Co-op experience helps Psychology student land job before Convocation

As her walk across the Convocation stage approaches, Holly Harris has already cleared one of the biggest hurdles faced by new graduates — landing a job in her field.

Though the feat may not have seemed as imposing as some of the jumps the 22-year-old Psychology student faced as captain of Brock’s equestrian team, Harris took on the challenge with just as much determination, poise and commitment as she dedicated to her time on horseback.

To secure a paid position in the psychology field at the end of her studies, the Ajax native made a calculated decision several years earlier. After seeing her older sister complete Brock’s co-op program in Business and land a related job, Harris decided to enrol in co-op for her undergraduate studies as well.

The decision paid off immediately.

“The Co-op Education team taught me how to market myself and become a more appealing applicant in my field,” she said. “They provided me with skills that made me confident in the workforce as well as in my interviews and they helped me realize the jobs I was qualified for.”

Harris is one of nearly 500 Brock students to graduate this year who have taken part in Co-op Education’s extensive training programs throughout their studies. The experience bodes well for their careers, with 80 per cent of employers indicating co-op students are potential future employees.

Having completed two other work terms throughout her undergraduate studies, which provided a wide variety of experience and marketable skills, Harris embraced the support of Employer Development Manager Kristen Richardson as she successfully applied for a position at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, a public hospital in Whitby that provides assessment and treatment services to those living with complex and serious mental illness.

“Kristen was like a cheerleader for me,” Harris said. “She was very supportive and she ensured I had good communication while I was applying for the job. And once I was there, she checked in regularly and told me how proud she was of my accomplishments.”

Richardson said that Harris’ willingness to embrace new challenges is a key factor that has contributed to her success.

“Psychology students are able to get great experience in their fields, but they have to be ready to step out of their comfort zones,” Richardson said. “Holly was willing to move to different locations and explore a variety of jobs to build her skills.”

Aside from her normal duties as a research assistant working on projects that examine adolescent mental health and consulting on other initiatives, Harris also went above and beyond during her four-month work term at Ontario Shores, creating original work that would help to set her apart.

“I have written a paper about mental health recovery from the perspective of a service-user researcher that was published and I’m also running a course that teaches people how to leverage and relay their mental health story,” she said. “Being able to take on my own projects alongside my other duties has made me more confident and competent in my work and I could not have done it without my training in co-op.”

Having taken such monumental steps to establish her abilities and grow in her field in only a few months, Ontario Shores decided to hire Harris on a more permanent basis when her work term concluded in August.

By accepting the full-time position as a research assistant and lived experience co-investigator, Harris has achieved her employment goal. But, with Convocation in her sights, she is also coming to terms with the bittersweet realization that her time at Brock has come to an end.

“I think I’ll miss the community most of all,” she said. “The support I have received from faculty and staff in pursuing my career goals has been incredible and it will feel different not to be on campus with them anymore.”

Harris also said she will miss the camaraderie of the equestrian team, but with her parents and sister looking on, she’ll cross the stage on Friday, Oct. 12 ready to saddle up for the next stage in her psychology career.

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