Erin York: Student Education Through the Arts

Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Erin is a film studies graduate with a drama minor and one of the 20 international students formally enrolled in the UBC Arts Co-op Program. While many students going into the program are still unsure about their career goals, Erin knew from the start what her ultimate dream job would be and how the co-op program would help get her there.

Growing up heavily involved in theatre and the arts, Erin had one goal when she came to UBC. She wanted to one day create her own non-profit organization; a theatre company that aims to teach students Shakespeare through performance, theatre, and film.

Before embarking on her dream job, Erin had to acquire the knowledge and experience that would make her successful in her endeavours. In addition to her academic coursework, Erin wanted to gain experience in the areas of education, event-planning, and marketing, as well as working in a not-for-profit environment.

“My realization that I had to develop specific skills before I could go on to pursue my dream was what motivated me to join the Arts Co-op Program,” Erin stated.

Even with her bold, affable personality and unique career aspirations, securing a first co-op work placement was no easy task for Erin. It’s not unusual for students to do upwards of 10-15 applications before landing their first jobs.

“At the start, I wasn’t aware of how many applications I would have to do or the amount of time it would take before I would get a job and it was discouraging,” Erin remembered.

Her persistence paid off when she was eventually hired as a Cultural Assistant at the UBC English Language Institute (ELI), a position she described as “an amazing summer job that I would highly recommend to anyone.”

As a Cultural Assistant at ELI, Erin was given the opportunity to choose her own projects, allowing her to directly apply her strengths and interests to her work. Erin immediately delved into event planning, taking the lead on a three-day trip with students to her hometown of Seattle, and participating in “The Great Race,” a reproduction of The Amazing Race, which took place through the streets of Vancouver.

Through co-op, Erin learned that it often takes a certain level of creativity to tailor your resume so that it appeals to potential employers, particularly in the beginning when experience may be limited.

For Erin, being a co-op student is sometimes like being a stagehand. “Initially,” she notes, “you’re required to do a lot of assisting and legwork and a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but sooner or later, someone will give you a lead role based on your knowledge and experience.”

For Erin, this meant highlighting a three-year part-time job at a travel agency, which consisted mostly of babysitting her boss’s dogs and occasionally answering telephones, as valuable work experience.

In the process of reflecting on past experiences, however, Erin also realized that all work experience, whether paid, volunteer, or academic, contributes to building transferable skills that are valued in the work place. For this reason, Erin’s dog-sitting job remains on her resume today, along with a multitude of more recent and relevant work experiences.

Erin’s advice for students is simple: “Let your interests and passions dictate your career path, use your work terms to help build skills and develop your strengths, and volunteer to get involved with the things you like.”

Although she can’t wait to take the lead of her own production, Erin knows it’s necessary to gain experience behind-the-scenes before taking the stage.

Erin is also the director of the 2007 production of The Vagina Monologues at UBC.

By Carmen Chu (BA, 2008, Psychology and English Literature). Carmen is an Arts Co-op student.