Over a year ago, before I even knew what CMNSU was, Andrea Blendl and I once sat over coffee and discussed whether a Communication major would be a good fit for me. Now, in the serendipitous way that the universe works, I again find myself having coffee across from Andrea, and again asking her questions about her Communication experience.
For Andrea, the decision to join FCAT was largely random – a suggestion from a friend led her to look into it and discover that she liked the diversity that it promised. She would have no idea that it would lead to an immensely fruitful career and some amazing co-op and travel experiences.
Andrea Blendl has been a Communications Assistant at CBC and Promotions Coordinator/ Assistant Promotions Director at Bell Media, big name communication companies that may seem like a dream job to some students. But recently, Andrea has decided the corporation lifestyle isn’t necessarily for her, and she is venturing off into something of her own. She is living proof that you do not need to follow the traditional path: you can make your career (and your university experience) work for you.
K: So I see you’ve worked at CBC and Bell. Can you tell me a bit about those positions?
A: I was at CBC when we last spoke, then since April of last year I was Assistant Promotions director for Bell Media. But my roles at CBC and Bell/CTV were very different. At CBC, I was mostly doing the marketing and branding of all the CBC radio brands in Vancouver to the public. Everything from social media, to blogging, to press releases and media releases. Whereas at CTV and Bell, my job was promotions, so creating on-air and on-site promotions for clients, whether they were paid or non-for-profits.
K: And now you’re starting something of your own. Can you tell me about that?
A: Last week was my last week at Bell, and now I’m looking at going off on my own. I’ve been doing some consulting and marketing for mostly small, local food start-ups. I think my goal is ultimately to go in the food industry, so I’m just taking time now to explore opportunities that are out there and take a chance.
K: Is there a reason you’ve decided to branch out and start on your own?
A: I’ve always wanted to be self-employed, because I’ve wanted the flexibility of creating my own schedule and doing the projects I wanted to do; I’ve always been passionate about small local businesses, supporting local farmers, creating healthier lifestyles. I think a little bit had to do with parts of my job I wasn’t super happy with, and I’m lucky enough that I’m in a position now where I can take a gamble…. working for corporations like CBC or Bell is a very structured, very 9-5, Monday to Friday job. That’s sort of why I wanted to go out on my own. I wanted to work on my own schedule.
K: Is it not daunting though, starting something completely new?
A: Yes. It’s terrifying. Absolutely, it’s daunting. But I won’t know until I try, right? There’s no pathway to what you’re supposed to do when you’re off on your own. But I think when you’re young enough you can take that risk, so I might as well do it now.
K: How do you keep yourself inspired and generate new ideas?
A: Hmm…I talk to people. I go to coffee with old coworkers, stay in touch with old bosses. I just stay in touch with people who I find are smart and ambitious and creative. Having conversations will open new doors, and anytime someone says “you know, I have a friend you can talk to”, go for it. It doesn’t hurt to know more people, doesn’t hurt to gain new perspectives. Surrounding myself with people who I find are inspiring…that keeps me motivated.
K: So speaking of that, how important would you say that connections are?
A: How important are they? Extremely. I would say it’s hugely important. At least in the media industry where I ended up, it’s very much about who you know. It’ll get you a lot farther sometimes.
My coffee date with Andrea was an illuminating experience. Like so many of our alumni, she stresses the importance of practical skills beyond the reach of academia. She speaks of the increasingly high expectations of the 21st century media industry: the expectation to be a “jack of all trades”, to be amazing not only in communication, but to also be computer and software savvy, to have design skills, to be all-around proficient in the field that you’re working in. For this reason, she says that taking a minor, whether it be sustainability, computer science, or a language, can help.
This is precisely why she joined Co-op: “I didn’t think I was going to get the skills through my academic courses to be able to go out in the world and apply for jobs that I wanted. So if there’s anything I would want students to take away from this, it’s definitely to do Co-op or study abroad. You will never regret it. You may not have the best Co-op, but you’ll still gain something: you’ll make connections or find something to rule out for the future.”
Most of all, what I have taken away from Andrea is the idea that taking chances and asking for help go hand-in-hand. Don’t forsake one for the other. She laughs when she tells me about the amount of times she shadowed the offices of the Co-op advisors for their help, and the ways in which she got creative in university (she managed to turn a Co-op term into course credits, and also sneakily find a way for an international university to pay her to study there!). But it’s hard to do any of this on your own. “You’ll find that in the industry, everyone had to get help from someone to get to a certain point. Most people are pretty good at trying to help back. You’d be surprised the response you can get when you just ask.”
It’s important to realize that sometimes we get so bogged down by our present lives that we may lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s easy to get boxed in, too focused on what courses you need to take and what grades you have to get. But it doesn’t need to be like this: “Make university what you want. Learn what you want. After all, isn’t that what your degree is about?”
So take that minor. Do that travel-abroad. Meet people. Do co-op. Make your university experience your own. And absolutely take risks, like Andrea does…but absolutely don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
–Kasia Cookson, Alumni Relations Coordinator