Sheena Bell: Learning Outside the Classroom

Sheena Bell was, quite literally, the poster child for the UBC Arts Co-op Program. In her first year in the program, Sheena was selected as one of two co-op students to appear on the cover of the official Arts Co-op brochure. In retrospect, Sheena’s cover debut foreshadowed the many accomplishments she would go on to achieve through the Co-op Program.

A graduate in honours political science with a minor in French, Sheena has completed four work terms in both the private and public sector, and taken on a variety of roles that range from community outreach; to peer advising; to research and communications. In her co-op career, Sheena has managed to move to Victoria and Ottawa for work in addition to fitting in an academic term away on exchange in Grenoble, France.

In 2006, Sheena packed up her life and prepared herself for 8 months living and traveling in three different countries. With two small suitcases of summer, winter, work, and personal attire, Sheena headed to Ottawa to work for the Museum of Civilization, then to Mexico for a month before continuing on to France for a term on exchange.

Returning from France, Sheena took on the position of Research Assistant at Arts Co-op where she worked to help other students become successful in their co-op endeavours. “Working at the Co-op office gave me the invaluable experience of working in a university setting with students, faculty, and staff,” says Sheena, “and that’s useful because it’s the kind of environment I want to work in in the future.”

Consistent with her dynamic nature, Sheena packed up and moved to Victoria for a work term with the provincial government immediately after finishing her last day of work at the Co-op Office. Her new research position brought her to the Ministry of Forests and Range, Forest Practices Branch.

While Sheena’s adventures may seem remarkable, they are not atypical of what many co-op students experience while participating in the program. Students in the past have completed international work terms in over 21 different countries and for many, traveling the globe is just an added challenge to the day-to-day management of school, work, job applications, and interviews. Even while in France, Sheena continued to juggle school, travel, and co-op applications to secure a work placement for her next term.

Although Sheena is stuck with her plan to go on to graduate studies after completing her undergraduate degree, she feels that co-op has played an integral role in helping to reaffirm her decision to pursue academia. In addition to the skills, knowledge, and life experience she has gained through her work terms, Sheena was able to build her co-op experiences into her graduate school and scholarship applications by highlighting the professional experience she has with conducting research and using statistical analysis tools.

Unlike some students just finishing their undergraduate studies, Sheena says that she didn’t feel burnt out from having been in school her whole life; a feeling she attributes to having taken time during her undergraduate degree to pursue other things.

“I got to experience life outside the classroom, I had breaks between my study terms, and I saw what it was like to have a full-time job, to live on my own and to experience life in the real world” Sheena says, “and that experience has helped me to solidify what I want to do after graduation.”

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