As he approaches the end of his last semester, Kulrajbir Singh Sandhu, the 2022 Co-op Student of the Year (CSOTY), is experiencing mixed emotions.
“I’m excited, but also a little sad about leaving school because I like being a student,” he says.
After 16 months working in computer science, he has a bright-eyed vision for his next chapter. “There’s a lot to be said about the collaborative process from beginning to end, but there’s nothing like the thrill of when a project comes to life.”
Remote work can be interactive and meaningful. “I was skeptical about going into a remote position because I wasn’t sure if I would learn as much as I would in person, but to my surprise, it was very fun. We were in these virtual offices, creating mini avatars and our desks and decorating it with stuff.”
Good management matters. “I appreciated my software manager. He has a PhD, and I look forward to working toward a PhD too. He guided me along the way, explaining why everything was getting done. He taught me a lot about how to act in a company and the professional execution of projects. It was a holistic experience for me.”
Putting people before a project. While Sandhu explored and executed several technical projects in his role, he reflected on how he cultivated and developed his interpersonal aptitude, key growth goals in co-op. He understood what it takes to manage a team, collaborate with others, and encourage and inspire others to ensure a depth of investment and engagement.
Learning by doing. Sandhu learned how to communicate and execute by taking responsibility for a project. “When I saw the project coming to life on the website and merged it to production, it was very fun.”
Every day is worth celebrating. Sandhu was in a lab session when Leanne Mihalicz, his co-op education co-ordinator, called him to share the news about his CSOTY award. They briefly chatted on the phone before Sandhu ran to her office to celebrate. “We talked for a while, which was really special. This was a true honour to be nominated and win, but every day is a gift. I’m trying to live a life you don’t need a vacation from.”
His co-op journey started with former co-op co-ordinator Nancy Bepple, who retired midway through Sandhu‘s first year. From there, Mihalicz took over. He credits both women as being critical to his success at different stages of his student life.
Mihalicz said: “As a co-op student, Kulraj is an ideal role model who continuously gives back as much as he gains. He is a great learner, always seeking opportunities for growth and knowledge, making him a fantastic mentor and leader, whether with his peers on campus, colleagues in his field, or the faculty and staff he engages with. While Kulraj’s co-op experiences have opened the door to many prospects, he has fearlessly leveraged these with great integrity.”
Change your outlook with experiential learning. Sandhu notes that his co-op experience improved his professional skill set and supported his personal and academic well-being. “I remember writing the essay and creating a portfolio for this award nomination, which clarified the impact of this experience. Being a co-op changed my outlook. I got so much advice, which helped me identify a long-term goal: earning my doctorate in computer science.” Sandhu received many insights about financial planning, how to apply for scholarships and navigating career prospects amid his education plans.
Mihalicz has been essential to this process, especially as Sandhu approaches a post-graduation transition. “Leanne has helped me traverse my way through what will be it for me after graduation regarding education and experience.”
Embrace the mistakes and enjoy the experience. “To be honest, I wouldn’t change a single thing, not even a minor detail from my past. I’m a big believer in fate and destiny — so everything that happened aligns with my life’s purpose.”
Advice to others. “Keep trying, keep applying for jobs. Get industry experience, earn extra money, network whenever possible, learn and bring those values into your academics. Ultimately, allow yourself to develop as a person.”
Plan your courses accordingly. “To me, co-op was the best thing that happened to me. I did one year of co-op, and I’m still graduating within four years of having started my degree because I completed additional courses per semester. So, it’s about course planning and forethought, especially in your first or second year. It’s a lot of work but worth learning so many new things.”
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