Category Archives: Co-op

Celebrating our Students: Awards!

In March, just before the cancellation of on-campus activities, the English awards committee was in full swing preparing for our annual Awards Ceremony. The English Awards are an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding work our undergraduate and graduate students have produced in the previous calendar year (for this cycle, January-December 2019). Certificates are given out, hands are shaken, photographs are taken, poetry is read, and faculty try to describe to the audience, in a few broad brushstrokes, the exceptional qualities of each student’s winning work.  The awards ceremony has always been a highlight of the winter term, celebrating its end in a convivial environment with English students, faculty, and the family and friends of award winners.

While the ceremony has been cancelled, we still wish to celebrate the achievements of our students.  To that end, we would like to take this opportunity to announce the names of the winners with our English community as a small way to ensure that our students’ talents and achievements get the recognition they deserve.

So, without further ado, this year’s award winners are:

Undergraduate Academic Awards
Albert Shaw Poetry Prize: Kurt Dutfield-Hughes
English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry: Philip Hohol
English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose: Kristie Shannon
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Sarah Casey
Rhetoric and Digital Design Award: Danielle Griffin
Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Jonathon Jackson
Walter R. Martin English 251 Award: Joyce Kung
Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize: Linhui Luo
Hibbard Prize for Shakespeare Studies: Rachel Zehr
Canadian Literature Prize: Eden McFarlane
Award in American Literature and Culture: Tristan Mills
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature Award: Wajiha Parvez
Masternak Foundation Undergraduate Scholarships in English: Philip Hohol and Julianna Suderman

Graduate Awards
Graduate Professional Communication Award: Marion Gruner
Rhetoric Essay Prize, Master of Arts: Jordan Kam
Rhetoric Essay Prize, PhD: Shannon Lodoen
Beltz Essay Prize, Master of Arts: Ryan Van Til
Beltz Essay Prize, PhD: Shannon Lodoen
Graduate Creative Writing Award, Poetry: Masa Torbica
Graduate Creative Writing Award, Prose: Chelsea La Vecchia
Masternak Foundation Graduate Scholarship in English: Jin Sol Kim
Jack Gray Graduate Fellowship Award: Zachary Pearl
David Nimmo English Graduate Scholarship: Lindsay Meaning

Co-op Awards
Undergraduate Co-op Work Report Award: Hanna Colbert
Graduate Co-op Work Report Awards: Carmen Barsomian-Dietrich and Pamela Schmidt

Teaching and Professionalization Awards
Lea Vogel-Nimmo English Graduate Professionalization Awards: Neha Ravella and Jerika Sanderson
TA Award for Excellence in Teaching: Valerie Uher
Independent Graduate Instructor Award for Excellence in Teaching: Hannah Watts

Pictured above: Masa Torbica, Danielle Griffin, Jin Sol Kim. Thank you to Dr. John Savarese and Dr. Andrea Jonahs for facilitating the awards. The awards committee would also like to offer a big thank you to our English office staff—Jenny Conroy, Tina Davidson, Deb Nahlik and Margaret Ulbrick — who do so much work behind the scenes, and all the faculty that served as adjudicators this year.

Alumna Kate Nichols: From Co-op to IBM

Co-op to IBM
Alumna Kate Nichols gives some of the best arguments for co-op I have seen! Her experience clearly led her to where she is today–read on to find out how it happened. –JLH

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to select UWaterloo English? Was it an obvious choice?
KN: I remember considering several schools. After researching the programs and taking a few campus tours, Waterloo was the top school on my list. I liked the size of the school — not too big, not too small. It felt like a University that was pushing the envelope and doing things a little bit differently with a greater variety of program options than several other schools. I didn’t seek out co-op, but once I became aware of the program and its benefits I was all in. I had a wonderful meeting with an Academic Advisor (thank you, Eric Breugst!) who helped me to select the Honours Arts & Business co-op program. From there, I found that the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing program was perfectly geared to my interest in communication, argumentation, visual design, and semiotics. Ultimately, the choice of Waterloo and English was obvious for me.

JLH: Some admit they found the idea of co-op intimidating. How did you find the transition from classroom to co-op?
KN: Apart from selecting my program, choosing co-op was the best decision I made for my undergrad. I remember the first round of interviews feeling quite stressful as I learned about the process and deadlines. Not to mention feeling a bit intimidated during my first round of interviews! Once I got the hang of it, co-op interview season was much less stressful. I was able to work at several amazing companies: Open Text, CIBC, Slipstream (startup), and IBM. Being able to rotate between school and work helped me to pay for my undergrad degree without going into debt. I was able to apply what I learned at school to work and vise versa. And school in the summer is the best! If you haven’t done it before, trust me, it is awesome.

JLH: What made you decide to pursue a Masters at UWaterloo as well?
KN: During my final semesters at school, I started to seriously consider a Masters. I really enjoyed my courses and felt like I wanted to go deeper. I had also developed connections with several of the amazing professors in the Faculty of English who encouraged me to apply. I ended up starting a full-time job at IBM after completing my undergrad and working for a year before starting a full-time Masters degree. I was able to work part-time at IBM and take on a really interesting Research Assistant position with Professor Randy Harris and Professor Sarah Tolmie. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed full-time school and two part-time jobs but somehow I made it work and had a really great year. My Major Research Project on multi-touch tabletop computing with Professor Neil Randall was a highlight of the year, as were the connections I made with my classmates.

Like my undergrad, I considered and was accepted to several different MA programs, but Waterloo again felt like the right fit. I did not take co-op during my Masters degree since I already had that experience from undergrad.

JLH: In what ways do you think your career trajectory has been shaped by your UWaterloo experience?
KN: I can’t tell you how often I connect with colleagues at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto who are fellow UWaterloo grads, several who are also from the English Rhetoric and Professional Writing Program. I think my experience at Waterloo taught me many things that serve me daily in my current role — communications strategies, basic visual design, writing and editing skills, speech communications, to name a few. It also taught me how to collaborate with others, juggle many different priorities (remember co-op season!), ask the right questions, and to be curious about the people and the world around me.

At IBM, I am part of a team of talented Content Designers working on our Data & AI portfolio. We are constantly looking for ways to help our clients use our newest technology to solve problems. This involves writing content, of course, but it also working with the Design team to provide design and content recommendations for the product UI, collaborating with the Development teams to understand what we are building and why, and educating people about the importance and relevance of content for our clients. In 2017, I was able to take on a management role and really enjoy working with my team and am learning how to be a good manager.

Outside of my core role, my passion project at IBM is the IBMSTEM4Girls program. Our mission is to inspire girls who want to make a difference in the world and encourage them to consider opportunities provided by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. We hold events throughout the year, with our most significant event being a technology camp we run each summer (2020 will be the 21st year we have run a camp at the IBM Canada Lab in Toronto!). We often have our student interns volunteer for IBMSTEM4Girls — some of them from UWaterloo!

JLH: And finally, the fun question! Can you tell us about your favorite books of the last few years?
KN: From a personal perspective, I could not stop reading North of Normal and Nearly Normal, written by Canadian Cea Sunrise Pearson. From a professional perspective, I have recently started reading Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow, by Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton. I can’t provide a review yet but it looks really interesting. And for reading to my children, I have to give a shout out to fellow grad Laura Baker and her books The Colour of Happy and My Friend Sleep.



Alumna Meredith Wagler on Making the Most of Co-op

Meredith Wagler
We hear this time and time again–the co-op program is a real draw for undergraduates. Here Alumna Meredith Wagler talks about co-op, as well as how she got the most out of it. Thanks to Meredith for participating! –JLH

JLH: Did you select UWaterloo English primarily because of co-op, or did you have other reasons as well?
MW: When I was choosing a university, UWaterloo’s co-op program was a huge draw for me. I knew I wanted to study English and work with words, so it was important for me to find a school with a solid English program. But I also wanted the chance to explore potential careers in English. When I told people that I was planning to study English, most would assume, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” I would explain that I wanted to be a writer, and I believed I had the chance to figure out what that meant through UW.

I also liked that UW offered two different streams for English students: Literature and Rhetoric & Professional Writing. When I first started at UW, I planned to take the Literature stream. But after I learned more about each stream, RPW felt like the better fit for me: a bit of lit, a lot of writing, and some very interesting courses.

JLH: How do you think co-op contributed to your career trajectory?
MW: With co-op, I could try out different kinds of work and discover what resonated with me. I worked at a summer camp (where I met my future spouse, incidentally), I tutored English at a college, and I tried both tech writing and marketing writing. This breadth of experience was key when I started to apply for jobs after graduation. I quickly found work drafting proposals for a local software company. And when I was ready for a change from that, I knew I had the skills, experience, and connections to move into another writing role. Throughout career changes, I’ve been able to adapt to new systems, procedures, and cultures easily, and I think that’s largely due to co-op.

JLH: What advice do you have for students about their co-op terms? Is there something you wish someone had told you?
MW: Talk with other students in your program, and find out which companies are giving students meaningful work. I had a couple of co-op jobs where most of my job involved copying and pasting. These experiences can be good opportunities to demonstrate initiative, but usually aren’t the best work experiences. Find out which companies are treating their co-ops like full-time employees, and make extra effort with those ones.

I’m now in the position where I mentor co-op students who come to work on our technical writing team at Oracle NetSuite. Our team aims to give co-ops a feel for what it means to be a full-time technical writer. Our co-ops are assigned to development teams and given full responsibility for a set of documentation during their time with us. I know how important this kind of experience is, so I want to help make sure the current generation of UW co-ops is getting the most out of their time with us.

JLH: When you think back to your classroom time, what stands out?
MW: I think of excellent, passionate professors. One of my favourites was Gary Draper, who taught Arts Writing. For that class, I wrote copy for a fictional Jane Austen festival–probably one of my favourite projects. Gary is now a neighbour of mine (the KW world can be very small), and he is as warm in real life as he was in the classroom. Aimée Morrison and Neil Randall were favourites on the RPW side. They had us designing websites, thinking about the relationships between text and image, and generally teaching us that the written word is still so very relevant.

Another highlight for me was summer terms. When I first started co-op, I thought that summer terms would be rough–who wants to be in school during the summer? But it turned out that those were some of my best times at UW. The feel around the campus was relaxed. My courses had fewer students in them, which made them more engaging. The walks to class were warm. You were more likely to find students studying on the ML patio than in the library. Some of my best connections at UW were made during those summer terms.

JLH: Finally, can you tell us about what is currently on your to-read list? 
MW: Oh, there are so many titles on my to-read list! I have a journal to track the books I want to read and rate the books I finish. I also listen to a podcast called “What Should I Read Next?“, and I’m always adding to the list based on that (it’s a bit of a problem). I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book on the go. For fiction, I just finished reading Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, and I would highly recommend it. A beautiful, heart-breaking, and powerful novel. For non-fiction, I recently finished the memoir Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey. Another five-star read. Up next, I’ve got Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey (The fifth book in the sci-fi series The Expanse. I didn’t know I liked sci-fi books until I started this series.) and The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Douglas Abrams. The order in which I read books depends on when a book is available from the library and whether someone else has put a hold on it. If there’s another hold on a book, you better believe I’m reading it fast.

Photo Credit: Camille Marie Photography

Alumna Sarah-Beth Bianchi: Co-op and Careers

Sarah-Beth BianchiSarah-Beth Bianchi made the most of the UWaterloo English co-op program. Read on to find out how she went from co-op at RIM to where she is now–Manager, Digital Transformation & Strategy, City of Kitchener–and how her UWaterloo experience helped her along the way. Thanks to Sarah-Beth for contributing to Words in Place!

JLH: I know it’s been a while, but I’m wondering if you can share why you decided on UWaterloo English?
S-BB: English class was always a favorite of mine in high school. So it seemed like the right thing to pursue in university. My Dad always gave me the advice to pursue a marketable skill, to make sure I had strong job prospects after graduation. When I discovered that University of Waterloo had such a strong co-op program, my choice was obvious. I could continue to study something I enjoyed, and also explore how to make a career out of it. It ended up being a perfect combo for me.

JLH: How do you think your degree prepared you for what you are doing now?
S-BB: Once I arrived on campus, I discovered the Rhetoric and Professional Writing stream for English. And the Digital Arts Communications specialization was launched shortly after I arrived, too. I’ve drawn on what I’ve learned time and time again – from argumentation (ethos, logos, pathos!) to information design, to the accounting and computer science foundations – it’s served me well during co-op terms and now in my career. Most of all, the variety and the mix of theory and practical studies have prepared me to be creative, empathetic, and adaptable.

JLH: In what ways did co-op shape your career trajectory?
S-BB: Co-op was critical to helping me launch and shape my career. While it felt overwhelming at times, interviewing a dozen or more times each term made it so much easier to tackle interviews when the stakes were even higher throughout my career. And being able to try out a few types of roles helped me figure out what I enjoyed doing, what I could develop into a career, and what I was really not interested in and wouldn’t succeed at. And not least of all, my first career position came as a direct result of a co-op position. I worked at RIM (what BlackBerry used to be called) and was able to work part-time and eventually take on a full-time position before I graduated. It was the career launchpad that allowed me to put down roots in Kitchener-Waterloo.

JLH: What was the pathway to where you are now? Is this where you imagined yourself?
S-BB: My career has been really varied. When I look back at everything I’ve done, I marvel at all the great opportunities I’ve had and all the ways I’ve been able to grow and challenge myself. I started in the Software Document team at RIM and took on running their single-sourcing content management system – everything from developing and delivering training for writers on the team and writing internal help docs, to troubleshooting the software and performing software upgrades. After several years with a rapidly growing team (we started as a group of about 20 and were over 100 when I moved roles!) I moved to the IT department as a system administrator for the internal social networking site. (Sort of Facebook meets Google Drive for the corporation.) RIM was nearly 20,000 employees, so running the software was no small feat. I quickly realized that software administration wasn’t my thing, so a year later I moved to the Global Learning department as a Program Manager for IT and other technical training. RIM was in the downturn by then, so when I went on maternity leave, I found a new role as a Technical Community Manager for the API Platform at Desire2Learn. I discovered that role thanks to a referral by a friend and former colleague from my Software Documentation days. (Networking and keeping in touch with people you enjoy working with is so important!) I moved positions a few times at D2L, finally becoming Product Manager of the Data & Analytics products. I then discovered a really unique opportunity and made the leap into the public sector doing business relationship management and technology strategy at the City of Kitchener, first as a Digital Transformation Associate and now as the Manager Digital Transformation & Strategy. The work I do now combines my technology aptitude, my IT background, my product & community management experience, and my communication & information design skills – all while making an impact on the community I’m raising my family in!

JLH: Finally, the fun question! Can you share what you are reading now?
S-BB: I just started The Ninja Daughter by Tori Eldridge. Before that, I finished reading Haben—an autobiography of a woman who shares her experience and insight as a deafblind person navigating her education, career, family, and social life in a sighted world.

Alumna Cherie Chevalier on Why Arts

Screenshot 2019-04-22 20.29.24
Did you know Cherie Chevalier, worldwide sales leader for marketing solutions at Microsoft, is also a UWaterloo English, Rhetoric, and Professional Writing alumna? Chevalier was recently interviewed for the Macleans article “Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree” addressing the desire for Arts graduates in industry. From the article:

In her industry, says Chevalier, “things move so quickly and the pace of innovation is so high that we need people who can think critically, react, solve problems and have that high level of intelligent agility and adaptability that will enable them to be successful in any role.” She says she looks for candidates who “can work with each other across groups and divisions . . . and are able to see things from other people’s perspective and who are able to communicate clearly and build relationships.” By those criteria, “liberal arts graduates are particularly well-positioned.”

For more see: Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree.”


Awards for Students!!!


awardI love this part of the year, where we celebrate our students. And of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg–there are so many wonderful students not named here. Thank you to everyone who participated, with especial thanks to Dr. John Savarese and Dr. Andrea Jonahs for coordinating, with the support of the staff in English to whom we are all, always, indebted. Read on to see who won what!

Undergraduate Academic Awards

English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry: Joanna Laurie Dixon Cleary

Rhetoric and Digital Design Award: Neha Ravella

Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Sara Akbarzadeh-Zahraia Kohan, Aarjan Giri, and Dylan Yip-Chuck

Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing: Eden McFarlane

Award in American Literature and Culture: Emily Pass

Canadian Literature Prize: Dinah Shi

Walter R. Martin English 251 Award: Abigail Hamann

Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize: Trenton McNulty

Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature: Judith Blasutti

The Hibbard Prize for Shakespeare Studies: Selin Elyay

Masternak Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship in English: Joanna Laurie Dixon Cleary and Hanna Colbert

English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose: Xin Niu Zhang

Albert Shaw Poetry Prize: Xin Niu Zhang

Graduate Academic Awards

Beltz Essay Prize, MA: Renée Belliveau

Beltz Essay Prize, PhD: Christopher Cameron (Honourable Mention: Lindsay Meaning)

Rhetoric Essay Prize, MA: Robyn Peers

Rhetoric Essay Prize, PhD: Devon Moriarty

Graduate Creative Writing Award: Hannah Watts and Evelyn Deshane

Graduate Professional Communication Award: Devon Moriarty, Lillian Black, and Danielle Griffin

David Nimmo English Graduate Scholarship: Ashley Irwin

Jack Gray Fellowship: Christin Taylor

W.K. Thomas Graduate Scholarship: Ashley Irwin

Co-op Awards

Undergraduate Co-op Work Report Award: Veronika Mikolajewski

Graduate Co-op Work Report Award: Andrew Myles

Teaching and Professionalization Awards

TA Award for Excellence in Teaching: Hannah Watts

Independent Graduate Instructor Award for Excellence in Teaching: Meghan Riley

Lea Vogel-Nimmo Graduate Professionalization Scholarship: Ian Gibson and Jin Sol Kim

More on our awards–including additional photos!–have been posted by Dr. Bruce Dadey on the UWaterloo English Department site.

Alumna Sara Kannan: Making a Difference


There are some students whose names you hear over and over, even if you’ve never taught them: Sara Kannan is one of those students. Read on to find out why we all know of her, how she made her co-op degree work for her, and how she is giving back to the department. Thank you to Sara for participating in Words in Place! –JLH

JLH: What made you decide to attend UWaterloo?
SK: It’s actually a pretty great story – I was born in Canada but moved to the U.S. as a child and grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. During Grade 12, I focused on applying to U.S. universities in the northeast so that I could be between my parents and my maternal grandparents in Waterloo, who I’m very close with. I never considered applying to university in Canada because I did all my schooling in the U.S., from Grades 1 to 12, and because all of my friends were also going to university in the same area. During spring break, I visited my first choice school in New York (on the way to Waterloo) and found that it wasn’t what I expected. We finished the week by visiting my grandparents in Waterloo, who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s because my grandfather was offered a professorship in the Pure Mathematics Department at UWaterloo. With my grandfather as a professor emeritus and all five of his children (including my mom) as UWaterloo alumni, I was persuaded to at least visit UWaterloo before ruling it out. I went on a campus tour and immediately fell in love – I was so sure that I wanted to attend UWaterloo that I actually declined all my acceptance offers to U.S. universities before applying to UWaterloo!

JLH: How important was the co-op stream to you in thinking about your potential future career?
SK: Co-op was essential to my career path. I initially applied to the co-op stream with the comfort of knowing that I could always change my mind later, but ended up completing four co-op terms. The skills and experience I gained in going through the job application process and working in a professional setting were invaluable and highly transferable. Additionally, I was able to try out several different jobs to find what I liked and what wasn’t a good fit for me, which helped me focus my efforts when applying for a full-time job post-graduation. Having about 1.5 years of full-time, professional experience in various jobs related to my degree (before I even graduated!) was absolutely necessary to finding a job in the “real world.”

JLH: Some people will know your name from our posts on awards ceremonies: you received numerous awards from the English department, including the Albert Shaw Poetry Prize, Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award, English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose, Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op Award, and others. Can you talk a bit about how those were important to you?
SK: Honestly, winning those awards meant the world to me. To receive tangible evidence in recognition of my writing abilities, from my professors and in front of my peers, really validated my confidence in my skills and the worth of my degree. I’ve known that I would be a writer since I was 6 years old, but not everyone has been supportive or encouraging. Winning these awards almost every year felt like proof that my lifelong dreams could become reality – some of them, at least (I don’t think that I’ll end up a princess, but hey, it happened to Meghan Markle!).

JLH: Fewer people might know that you decided to fund an award, and quite soon after graduating. What made this a logical choice to you?
SK: I became very passionate about postcolonialism during my time at UWaterloo, taking postcolonial literature classes and bringing postcolonialism into traditional literature/rhetoric classes. I started writing about things like magical realism as a method of resistance in understanding the Haitian Revolution or the Dreaming as a way for Aboriginal Australians to displace colonizers, but quickly noticed that my essays didn’t fit into any of the existing awards categories and couldn’t be submitted. Since winning awards was very important to me personally and professionally as an undergraduate student, I wanted to give back to the English Department and future students by filling the void.

Once I was no longer eligible to receive awards and in a position to pay it forward, I collaborated with the English Department and Sherri Sutherland from Arts Advancement to establish and sponsor the annual Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize. To me, the significance of this award lies in recognizing the importance, relevance, and pervasiveness of diaspora, transnational, and postcolonial topics – topics that are increasingly acknowledged, studied, and explored through a variety of methods and mediums, in an effort to understand our world and the people in it. My goal was to make the award as inclusive as possible to reflect the nature of postcolonial studies, opening submissions to essays and projects submitted by any student or professor, as long as it is related to postcolonial studies (which can be very broadly interpreted).

JLH: If you were to imagine your dream course in postcolonial literature, what texts would be on it?
SK: That’s a really difficult question, because so many texts (not just literature!) can be interpreted as postcolonial. I think the three most important books to establish the framework of postcolonialism as a literary theory are Orientalism by Edward Said (who is considered the founder of postcolonial studies); The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin; and Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. From the classes that I took at UWaterloo, my favourite texts to analyze were Frida Kahlo’s paintings, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Spanish flamenco music.

At its heart, postcolonialism is about intersectionality (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.) through the lens of historical imperial-colonial power struggles. Almost any text post-contact can be analyzed for these influences – I challenge everyone to find the postcolonial in their favourite text!