How to Successfully Transition from Student to Professional

Emily Cho, BES, EPt, sheds some light on how the environment industry became her sector of choice, and how she successfully make the transition from student to stellar employee.

NAME Emily Cho, BES, EPt CITY Waterloo, ON POSITION Environmental Project Coordinator at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo YEARS OF ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIENCE First-year in the workforce since graduating. HOW ECO CANADA HAS HELPED HER ENVIRONMENTAL CAREER Recently Emily, an Environmetnal Intern, caught up with ECO Canada to shed some light on how the environment industry became her sector of choice and how to successfully make the transition from student to stellar employee. To start, Emily shared with us how she became an Environmental Project Coordinator at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and what aspects of her career she finds rewarding. She then follows up with thoughts and advice for peers and recent graduates looking to pursue a life-long career in Canada’s diverse and growing environmental sector.

From Lecture Theatre to Office

What attracted you to working in the environmental sector? In the beginning, I discovered and admired the sector’s acknowledgement and priority in seeking solutions using multidisciplinary approaches. I grew to appreciate the sector more as it became clear to me that the wellbeing of our physical environment has a resonating effect on all aspects of life. My career goal is to develop and nurture healthy spaces for people to grow, work, and play. As such, I am drawn to working in the environmental sector because I believe it values finding feasible and meaningful solutions based on root influences and it supports the development of key relationships. How did you pursue a career in the industry? I first got involved in the environmental sector through job placements during my university co-operative education program. Since then, I further explored my areas of interest in greater depth through ECO Canada’s environmental internship program, the Environmental Professional (EP) Certification program for Communications and Public Awareness, and regional workshops. How was your experience with ECO Canada’s employment program? The EYC program, combined with a very capable and caring mentor, has truly made my internship experience valuable and enjoyable. At my first year-long work placement, I have learned a great deal of transferable skills, made real connections with community members, and gained insight into my career goals. What attracted you to Environmental Professional (EP) Certification and the EPt designation? I was initially drawn to the EPt designation because I felt my university degree was relatively non-descriptive as it does not reflect the skill sets have I gained. I also felt less competitive compared to peers with professional designations. EPt gave me a way to distinguish myself and to make known my professional commitment to sustainability. What benefits have you experienced from participating in the EPt program? I only started this program recently but even as such; I had the opportunity of attending a professional development workshop and met really passionate and intelligent peers in the local sustainability sector. I appreciate the networks built because there were several occasions where I was able to use these connections to bolster the programs I was working on at my job. How has becoming an EPt helped you in your career? Although I was always interested in the type of work and skills associated with my designation in Environmental Sustainability, and Communications and Public Awareness, the step of formalizing my commitment helped to solidify my career goals. This act of commitment has a deeper personal meaning than an external impact at this point as it is a great reminder to continuously challenge myself and learn. Additionally, my employer was very supportive of my participation.

Developing a Successful Career

What do you do in your current role? As Environmental Project Coordinator at the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, I act as the primary support staff for the lead Sustainability Planner. The overarching objective of my position is to provide services to enable positive environmental actions and the adoption of a sustainable culture in the greater regional community and within the corporation. Specifically, I contribute to a number of external and internal initiatives including the development and management of two environmental funding programs, the coordination of Ecofest, an annual community environmental festival, and securing grants for multi-stakeholder community projects. What do you like best about your job? Two things I appreciate the most about my job are the ability to engage in diverse projects and the opportunity to frequently interact and collaborate with community stakeholders. My internship with the ROW has been a phenomenal learning experience and it has helped me gain a better understanding of my community and how to better support it. What accomplishments are you most proud of to date (career-wise)? I am most proud of my work on designing and coordinating the Region’s first Community Environmental Fund. It was a humbling experience to collaborate with senior colleagues and rewarding to develop a program from seed and see it come to fruition. After many years of being a student and recipient of support, it feels extraordinary to play the reverse role of being a provider to the community.

Sharing Wisdom & A Look into the Future

What advice do you have for peers and new grads? One piece of advice I have for job seekers and new grads is to keep an open mind to new learning opportunities. It is important and useful to have a career direction, but it is critical not to allow a narrow goal to hinder the exploration of new or unexpected experiences. I have come to enjoy and learn a lot from engaging in tasks that I previously thought were unrelated or uninteresting. Circumstances and attitudes can vary our perceived value of an experience. We should direct our focus on the transferability and growth of our skills. Also, take advantage of the internship programs. They’re an excellent channel for recent graduates to gain relevant work experience and exposure to learning opportunities within the workplace. The programs provide a good length of time to explore a preferred career choice by navigating through both industry nuances and working to achieve big-picture goals. The financial support ECO provides for qualified interns is an important benefit when seeking potential employers. What are your future career aspirations? As mentioned, my career goal is to develop and nurture healthy spaces for people to grow, work, and play. The breadth of this goal reflects my desire to create a culture of sustainability by leveraging diverse community relationships. I want to continue in a service-based industry to provide opportunities and tools that enable individuals to express their potential in both community and corporate settings. – – – – – It was a pleasure to catch up with Emily and get a glimpse of the talent and drive that is entering the environmental workforce today. We strive to support the careers of youth and hearing success stories like Emily’s keeps us on track to providing programs that allow environmental professionals to learn and advance in a competitive market.
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