provided me with the foundation to make an impact in whatever community I call home,” Bordeau says.  

This Giving Tuesday, we encourage you to support co-operative education at the University of Waterloo, including the Co-op for Community program. With your support, more students like Bordeau put their experience to work for non-profits. On Giving Tuesday 2022, more than $9,700 was raised for the Co-op for Community program. This year, with your support, our goal is to fund additional co-op jobs at non-profits for more students.