Work Terms Across Canada: Environmental Biology student Julia Mata heads to Ottawa

Tell me about you – what’s your program and why did you choose to study it? What career(s) are you currently considering?

I am doing a specialist co-op program in environmental biology with a minor in natural sciences and environmental management. I chose this program because I see the negative impacts that our lifestyles are having on the environment and I want to be able to help reduce that. After school, I want to work either for an NGO or the government doing research on the environment. I want to be able to contribute to the improvement of the quality of air, water and soil locally and globally. 

What drew you to your job with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities?

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is the voice for Canadian municipalities – representing over 2000 municipalities – so they make sure that municipalities are heard at the federal level. FCM’s largest program is the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), which is what I am a part of. This Fund is responsible for providing resources to municipalities and their partners so they can build more sustainable communities. My passion for the environment drew me to this role because I knew GMF was directly helping Canada become a more sustainable country. There are people with all types of backgrounds working for the Federation, which is why it works so perfectly to fit communities’ needs. I work mostly with the impact, research and performance team (comprised of 4 people, not including me), but I also work with my Jack Layton Fellowship team of 4. We also like to get input from other people at the Federation, so I often have a chance to meet with people in other departments. 

What do you do there?

My main role working is to collect data and write a report on the impact of GMF-funded transportation projects, tracking how many of them convert into a capital project. This helps the Green Municipal Fund see what changes they need to make their projects better fit the needs of municipalities. 

As a part of the Jack Layton Fellows team, we also have to come up with a project that has a youth component and relates to the Federation's goals. We decided that, for this summer, we would develop a plan to get the voices of young commuters around the country to show the importance of affordable, reliable and environmentally friendly transportation. This would help FCM with its campaign to get a permanent fund for transportation. This project is especially important and timely since the election is coming up. 

We're a pretty academically diverse group: the other Fellows are completing their graduate degrees in Masters in Public Administration at Queens and the other is in Engineering at Carleton. It’s definitely beneficial having a team with different backgrounds because we can all contribute in our own unique way to our project.

What does an average day look like for you right now?

I typically work from about 8:30am until around 4:30pm. I live really close to my work so I just walk 10-15 minutes to work each day. Plus, I live really close to downtown Ottawa and near the University of Ottawa, so I spend a lot of time outside and exploring new spots. I also play soccer for a women’s league on Wednesdays and I spend a lot of my free time reading books.

Right now, I’m working on collecting data for the report, so most of my day is spent contacting past applicants, reviewing responses that have been received, and preparing for further questions to ask during the interview stage. In July, I will be conducting phone interviews; following that, I’ll analyze the data and write the report. Additionally, I’ll have one or two daily meetings with my team or other staff to update them on my progress or learn more about FCM as an organization.

Were you excited to move to Ottawa? Nervous? Both?

At first, I was very excited; I’ve been to Ottawa a couple of times and it is a beautiful city. Then after getting over the initial excitement, I was very nervous. This was the first time I was moving out and it was 4 hours away from home. However, it is a great learning experience and I am glad I did it. One great feature about the area that I live in Ottawa is that it's very easy to catch a train home. I’ve been able to go home twice now, and my parents spent the weekend in Ottawa with me when I was moving in. 

What’s your experience been like living there so far?

It’s honestly been great. There’s always something going on in Ottawa, so I never get bored. I do get homesick sometimes and it has definitely been an adjustment from living at home. I found it helped to know the next date I will be going home, so that I can say to myself “don’t worry, there’s only 3 more weeks”. Also, I found that I would get sad about the things I enjoyed doing at home during the summer, so it would help to find things I enjoy doing here in Ottawa and it helped to learn more about Ottawa so it didn’t feel as much like a strange place.

That sounds like a solid plan. What are a few spots you’d recommend to other co-op students considering work terms in Ottawa?

I love to walk along the Rideau Canal since it is such a beautiful spot. I like to read and there are so many beautiful parks in Ottawa like Strathcona Park or Confederation Park that are perfect places to read or study at. If you are in Ottawa for the first time, Parliament and the Rideau Canal are great places to check out. Also, Ottawa is perfect for biking, so bring a bike if you can. 

What advice would you give to a student considering a work term outside of Toronto?

It’s important to try new things and not restrict yourself: you’re not moving away permanently, so at the very least, it will be a learning experience. In my mind, the most important part about co-op is to develop important skills and get experience you wouldn’t in a classroom; living on your own is a part of that. So I feel like it’s important to step out of your GTA comfort zone because that could mean missing out on valuable work experience.

 

Co-op Relocation Grant

Considering a work term outside of the GTA?

The Co-op Relocation Grant is a financial award of $250 available to Arts & Science Co-op students who secure a work term outside of the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area (GTHA).