Your future may be here, Kingston tells young alumni
Katherine (“Kat”) Donald-White, Artsci/PHE’00, and I are like lab rats in a sociological study.
We’re such rare specimens that the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO) and Queen’s have joined forces so that they can encourage others to follow in our footsteps.
What Donald-White and I see as ordinary, the University and KEDCO consider extraordinary: We’re alumni who chose to make Kingston home after graduation.
About five per cent of a typical graduating class are Kingston natives. That’s 150 to 200 students. But according to a recent survey, about nine per cent of senior students (350 or so) say they want to stay in the city after they graduate. However, census figures show that the city’s 18-25 population is declining.
Jennifer Massey, Director of Career Services, Research and Assessment, and Graduate Student Life, says Kingston’s declining youth population presents a challenge for the city. “Young Queen’s alumni are not staying here,” she confirms.
Put Kat and me under a microscope and you’ll find plenty of common denominators that could explain how we became part of the small group that Queen’s and KEDCO would like to see expand.
We both left our hometowns and came to Queen’s in 1996 and moved into Victoria Hall. I lived in room D304.
Kat lived on the same floor, on the same wing, just two doors down.
Early hypothesis? Our close proximity and shared-first year experiences must have played a role in our staying here once we had our degrees. But this is a faulty conclusion.
It turns out, we both chose a path that Queen’s and KEDCO are hoping more students pursue: We got internships with Kingston employers the summer after third year.
Two years ago, Queen’s and KEDCO collaborated on a study titled Creative Economy Challenges: Retention of Queen’s Graduates in the Greater Kingston Area. It found that Queen’s students have about as much interest in Kingston as a career centre as they do in missing out on an Oil Thigh – not much. But there was an exception: Students were more likely to have a favourable view of Kingston if they spent a summer in the city and connected with a local employer.
In third year, I was the editor of The Queen’s Journal, which has a partnership with the city’s daily, The Whig-Standard. I spent my summer working for the newspaper.
Kat’s summer experience was a little more exotic. “In Biology, in third year, we do a course at the biological research station at Lake Opinicon,” she says. “I met a woman there from the Environmental Sciences Group at RMC and she said, ‘We hire summer students to work in the Arctic.’”
After graduation, I went to work at The Whig, while Donald-White headed back to the Royal Military College-based non-profit organization that does environmental assessments.
We both met our husbands at our jobs. We both bought homes here, and we both now have young sons who like to go on bike rides and play soccer. Kingston is a good place to raise kids.
When I lost my newspaper job in the recession, I stayed in Kingston and got a radio job as a morning co-host.
We’ve put down roots. The question is: How does Kingston get others to join us?
Massey says Career Services must play a role in students’ lives throughout their degree programs. “More and more students are coming to university with the specific objective of getting a job, and that’s a change from the past,” she says.
“As parents help students make decisions about where they’ll go to school, one of the questions high school grads are asking is: ‘What kind of job will I get?’ It’s no longer good enough to prepare them in the fourth year; they say, ‘What will you do you for me during the four years I’m paying tuition to prepare me for that job?’ ”
John Paul Shearer, KEDCO’s Director of Business Development, says the agency wants Queen’s students to see Kingston as home as soon as they step onto campus, so that’s where KEDCO is boosting its presence.
Labour market development expert Elizabeth Allen, Arts ’07, MA’09, is now on campus twice a week, working with Career Services on programs that will help students get real-world career experience.
“Our goal is to have students out of the classroom and working in different environments at each stage of their studies, right from Orientation in first year, to make sure they feel like they’re embraced by the community, and then we’ll continue to build on that,” she says.
“When they think about summer jobs, they’ll think about experiences they’ve had in Kingston, and that’s going to flow into the time when they graduate. If we do this right, they’ll think about Kingston as a place to live and work.”
“Students indicate they’re interested in staying, but then they don’t stay, and the question is why? The fact is, they don’t know about many of the opportunities,” Massey says.
This spring, KEDCO ran an ad in The Journal, encouraging students to find a summer job in the city. The University and KEDCO also co-sponsored “Work in Kingston Day,” at Grant Hall in February, a job fair that attracted 50 local companies and 2,000 students – a staggering show of interest, considering the event was held on a day when a major snowstorm hit the city. Queen’s students came in droves to find out about summer, part-, and full-time jobs in the Limestone City. It was the University’s largest-ever one-day job fair.
The Creative Economy Challenges report found that students simply didn’t believe there were career opportunities in Kingston.
“They talked about types of industry that they perceived weren’t in Kingston and then we looked at Kingston’s major employers, and, indeed, those employers are right here,” Massey says. Fifty were in Grant Hall.
Next February, Queen’s and KEDCO will launch an alternative Reading Week program, where students will do placements at local companies. These are “experiential learning opportunities” that give students short, practical work experiences.
“Students are learning throughout this process and, at the same time, the local economy is getting access to some of our best students,” Massey says.
Queen’s has also been pushing its job-shadow program, where students spend a day with an alumnus at a local business.
Diana Otlewski, Artsci’12, spent a recent morning with me, watching how my radio program is put together. Talk about timing. On that day, the application period for our summer job position opened.
If Otlewski gets the gig, it will mean she’ll spend the summer after her third year in Kingston – that all-important hook to entice her to look for employment here once she graduates.
But what about the other students – the 91 per cent who don’t want to stay after graduation?
“Some students will leave, they will head off to Toronto, which is where most of our students go after they graduate, and they’ll spend a few years living there, but then, at some point in their life, they may want a lifestyle change, and if they have fond memories of Kingston, and they have contacts with local business, then their relocation back here is easier in five or seven years,” Massey says.
Shearer agrees. He wants grads to stay and alumni to return.
“There are the graduates who’ve left … and now they want to buy a house and have a family, and that’s the mindset of the 28-, 29-, or 30-year-old. How can we bring these people home? Our biggest bang is going to be bringing people home for opportunities that already exist here,” he says.
Sc’98 classmates Emma Turner and Brian Taguchi met in Gordon Hall on their first day at Queen’s. They did their undergraduate degrees together, then moved to Australia for more degrees. After being Down Under, they planted themselves in Guelph, where Turner got her DVM degree from the Ontario Veterinary College.
After a decade of schooling, it was time to pick a place to live. Kingston won.
Taguchi is from Kingston, and Turner liked that Kingston is close to Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
“Kingston has a buzz,” she says. “There’s Queen’s and summer tourism. Brian is a real water bug, and we have such a beautiful waterfront!”
Turner and Sarah (Leonard) Saxton, Artsci’97, have now opened their own veterinary clinic (www.lakeshoreanimalhospital.ca). In their spare time, they like to head to their property on Wolfe Island, a short ferry ride from downtown, and go for runs along the waterfront, or visit Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area. “I’m going to be here for awhile,” Turner says.
Kat Donald-White and her husband Darren White, Sc’00, also hope to continue to call Kingston home. Donald-White has also looked into returning to Queen’s for a Master’s in Public Administration.
As for this lab rat, my life so far has been pretty evenly divided between two cities: Oshawa and Kingston. Some hometowns you’re born into; others you choose.
Sarah Crosbie, Artsci’01, is the co-host of the K-Rock 105.7 morning show and a columnist for a Kingston weekly newspaper.