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The making of a career

January 7, 2014 — 
Sylvia Massinon

Sylvia Massinon

Becoming a social worker changed how Sylvia Massinon sees the world. She has tackled tough subject matter when helping people, from suicide to sexual assault to homophobic bullying.

“We are all unique and diverse individuals and some of us face more barriers because of trauma we experienced or our identities. Being in social work and the work that I’ve done in my practicum helped me learn about that,” says Massinon, who graduated in 2013. “It really strengthened some ideas that I already had and gave me new ideas.”

That transformative experience began five years ago when Massinon was a first-year student and unsure about what she wanted to do in life. She sought advice from Career Services, a U of M centre where students get answers to career-related questions. They’re set to host Career Month, which includes an annual Career Fair Jan. 15.

Massinon calls the multi-faceted service a hidden gem. When she first walked through their door she had no idea what she wanted to be. “I was definitely not set on social work at the time. I didn’t know enough about it. I had toyed with the really common careers that I knew about, like teaching or general counselling,” she says.

Massinon attended a career-planning workshop, took several questionnaires designed to determine which field might be a good fit, and got help to navigate the requirements to enter the faculty. “What social work looked like really interested me.”

But it was only when she did her practicum that she knew she’d made the right choice. “It takes time and getting experience. The combination of (doing the) research, my volunteer experiences…all lead me in this direction,” she says.

That volunteerism included a position at the Rainbow Resource Centre, helping to host workshops in schools to prevent homophobic bullying. She also volunteered at Career Services, counselling other students through their PEER program and was later hired as a student career advisor.

Massinon spent a month in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, learning about Indigenous culture from elders during a field study program. And she went on a month-long service learning trip to Bangladesh where she met with locals – from duck farmers to young girls working in the sex trade – and heard about their struggles. “All the experiences in their own way were pretty amazing,” says Massinon, who today balances several jobs.

She is a social worker at two rural Manitoba schools in the Prairie Rose School Division, a crisis worker at Main Street Project, and a consultant at the Manitoba Urban Inuit Association. She also volunteers at Klinic as a sexual assault counsellor.

Her advice to current students? Aim to get a holistic, university experience and it will pay off in your professional life. “It’s not just about going to school every day and trying to get through the coursework.”

Elizabeth Boyle, senior career advisor at Career Services, agrees. During the 30 years she’s been with the U of M, she’s helped thousands of students find their passion. She insists it’s never too early to start the career-planning process.

They offer free career advising, workshops and programs. The latter includes the Career Mentor Program, which pairs students with working professionals. During an hour-long interview students can ask their mentor questions and find out what an occupation is really like. “I always say students should know what they’re getting into,” says Boyle, noting that career planning has become more proactive.

“The question isn’t ‘What do I do with this degree?’ It’s ‘What do I want to be and how can I achieve it?’”

Career development requires students to think about more than just completing the required courses. “It’s more of a process that we’re encouraging. So you work toward an occupational goal and support it with networking, summer jobs, volunteer experience, careful course selection,” Boyle says.

During Career Month, students can explore their interests, discover new options and learn more about Career Services through various events and programming – including resume and career sessions, and networking opportunities. Its premier event, the Career Fair, invites students to meet with employers recruiting for full-time, part-time, summer and volunteer positions.

Last year, more than 90 employers and over 4,000 students took part.

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