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My Experience as a Build a Dream Co-op Student

By: Elisa Quaggiotto

Nour, Haley and I attended Local Leaders. What an amazing event where we got to hear from Local Leaders (including Nour) about their leadership journey.

Being a Cooperative Education Student has to be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences that I have ever had. I have had the opportunity in the past 3 months to see a grassroots non-profit organization not only grow but thrive. And can I just say what a whirlwind.

From just a regular day in the office, to filming and editing a grant proposal in one Sunday afternoon, to going to conferences and driving halfway through Ontario in one day. Can I just say how lucky I am to be working for an organization that not only values the mission they stand for, but values me and my leadership journey.

My experience as a Build a Dream co-op student started the day after I came back from Vancouver for Enactus Canada’s National competition after winning 2ndplace for The Liberty Project’s Financial Literacy contributions to the community. To say I was absolutely ecstatic is an understatement.

I jumped straight into work. Not only was it my first day, but it was the first day that Build a Dream could finally say that it had an office space to call its own. It might have been a small closet-like space, but it was our closet. And it was a very BIG day!

These are the first 2 pieces of office furniture I built. Trust me, it may look pretty now, but wow those instructions are difficult to understand.

I got to meet my co-workers, the president, and I got to build our entire office. And let me tell you… for a girl who has NEVER built anything in her life- it was the ultimate test. I built those Ikea desks and shelves, not with ease, but I built them.

When I first started digging deeper in the statistics of women in underrepresented fields, I didn’t realize how bad it actually was. The statistic that stands out in my mind is “women make up less than 25% of CEO’s and c-suite leaders in Canada.” I remember being astounded. I didn’t realize that under-representation of women in key roles was that bad. That is the moment I decided that I wanted to help grow this movement the best that I can. This is the moment when my term changed from four months to one year. 

From the time I started to now, Build a Dream has almost tripled in size- in every single aspect. From the number of employees there are, to the number of events we are hosting next year, to our new office space… EVERYTHING HAS TRIPLED. 

I want to help the #DreamTeam show girls that “YES, you can do it, and YOU will do it!” I want to be a part of a NATIONWIDE movement, furthering women in our society and shifting perceptions that is embedded into our everyday lives.

-Elisa Quaggiotto
Thomas Friedman at True North in Kitchener Waterloo.

Build a Dream has offered me so many new experiences. I was so fortunate to accompany Nour, President and Founder of Build a Dream, to “Jill of All Trades” in Kitchener-Waterloo where I was able to expand my network with professionals and young women in the area. There, I met Mandy Rennehan, the Founder of FreshCo (not the grocery store). She taught me that people may knock you down, but you have to keep fighting to have your voice heard. I was able to see first-hand that if young women are given the opportunity, they WILL succeed in any pathway they choose. This revelation makes me so excited for Build a Dream’s Career Expos across Ontario in the Fall.

I was also able to go to True North, my first professional conference, where I connected with tech leaders. At this conference, I was able to hear from influential people such as Thomas Friedman. I connected with industry leaders that value the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace as much as Build a Dream. It is through those connections that Build a Dream is able to keep doing the valuable and phenomenal work it does. 

That same week, Nour and I travelled halfway through Ontario for numerous meetings and banquets. I am so fortunate to have an employer that sees the value in giving students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that very few people get to experience. That was the best professional development I could’ve asked for and it motivated me to do more for Build a Dream. 

Jana (Grade 11 Co-op Student from Vincent Massey Secondary) and I in our first office space.

Build a Dream is constantly teaching me new things. I have to say that I have learned more in my two months with Build a Dream than through my two years in University. Lectures and Professors can only teach you so much- but once you enter the “real-world,” you begin to realize that learning through doing is the best teacher. Sure, I have made mistakes, but everyone will. That is the learning process. I believe it is how you pick yourself up from those mistakes and move forward that make you a better learner and a better person.

If you told me a year ago that I would be working for my dream organization for an entire year, I would’ve laughed at you. In my life, I have never taken many chances. But the value that Build a Dream is having on the mindset of young women, of industry, of educators, and of society is ultimately the reason I have chosen to stay on board. 

My first professional business cards!

Cooperative Education at Build a Dream is more than just what meets the eye. Yes, its long hours and a lot more responsibility. But in the end, you are making a difference in the life of a young woman who couldn’t see herself in a career pathway just because she felt that she didn’t belong there. And that is what makes everything worth it.

Since I began my journey, my eyes have been opened. I see the value of being a part of something bigger than myself and that is Build a Dream. I want to help the #DreamTeam show girls that “YES, you can do it, and YOU will do it!” I want to be a part of a NATIONWIDE movement, furthering women in our society and shifting perceptions that is embedded into our everyday lives. I want to show young women that anyone can be a leader, no matter your age or frankly, your gender. I want to be a voice for my community in any capacity I can. 

And I can do that right here at home with Build a Dream.

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