Between the first and second years of the MPPGA program, students have several options for how they spend the four months of summer. Of course, taking time off is certainly an option, but many of us have chosen work placements and internships as practical learning opportunities to support what we learned during the first year of the program.
Below are some reflections from MPPGA students about how they’ve been spending their summer and what they’ve learned from their experiences.
Joanna Fensome – Research Assistant at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
This summer I’ve been working as a research assistant in the western litigation branch of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the federal government’s department responsible for administering policies pertaining to Aboriginal peoples. My responsibilities have included conducting research for legal cases between the Government of Canada and Aboriginal people as well as on research best practices. During the first year of the MPPGA program I directed much of my studies towards understanding Canadian policies pertaining to Aboriginal peoples and this co-op position has expanded my understanding beyond theoretical assessment to more practical considerations.
Arguably the best part of working for the Canadian government, in my opinion, is access to courses through the Canada School of Public Service. My supervisor has been super supportive of my taking courses related to project management, preparing briefing notes, and improving my French. Plus, apparently the public service is very much in a phase of recruiting new talent, so a co-op position with the government could be a great way to bridge into a career following graduation. All in all, my experiences this summer are opening my eyes to the range of opportunities that will be available to me upon graduation.
Nathan Seef – Junior Policy Analyst at Global Affairs Canada
During the break, I have been working at Global Affairs Canada in the Strategic Policy Branch. Specifically, I have been working on a team that manages Canada’s International Assistance Envelope. The envelope is primarily used for official development assistance and non-combat security and stabilization activities in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. The envelope is also the source of Crisis Pool funds that is used as emergency funding to respond to natural and human disasters around the world. My role in the team has been to work closely on the “Report to Parliament on Canada’s Official Development Assistance” that is tabled in Parliament each year.
The experience of working in the federal government is invaluable. I have taken some of the theoretical and classroom based experience of the MPPGA and bolstered it with some practical experience. In all honesty, I never expected to look at a problem and think – out loud – ‘this calls for an influence diagram and a consequence table.’ What was more shocking, was that people around me agreed and didn’t bat an eye at the thought.
I was a little hesitant going into the position as my background is not in development, but rather on international criminal justice issues and environmental crimes. However, I have been very fortunate that my supervisors put me in a position to have an impact on the team from day one. They have encouraged me to tackle some difficult projects, gain as much experience with different deliverables as possible, and work on my professional development. All in all, I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone interested.
Claire Allen – Provincial Fire Information Officer, Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations – BC Wildfire Service
For the first time in nearly 15 years, British Columbia has declared a provincial state of emergency due to the volatile wildfire season. A dry lightning storm with intense winds, coupled with several aggressive human caused wildfires, ripped through the central interior on July 7th. By the time I left my desk at the Provincial Wildfire Coordination Centre at 2 AM on July 8th, the province had nearly 200 wildfire starts and thousands of tactical evacuations of threatened properties – including many of our staff members and our own Cariboo Fire Centre being evacuated. When this all broke out, I was working nearly 16 hours a day for 19 days straight with my team to prioritize resources and protect life and property. Several weeks on and with many more dry summer weeks to come, this wildfire season has burned a historic number of hectares, destroyed record numbers of structures, and removed nearly 40,000 British Columbians from their homes.
I work as an Information and Liaison Officer with an Incident Management Team, and we are deployed for 14 days, take 3 days rest, and then are back out to the next wildfire for 14 days. We sleep in tents in “firecamps” which are miniature empires of wildfire response that get set up in fields near wildfire incidents. My first deployment was to the communities of Little Fort and Clearwater, and I am currently in Cache Creek handling the Elephant Hill wildfire. This wildfire is nearly 62,000 hectares in size, which is 620 square kilometres. Due to the extreme wildfire situation across the province, BC’s resources are fully tapped and so we have imported aircraft, firefighters, and single resource personnel from other provinces and countries. Our current firecamp is housing approximately 400 firefighters and support staff from B.C., Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Australia, as well as 50 municipal firefighters from the Burnaby and Victoria Fire Departments to assist with structural protection.
My day generally begins at 0600 and I work until 2100, and am on call throughout the night to handle any situations that may arise. For example, the Elephant Hill wildfire was hit with unexpected easterly winds last night that blew out containment lines on the western flank, resulting in tactical evacuations of ranch properties near the village of Clinton at 2200 hours. So needless to say, I am drinking a lot of terrible firecamp coffee right now.
There’s no general formula for my job as there are constant changes and news issues arising. However, my tasks are roughly split into three segments: community outreach (town hall meetings, working with First Nations/RCMP/industry/stakeholders/local governments), media relations (if you’re in BC, you have probably seen me on TV a lot this summer… sorry my hair is always a mess), and situational awareness-related internal government communications to keep a coordinated approach to wildfire response operations, as well as to community and environmental impacts. The latter portion is where the MPPGA policy focus comes in with lots of briefing notes being sent to the Minister’s Office, as well as transition notes for the incoming government. This job is an incredible challenge – professionally, emotionally, and physically, but it’s very rewarding – and we hear the PM is coming for a fireline tour next week, so I’ll let you all know what those lovely locks smell like.
Mitch Hulse – Fellow, Digital Impact Alliance at United Nations Foundation
This summer, I have been working with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) on information communication technology and international development policy research. DIAL is hosted by the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC and works toward building a global digital inclusive society by unlocking digital services for the world’s most vulnerable populations, harnessing data for development (D4D), and catalyzing social innovation in emerging markets.
Today, an estimated three billion people have internet access. By 2020, more than four billion people will be connected to the internet—a majority of this growth will happen in low and middle-income countries. As more users join the global digital community, development organizations—from donors, government agencies, and implementers in the field—will be dealing with more data.
Oluwatoyin Onabola – Sustainability Scholar, Energy and Environmental Sustainability @ BC Fraser Health Authority
I am interning with the Energy and Sustainability unit of BC Fraser Health Authority as a Sustainability Scholar under the UBC Sustainability Initiative. Against a background of growing concerns about environmental impacts produced from operations in hospital pharmacy and medical imaging procedures, I am championing the project- ‘Greening Pharmacy and Medical Imaging,’ and researching environmental opportunities in Lower Mainland hospital Pharmacy and Medical imaging departments in relation to improving efficiencies in energy savings, waste and toxicity reduction, waste diversion and product reuse, recycling and appropriate disposal of waste. An overarching objective of the project is to evaluate current practices and identify existing gaps while benchmarking current practices with best practices in health care waste management.
In achieving this objective, I conducted interviews with frontline hospital staff and waste audits to identify high-volume products, packaging materials and operations that generate the most waste and their corresponding sources. Aside from researching waste reduction opportunities, interview questions also uncovered waste diversion challenges and opportunities around reuse, energy savings, medication and waste disposal practices as well as their recycling practices. I also dealt with the interview respondents to identify opportunities for low-hanging pilot projects that can be adopted to test the waters before embarking full throttle on implementation across facilities. Moreover, upstream considerations, which entails working with product and waste vendors, manufacturers and distribution centers, purchasing groups and units’ head in facilities, were also given attention so as to develop a stakeholder-wide environmentally preferred procurement policy and develop alternatives in case of products generating high volumes of waste or becoming a no-go for recycling. It is hoped that the project will help pharmacy and medical imaging departments in health facilities in the Lower Mainland reduce their ecological footprint and promote stakeholders and partnership development for the implementation of best practices in healthcare waste management.
An interesting challenge at the start of the project was to waddle through a number of questions around the project strategy and operations in the two health departments being researched; from ferreting out how decisions are made, who makes them and who needs to approve, to how should we approach them, how do we frame the issue to get a buy-in, and how do we get our information down to each level of impact at the facility level.
The co-op term has been memorable and I consider it a lofty opportunity to have garnered hands-on skills around waste management in health care. I have been armed with learning outcomes on how to process and apply the entire waste hierarchy to a waste management plan in the context of a lean strategy around ‘reducing, reusing and recycling’ waste and supporting a zero-waste and resource efficiency sustainability outcome. Moreover, I have honed my stakeholders’ communications and engagement capacities and use of survey tools. I have also gained hands-on experience in corporate report writing, designing and using infographics to concisely represent an idea.
It will interest you to know that I have just altered my stream of specialization in the MPPGA program from ‘Social Change and Development’ to ‘Resource Management and Environmental Sustainability.’ The past weeks in the co-op term have been an eye-opener in bringing me to a deeper understanding of how the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘climate change’ connect with health and health care and getting me to seeing opportunities in connecting the terms to my professional and background experiences in health care. It has also imbued me with a ‘third eye’ for insights into possible career adventures of interest to me for the next one year. In addition, it has provided a careful guidance and a reflection in choosing courses for the next school term as I ensure that I do not just indulge in mere academic exercises, but selected courses that can be potentially applied and adapted to my future career interests.
Sarah Froese – Policy and Program Officer with Governance and Partnerships in Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
This summer I had the opportunity to work in Yellowknife for my co-op placement. Like many of the people I’ve met here, I’m not from Yellowknife, or even the north (although coming from Winterpeg has given me some mean tolerance for extreme wind chill temperatures). However, as someone who wants to work in the public policy sector – and as a Canadian, I felt it was important for me to expand my points of reference beyond Manitoba and British Columbia.
Since I joined Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of the people, places, history, and political characteristics that make the Northwest Territories unique. I’ve also taken part in Canada’s activities regarding aboriginal self-government and the implementation of agreements.
During my time as a Masters of Public Policy student at UBC I have been developing an interest and understanding of aboriginal governance in Canada, and the evolving relationships between the people and political entities involved. I’ve also been challenged to turn inward and examine my own position in this relational policy space. Deciding to work with INAC over the summer is part of my efforts to explore how and where I can positively contribute, and gain an understanding of Canada’s approach to Indigenous Affairs.
As I reflect on this experience thus far I can say that I’ve made considerable gains in my understanding of the north, and of the actors and systems at work here (although of course there is much more to learn).
My position allows me insight into Canada’s approach to different issues through attendance at meetings and access to processes and projects in different stages of development. It provides a rich learning environment in the form of many expert co-workers and external representatives, as well as training opportunities through the Canadian School of Public Service and the wide variety of key policy documents on hand. Basic exposure to “how the government works” has also been a helpful part of my experience.
Although Ottawa is a/the “policy hub” for Canada, my conceptualization of Yellowknife suggests that this city plays a similar role for the territory. It is easy to feel immersed in an active and complex policy environment when such a large part of the workforce is engaged in governance-related activities. This provides for both formal and informal exposure to and interactions with people representing many different organizations, interests, and opinions. Not only is working in Yellowknife a good way to gain a better perspective on the north – it also provides a unique environment in which to learn about new and interesting policy, often in a very hands on way.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the warm hospitality of everyone I have met here. On a professional level, I have never felt more at ease networking with people in and outside of my office. Personally, it has meant that even if only for a short time, Yellowknife has felt like a second home.
Henry Shum – Summer Intern Chinese Community Library Services Association
The Chinese Community Library Services Association (CCLSA) is an organization located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside originally dedicated to providing a social space for Chinese-Canadians. It has gone through ups and downs over the years and is currently facing financial difficulties. Part of my job was to write a lengthy grant application for the CCLSA, asking the government to provide funding for a technology program designed to train seniors in using laptop and desktop computers programs like Microsoft Office and Photoshop.
The task was exceptionally challenging, especially after taking into consideration that the library has failed to get approval for that grant for several years in a row. Writing the grant application forced me to hone a skill I was lacking: thinking from the perspective of a social group that I do not identify as. If I was a senior citizen in Canada who had difficulties communicating in both official languages, how would I convince public officials that learning to use new technological tools is not too late for me? I tried to go in the direction of illustrating the program as indirectly preventing social isolation, because I felt that perhaps public policy that leads to the spontaneous formation of such groups would have enormous intangible benefits for the community.
Currently the CCLSA provides technological help for senior citizens learning to use applications like WeChat and Facebook on their mobile devices. Part of my job was substituting for their teachers and the experience has made me realize how an activity that seems small in numbers can have great social impact. Learning to use technology for the purposes of social networking strengthens the relationship with friends and family who live a long distance away from you, and senior citizens seem to place a high premium on being able to use social networking applications by themselves.
In handling the library’s more technical tasks, I’ve often had to cooperate with my coworker. She has the tendency of coming up with ideas and solutions that I couldn’t come up with independently, and I found the complementary nature of our work relationship to be extremely rewarding. I find that it’s usually healthy for people with different perspectives on an issue to collaborate, because debating the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal is key to crafting good policy. If we had echo chambers that didn’t tolerate disagreement and dissent, we would be ignoring the qualms of many stakeholders.
The politics both within and between non-governmental organizations (NGO)have been made clear to me this summer. For example, the strategy for the grant application involved a sharp difference in ideology between the Treasurer of the CCLSA, who I directly work under, and another member of the CCLSA’s board of directors. The Treasurer felt that the grant application should build on a previous program that successfully got approved for a grant in the past, while the other board member was quite insistent on coming up with an entirely new program, because the government might pay more attention to an application that seemed unique and innovative on first sight. I actually agreed more with the board member, but by the time the quarrel sprung up, the application deadline was closing in and significant changes could not be made to the application. There was also some disagreement with another NGO while I was here after the CCLSA invited both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China to their annual fundraising dinner, the primary source of the organization’s income.
Finally, as a reminder of my involvement with the CCLSA, I decided to get a book from the organization that provided a literary analysis of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the great classics of Chinese literature. I now realized that it was quite pertinent to the MPPGA program, because the chaos described by Romance of the Three Kingdoms is as apt outline of the political problems that plague society, and only effective public policy in the domestic and foreign front can establish some sense of order and tranquility.
Elisha Connell – Student Intern, Education and Strategic Initiatives, Conference Board of Canada
My time at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa has been framed with contrasts. From snow flurries and freezing temperatures on my first day of work in May, to soaring heat and humidity in the weeks since, I have been given a taste of seasonal extremes. Similarly, transitioning from Canada’s West coast out to the East for the summer has brought the opportunity to experience two worlds with different histories and influences.
Climate and regional differences aside, my role at the Conference Board has provided a great chance to strengthen my skill-set in a new area of work, to build connections, and to dive into a range of Canadian policy issues.
The Conference Board is Canada’s largest think-tank and acts as a credible source for evidence-based research on economic trends, public policy issues and organisational performance. My role at the Board has been with its Economics division, in a team focused on education and immigration policy – a position in which I’ve had the chance to work with a talented team of researchers on a variety of projects, and explore issues ranging from gender equity to Indigenous language preservation.
Seeing how broadly education and immigration policy intersects with a wide range of issues has been insightful and has offered the opportunity to gain a more in-depth appreciation of how particular issues affect Canada. It’s been a valuable window of experience so far and I’ve particularly appreciated the chance to build skills in a new area of work.
Keskine Owusu Poku – Sustainability Scholar, Co-Policy Researcher – VOICE 4 project @ UBC Okanagan
The VOICE project started on the UBC Okanagan Campus in 2006 as an initiative by Health & Wellness. VOICE uses multi-faceted approaches like Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CB-PAR), student and nonstudent partnerships, and health promotion strategies to identify community health problems, solutions, and promote healthy living. VOICE works proactively with students, faculty, and staff on important health issues in the University community through a scientific research process, with the intention of affecting policy, environment, and culture, thus fostering a health-promoting University.
VOICE 4 is the fourth in this longitudinal campus health research study. As part of the primary goal of VOICE to facilitate and promote healthy living, lifestyle, and practices on the UBC Okanagan campus through the development and design of a health-promoting campus, VOICE 4 sought to assess how various factors of the campus environment (social, physical, financial, organizational, cultural, spiritual, academic, historical, policy, etc.) affect the mental well-being of students, staff, faculty, and other residents on campus.The identified factors on campus are sometimes created, impacted, and sustained by UBC Okanagan policies. These policies have both positive and negative implications on the mental well-being of campus community members. The VOICE 4 project engaged campus community members to contribute to the identification of these factors and the evaluation of related policies.
My role in the VOICE 4 project was to assist with the coding of the qualitative data and develop a framework for policy scan and analysis. The fundamental goal of the policy scan and analysis was to serve as a guide in the delivery of a timely workable policy framework, and complete the policy analysis of identified UBC Okanagan policies to support the VOICE 4 project.
The research project was very educative and insightful. It broadened my understanding and interest in research methods, improved my interviewing skills, and afforded me the opportunity to directly put to practice the policy tool kits learnt in class in the first year. It was a blissful opportunity!