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2023 co-op awards

What is co-op?

Co-op, or co-operative education, gives UVic students the opportunity to enrich their academic studies with paid terms working for employers in their field of study.

72 per cent of eligible UVic students take part in co-op and complete more than 4,100 work terms each year. 62 per cent of co-op students receive a job offer before graduation.

About the annual awards

Each year, UVic recognizes students and employers who have gone above and beyond through their participation in co-op.

Co-op students are nominated by their employers and co-op coordinators and are selected from our three major program areas, including Business, Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), and Optional and Professional Programs (OPP).

Co-op employers are nominated by their students and co-op staff for their outstanding efforts to mentor and support student learning.

Co-op Student of the Year recipients

This year’s recipients are making a difference across the country in their work in LEED-certified construction, environmental assessment, long-term patient care and the video game industry.

Isabel de Verteuil, MBA (Business category)

Isabel de VerteuilIsabel de Verteuil has a dual passion for the environment and data management and found a co-op work term that incorporated both while working as a strategic planning analyst co-op student with the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). The MBA student designed ways to assess the organization’s progress towards its strategic goals and created an organization-wide data management plan. De Verteuil made the most of her co-op experience by initiating coffee chats with members on her team and within the larger BC Public Services. Her enthusiasm was noticed; she was nominated for the BC Public Service Student Employee of the Year Award. She’ll join KPMG’s Environmental, Social and Government team this May.

My co-op term was a critical part of my MBA. It introduced me to work I’m incredibly passionate about—helping organizations design and implement sustainable and impactful strategy—and gave me the confidence that I could pursue a career in that work.”

Ethan Barillaro, civil engineering (ECS category)

Ethan Barillo wearing a hardhat, safety vest and glasses and work gloves stands in a work site with large metal pillars on each sideCivil engineering co-op student Ethan Barillaro knows how to make a positive impression—he landed a co-op work term with coveted co-op employer Bird Construction. Barillaro was hired to work on LEED-certified plans for a new HandyDart Bus Station in Victoria. He helped procure and set up agreements with trades and vendors and was a stand-out employee recognized for his initiative and positivity. He also offered support to fellow students who applied to work at Bird, leading to 7 students being placed over the past two terms. Bird is hoping to hire Barillaro for a second work term so that he can continue to take part in the HandyDart project

The co-op program allows you to see the purpose of the academic side of school. I recommend any student, within any field, to participate in the co-op program as it gives you an idea of whether or not the career is for you or not.”

Toby Murray, software engineering, entrepreneurship work term (ECS category)

Toby Murray during the summer in between terms in Marseille, FranceWhen Toby Murray chose software engineering at UVic, he had big dreams of applying his education to break into the video game industry. So when he started planning for a co-op work term, he took a leap to become his own boss and launched Xylem Studios. Murray reached out to UVic grad Dylan Gedig, founder of Red Nexus Games, who acted as his mentor. During his co-op term as a game studio owner, Murray launched a marketing plan and fine-tuned a playable demo of his game called Random Access Mayhem (RAM). Murray has been an incredible advocate of entrepreneurial co-op, presenting to students about his experiences in classes, forums and to student clubs.

The opportunity to pursue an entrepreneurial co-op had a major impact on my ability to start my company. I encourage anyone with drive and an idea to make use of the support provided by the university, and see that idea realized to the fullest.”

Nina Kanapi, MEd, educational psychology (OPP category)

Nina Kanapi wearing a black sweater fully buttoned to the top with her arms crossed standing outside on a lawn with a creek in the backgroundWhen Nina Kanapi, a mother of two with thirteen years of teaching experience, moved to Canada from the Philippines to pursue her Master of Education in Educational Psychology, she brought a strong passion for education and years of volunteer work creating developmental programs for youth with neurodivergent abilities and therapeutic teaching for families with terminally ill members. She completed her first co-op at Broadmead Care Society (BCS), a non-profit long-term care home for seniors, veterans, and adults with disabilities. Kanapi became the first co-op student at BCS to lead quality improvement projects, designing tools that are now used as performance success indicators. She leveraged her experiences and studies, focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion to ensure her approach to program delivery aligns with the organization's philosophy of person-centered care.

My co-op term at Broadmead Care was transformative, shifting my focus from classroom teaching to senior care and adult education. It ignited my passion for community development, emphasizing meaningful support and promoting person-centered care for those who have made immense contributions and continue to build our collective history. This experience has guided my career toward a future where I can make a meaningful difference."

Co-op Employer of the Year recipients

This year's award-winning employers, recognized in five categories, include a tie for employers with more than 50 employees, along with new co-op employers (hiring for less than five years), employers with fewer than 50 employees, international partners, and special recognition for outstanding support.

Thornhill Medical (New co-op employer)

The team at Thornhill Medical are changemakers in the biomedical field. As leaders in creating unique medical devices that transform diagnostic and therapeutic patient care, they also actively hire emerging talent. So when a UVic student reached out to Thornhill’s Manager of Electrical and Firmware Engineering Kirusha Srimohanarajah, P. Eng. with the hope of connecting with their dream employer, it’s no surprise that it turned into a co-op opportunity. Thornhill has since hired two UVic students and Srimohanarajah has become a dedicated UVic partner, regularly traveling to UVic from Toronto to guest lecture at UVic, take part in mock interview clinics and panel sessions, and lead information sessions with biomedical students. Supervisors like Kirusha are also making a major difference during work terms by empowering students to lead projects and fostering a supportive and collaborative team environment.

As a co-op employer, you can change someone’s life forever. Bridging the gap between the classroom and industry is a passion of mine. My desire in life is to inspire and equip the next generation of medical device engineers. If I can help them develop the experience to feel like they can contribute, then I will have succeeded.”

Focal (Employer with under 50 employees)

Focal team standing in a line smiling and mugging for the camera with a sense of camradry

Mentorship is a key ingredient to a successful co-op experience, and the team at Focal has it down to a fine art. Founded by UVic commerce and software engineering alumni Lachlan Shum and his business partner Jason Mah Ming in 2018, Focal develops website and booking platform software that provides professional photographers around the world with an online marketplace. Since 2020, the company has hired 12 commerce, writing and visual arts students in 14 co-op work terms.

I think what’s so special about hiring students is that early on in their careers, they aren’t sure what they’re capable of yet—a student’s first few work experiences will shape their self-perception."

Students are reaping the benefits of this approach and describe Lachlan as 'a leader who listens' and someone who encourages learning from mistakes.

Avalon (Employer with more than 50 employees)

six co-op students stand in a line against a frosted glass paneled wall facing the camera

As a local leader in creating energy efficient mechanical systems for HVAC, plumbing and fire suppression, Avalon Mechanical has been in action in Victoria since 1984. For the past 20 years, Avalon has also been a UVic co-op employer, welcoming 63 engineering, computer science and business students in the past 4 years alone. Students make significant contributions to company-wide projects, meet with clients, contractors and vendors and are welcomed into the company culture. In the past year, 5 co-op students have gone on to become full-time Avalon employees.

As a co-op, Avalon made me feel welcome and allowed me to grow at my own speed. The work was challenging and had a very steep learning curve, but no matter who you asked to help out, they were always very kind, and happy to work through problems. I never felt like I was 'just a co-op' and I was always treated as a full-time part of the team.”

VertiGIS (Employer with more than 50 employees)

Two VertiGIS co-op employees sitting at a conference table

Not every co-op employer embraces students who are coming into their very first work term, but VertiGIS has made it standard practice. The Victoria-based company develops cloud-ready, configurable software that helps all sizes of business benefit from the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and regularly hires UVic co-op students looking for their first co-op experience. VertiGIS has hired 130 engineering, computer science and commerce co-op students over the past 11 years for a total of 149 work terms. Each student is supported by a full-time employee, and technical managers provide training to help students further develop the skills to work in this field. The company also takes part in UVic’s Hi-Tech Fair and co-op training course. This investment has paid off; VertiGIS has hired 31 previous co-op students as permanent full-time employees, with 10 former co-op students employed today.

Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) (International partner of the year)

Co-op exchange students at Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University standing on an exterior covered staircase of an elaborately decorated building

Over the past 25 years, more than 95 UVic co-op students in 23 academic programs ranging from commerce to engineering to sociology have completed co-op work terms with more than 40 employers in Germany, thanks to a unique partnership with Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW). Beginning in 1998 with a co-op exchange between UVic and DHBW, the partnership evolved into a hybrid exchange in 2009, where German students complete study terms at UVic while UVic students complete co-op terms with employers in Germany.

In addition to placing students with employer partners like Audi, Airbus Helicopters, Carl Zeiss and VOITH, DHWB also partnered with UVic on a research project that studied the cultural intelligence gained by all students taking part in the program. The resulting paper, titled “Developing Global Ready Graduates: The CANEU-COOP Experience”, positioned UVic as a leader in cultural intelligence work in the world of work-integrated learning.

Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Special recognition for outstanding support of UVic co-op students)

Four co-cop students in protective medical caps, gowns, gloves and masks working in a medical lab
Co-op student Colten Hodak (bottom left), research technician Maximo Lange (upper left), biologist Danisa Bescucci (lower right, she was a biologist in the lab) and co-op student Adam Motz (upper right) collect histological sampling from some intestinal samples.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, or, AAFC, has a strong focus on science and technology, with a network of 20 research and development centres across Canada. From these centres, about 400 AAFC researchers work with producers, industry and academia to grow the country’s agricultural sector. 

This year, UVic is extending special recognition to two incredible co-op employers from the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre: Dr. Doug Inglis and Jenny Gusse, beloved mentors to 22 UVic co-op students over the past twelve years who tragically lost their lives while hiking in the Rocky Mountains last year. 

Doug and Jenny’s research sought to sustainably balance the health of people, animals and ecosystems by studying bacteria found in Canada’s agricultural systems. They were extraordinary mentors loved for their kind, courteous and immersive approach and encouraged students to contribute to scientific publications, expand their abilities and competencies, and participate in work experiences that spanned lab, literature, and field research.

Jenny Gusse and Dr. Doug Inglis

A Gusse-Inglis Memorial Fund is currently underway to create two scholarships: one for undergraduate students and another for graduate students involved in research projects and active in the community. The fundraising goal for the endowment is $250,000. “Doug and Jenny got to the heart of things by always asking, what are we here to do? We’re here now to carry on their legacy.”

Learn more about co-op

Have you had an amazing co-op experience? See how to nominate the next Co-op Student of the Year or Co-op Employer of the Year.