First time still prime

March 23, 2022

Camila Quintanilla standing in a restaurant
Camila Quintanilla had never worked before her co-op placement. She won the CEM Co-op Student of the Year Award and was nominated for a CEWIL Canada Student of the Year award. She now works at Baked Expectations full-time.

Imagine moving to a new place, more than an eight-hour flight away from home. It’s your first time being away from family. You speak the language, but it’s not how you regularly communicate — this is a totally new culture. Now imagine going to school there to train for the first job you’ve ever had.

Camila Quintanilla doesn’t have to imagine — it’s exactly what she did. In March 2021, she moved from Peru to Winnipeg to start a co-operative work placement through RRC Polytech’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program in the Hospitality and Tourism Management diploma.

“I remember going through the immigrations office when I first got to Toronto, and I was so scared I was shaking,” says Quintanilla. “I was so scared of not being able to do anything when I got here.”

She didn’t have to worry. This year, Quintanilla was named the Co-operative Education Manitoba (CEM) Co-op Student of the Year for 2021. She was also one of 39 co-op students — from a pool of 80,000 across the country — nominated for the Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada Student of the Year Award. To top it all off, her co-op experience led to a full-time job at Baked Expectations. Not bad for her first work experience.

Quintanilla says the integrated learning approach helped solidify what she studied in the real world.

“I had a lot of theory on how to, for example, interact with people, solve problems,” she says, “but I never actually learned how to do that until I had hands-on experience.”

Not that the theory didn’t help. During a particularly difficult interaction with a customer, Quintanilla says she took a breath and remembered what she’d learned in customer service.

“The situation was resolved very quickly and the customer was very happy,” she says. “And I was surprised I remembered what I learned and applied it to a real-life situation. I understood what I had to do, because I’m always taking notes and making sure I understand rather than memorize.”

Quintanilla’s ability to put theory into practice is what the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program strives for with its co-op work placements.

“There’s no better way to test your hospitality knowledge than being there in front of customers,” says Dr. Ryan Whibbs, Chair, Hospitality and Culinary Arts. “Camila is just one example of how our students come out of school job-ready because of it — and we’re so happy she was recognized for her effort.”

RRC Polytech and Winnipeg might be a long way from home and her family, but Quintanilla says these accolades help motivate her.

“I still can’t believe how they really see me and see the hard work I put into things,” she says. “Here I really feel appreciated — my instructors were so happy that I won this award, telling me how proud they were of me — it pushes me to keep doing what I’m doing. Whenever I feel that it’s just too much, or I miss my family, it pushes me through the hard times.”

Work-Integrated Learning is an essential part of programming at RRC Polytech, providing students with hands-on training and opportunities to develop skills and professional relationships before graduation. WIL is incorporated into most of the College’s programs, and is enhanced through partnerships with local co-op employers and mentors.

For more information about WIL, visit Student Employment Services.

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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