Written by: Raina DeBrouwer, Co-op Coordinator, Co-operative Education
Abbie Hodder had a mind for business and a will for advancement from a young age. Progressing through the aquatics ranks (a swim instructor, then a lifeguard, to teaching leadership programs, then teaching first aid) – all before finishing high school – Abbie knew she needed a new hill to conquer.
Abbie began looking into local post-secondary business programs. She had extensive leadership experience and an analytical mind, so figured business would be an excellent fit. She toured Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) and was attracted to the business administration program’s multifaceted approach.
“You get a breadth of knowledge of all the disciplines in business with this program. The degree is practical, with opportunities like the Learning Passport Program and Learners and Leaders Conference. Being able to diversify my knowledge and have an abundance of opportunities to take part in…I decided the Mount could be the place for me.”
A robust business administration program, paired with friendly staff and faculty as well as small class sizes, is what ultimately sealed the deal for Abbie: she was headed to the Mount. She decided to major in accounting given her propensity for problem solving and the opportunity for job security. Abbie also saw it as a way to avoid being pigeonholed: “You see different leaders in politics, management, and entrepreneurship that have a CPA designation, but they’re not actually working in a conventional accounting job. Having both a business degree and the CPA designation opens up a lot of doors for you.”
Although co-operative education isn’t a mandatory component of the business administration program at the Mount, Abbie decided to pursue it. Her rationale slightly differed from the typical one, in that she already had relevant work experience on her resume. “When I started at the Mount, I had several years of applicable work experience. Co-op was important for me to take because getting a job in accounting when you graduate is very competitive. Many students come out of university with strong GPAs and want to pursue the CPA designation. On paper, we all look the same. I needed something to differentiate myself when applying for jobs after graduating.”
Abbie’s first co-op was at the Mount’s Department of Business and Tourism. She’d seen previous students in the role managing the Learning Passport Program and planning the Learners and Leaders Conference, so she thought this would be a good opportunity to diversify her skillset. She pondered working in accounting, but knew summer is particularly slow for accounting firms.
It was a safe bet – after working in the position for two months, Abbie’s supervisors suggested that she do her second co-op there. Abbie was excited by the prospect of wrapping up her own projects, working more with faculty, and getting a great mix of public relations, management, human resources, and accounting experience. She decided to go for it. At this point, she held the position of President of the Business and Tourism Society, so she was able to work on initiatives that furthered both the department and the society.
Abbie prepared for her third and final co-op well before it began. She knew that when you pursue a permanent position in accounting, you start the application process a full year in advance. She went to a local accounting networking event, chatted with Mount grads she knew in the industry, and ultimately went to a BDO Canada information session at the Mount, where she applied for both a co-op and permanent position.
BDO appealed to Abbie because of its size. As a midsize accounting firm, BDO takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, allowing its team to own their projects from start to finish. The culture is one of flexibility and familiarity, something that also resonated with Abbie.
“My first interaction with BDO, I met a manager and partner. At a lot of larger firms, you don’t get that contact with partners regularly, let alone as a potential applicant. Now when I’m working, partners will sometimes come over and say, ‘How’s it going?’. That ability to communicate with higher levels of management is something you don’t see everywhere.”
Abbie kicked off her third co-op at BDO at a particularly interesting time. Winter is universally known as a busy season in accounting, and the January she started was no different. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The CRA adjusted tax filing deadlines, so Abbie pivoted from the momentum of busy season to working remotely while continuing to support BDO’s clients.
“I got to learn how the benefits the Federal and Provincial governments are offering were impacting Canadians. Taxes are changing. All these benefits are being rolled out on an expedited timeline. We had to quickly learn about the tax implications of the pandemic. I definitely got a lot of great experience.”
That experience was mutually beneficial, as Abbie is now a permanent employee at BDO. Her co-op work term solidified the knowledge that the firm was a good fit: “With co-op, you get to test the waters. I could have gone in and discovered BDO wasn’t for me, but instead the opposite was true. That’s the beauty of co-op. Having the opportunity to go into organizations and try diverse things. Co-op really gave me an opportunity to discover what was a good fit for me and what was not.”
That reason, among many others, is why Abbie recommends the co-op program to other business students.
“What you gain from the co-op program – the ability to go into workplaces as a student, the experiences you get — it’s invaluable. You get a list of jobs pertaining to your field of study and ongoing support from the Co-op Office. If something is happening, you can alert the co-op team to get help. They help you with your resume, your cover letter, and even set up a location for you to interview. They want you to succeed in your co-op position and will give you tools to do that.”
When asked what Abbie would recommend to those pondering the business administration co-operative education route, she’s encouraging.
“Give it a try. You’ll really be surprised by how valuable the program can be. When you’ve completed your degree and are working in a job full time, you’ll look back and think, ‘That was worth every single minute I spent on the job’. There are so many good experiences you’ll rely on later. At the end of your education, you can only remember so much from your coursework. But you will remember those co-op opportunities.”
Abbie graduated in November 2020, where she delivered the valedictory address to her class. Her speech was centred around themes of adaptability, perseverance, and resilience in the age of COVID-19. Abbie intends to further those values herself as she pursues her CPA designation and accounting career at BDO Canada.