Story by Jess Werb
Life after graduation can take many paths, as careers blossom and opportunities unfold. Sometimes, those paths lead to new shores and experiences—and for Bachelor of Management (BMGT) alumni Susana Baez and Ryan Conneely, their journeys turned out to be round trips, leading back to where their post-secondary experiences began.
Baez, a 2013 graduate and an Associate Recruiter in Student Recruitment and Advising at UBC’s Okanagan campus, arrived in Kelowna in 2009 as an international student from Ecuador—thanks to a high-school visit by a UBC recruiter. “I had never heard of UBC before that, but she gave a presentation and it left a lasting impression,” she recalls. “I remember thinking how beautiful the campus was, and being impressed by the university’s rankings. My dad is in business, and that always interested me, so I was drawn to the Bachelor of Management program at UBCO. I liked the size of the campus. It was a really good size, not super overwhelming, but big enough that it felt like a great opportunity.”
A peer mentor to other international students during her undergraduate studies, Baez threw herself into the university community, even running for student council and taking part in university governance as a Senator at Large for the UBCO Board of Governors. After graduation, she landed a position with international corporate-apparel firm Cintas, where she had taken part in a previous summer internship. Over the next seven years, she explored a number of different roles within the organization, moving from Kelowna to Langley, and back again.
“I went from being a management trainee to a sales rep, I did some customer service, I was an HR assistant, and then my last role there was in their catalogue and marketing department,” says Baez. “I really enjoyed it, but during my last year in that role, I realized that my interests were somewhere else, and I missed the university atmosphere. I knew that I wanted to go back to university either to pursue a master’s degree or to work there.”
“I really enjoyed it, but during my last year in that role, I realized that my interests were somewhere else, and I missed the university atmosphere.”
Perusing career postings at UBCO, one, in particular, caught her eye—recruiter. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have any recruitment experience, but I’ll go give it a try, and hopefully my other experience will help me.’ I’m grateful that it did end up being a great fit for me.” She was hired in August 2019, and hasn’t looked back since.
For Ryan Conneely, Event and Project Manager with UBC Okanagan Aboriginal Programs and Services, life at UBCO has been an almost seamless transition from student to employee. The 2018 BGMT alumnus first arrived in the Okanagan from Abbotsford, where he joined the Aboriginal Access program to upgrade his credentials before entering the Bachelor of Management program.
“I was looking for a degree that could technically be applied to any sector or niche,” he explains. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I went into it open-minded, not really knowing where I wanted to go. I was hoping that the university would kind of direct me on a path that I wanted to go.”
What ended up steering Conneely’s path, as it turned out, was the vibrant Indigenous community he discovered at UBCO. “I’m a member of the Métis Nation of B.C., and I was heavily involved in the Aboriginal community on campus,” he recalls. “Aboriginal Programs and Services always had events going on, and opportunities to get involved. I would hang out at the Aboriginal Centre in between classes, volunteering and helping out.”
In his third year of studies, Conneely was invited to become a peer mentor, and never looked back. “The Aboriginal Center was probably the reason that I was able to graduate, and it’s definitely the reason I was able to be successful in my first couple of years as a student,” he remarks. “I felt becoming a peer mentor was an opportunity to give back to other students, so I jumped into it.”
As a peer mentor, Conneely worked with incoming self-identified Aboriginal students, hosting social events, building community among the students, answering their questions and providing support. Just as the Aboriginal Programs and Services had provided him with a place of connection with his own Indigenous heritage, Conneely found himself doing the same for others, and through this work discovering a sense of purpose.
A 16-month co-op education experience with TD Canada Trust took him off campus to learn and apply his skills and knowledge between his third and fourth years. “That provided me with the opportunity to learn more about my passions and explore what career path I wanted to go down,” he says. “The co-op term also provided me the opportunity to enhance my professional skill set, learn from professionals in the workforce, and build to my network.”
He resumed his peer mentorship role and close connection with the Aboriginal Programs and Services throughout his final year of studies. Then came graduation—and, two months later, another opportunity. “Someone from Aboriginal Programs and Services reached out saying, ‘We have a position open and I think it would be a good one for you to apply to.’ At the time I was working part-time at TD, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I know UBC and the department, I know the benefit to students to get them through some of the barriers they face. To be part of that, and to give back to students, was very appealing.”
Conneely admits that a career in post-secondary wasn’t an option that had crossed his mind before. “I don’t know if anyone goes to university thinking they’re going to work at that university at the end of it,” he says, with a laugh. “It was never anything that I thought was even possible. And here I am, just over a year later, and it’s the best job. You connect with students all day and share opportunities.”
In addition to supporting Aboriginal students through workshops and social events on campus, Conneely’s role includes connecting with the wider Indigenous community through events such as regular Elder circles, and helping organize a summer camp for Aboriginal youth in grades seven to 12. “It’s just so rewarding,” he says. “As a former student who was able to personally benefit from the services and resources, I’m really grateful to be able to provide those resources and opportunities to help others.”
The full scope of his journey, he says, was brought home when he hosted the Aboriginal student graduation ceremony this year. “Being at the graduation ceremony in 2019 as a student, to than hosting the graduation ceremony in 2020, felt surreal,” he says. “It felt like a full circle, coming back around. It’s definitely been great being back, and being able to help the community that allowed me to succeed in my education.”
“It felt like a full circle, coming back around. It’s definitely been great being back, and being able to help the community that allowed me to succeed in my education.”
As for Baez, who now spends her time connecting with prospective students across Canada (these days remotely), she finds herself regularly drawing on her own experiences when sharing all that both UBC campuses have to offer. “I’m super proud of graduating from here, and when I make presentations, I often start out saying that I’m an alumnus and that I graduated from UBC Okanagan with a management degree,” she says. “I love opening with that sentence.”