Growing Our Own in Fort St. John
While finishing her studies at UBC in Vancouver, Kimberly Zackodnik attended a ‘speed networking’ event for women in engineering.
“The format really helped clarify my goals,” says Kimberly. “I wanted to see something like this happening at my former high school in Fort St. John, because students – and even their parents – often don’t know how many options they really have for careers here.”
The city’s only high school, North Peace Secondary School, has excellent trades programs, but Kimberly’s vision was to increase awareness of the range of professional possibilities available. Even if they attend higher education elsewhere – as Kimberly and many others have – there are many choices for a future career path in Fort St. John.
With the help of Edward Stanford, Jaime Adam, Katrin Saxty and Chad Carlstrom, Kimberly jumpstarted the Growing Our Own event series as a Foundation-sponsored initiative in 2016.
“The first year, we put together an event at the high school with a focus on potential career paths for girls,” says Kimberly.
In 2017, they expanded the event to include all students, and moved the venue to the Lido Theatre. As word got out, “lots of people wanted to be part of it” and they extended their reach and diversity. For 2018, the number of people involved more than doubled.
“We had 41 different mentors,” says Kimberly. “We’re well positioned with networks in our community, and all were more than happy to partake.”
Urban Systems mentors included Josh Andrews (EIT), Will Fritzsons (civil technologist) and Julianne Kucheran (community planner). Kimberly’s mom, Tammy Gulevich (dental hygienist) and Travis Stretch’s wife, Emily (registered nurse) were also mentors.
“This was my second year as a mentor,” says Josh. “Each year has been a rewarding experience to engage with students and connect with other professionals in our community. It can seem daunting at first when so many students file into the room, but Kimberly had things very organized and the event ran smoothly. I felt like I was able to have a good conversation with the students I got to speak with.”
The online registration provided students with a Google form that showed each mentor’s photo and bio. They could choose up to five mentors to chat with, and Kimberly scheduled groups of 2 or 3 students per mentor to sit down together for a personal 15-minute conversation about anything related to the mentor’s career.
Participants were provided with a taco bar lunch. “It was catered by the wife of the Lido’s owner,” adds Kimberly. “She is involved with the Association for Community Living which has a supported employment program, and we felt this was another great way to give back to our vibrant community.”
There were over 100 people in attendance, including at least 60 students, plus teachers and school district representatives.
“It was a powerful moment for me to see how many people came,” shares Kimberly. “The Lido Theatre was full, and it was great to see all that happening. I really like being involved. It’s an opportunity for me to give back to students and help them to realize that there’s a lot that’s available to them. It’s powerful because it gets noticed and builds strengths in the community.”
“It was exciting to talk to students who were enthusiastic about starting their journey towards a career,” adds Josh. “I just hope my two cents were useful to them. I look forward to volunteering again next year!”
Feedback from students included: “It opened my eyes to new professions that I didn’t even think about” and “I got insight on things I couldn’t find out on the internet”.
Special thanks to Ila Sutherland for coordinating and organizing event details and reaching out to the mentors, and to Emily Anderson for designing the graphics, online forms and information.