The apprenticeship of
U of C student tells of her experiences as an intern at the Calgary Drop-In
Centre, and her boss weighs in how the centre benefits.
a degree-related work term gives a student invaluable hands-on experience.
And companies who hire students benefit from having bright,
enthusiastic employees on their payroll. Cristina Bacalso is one of those
bright young minds wanting to complement her education with practical
work experience, and she found an internship with the Calgary Drop-In
and Rehab Centre. U posed a list of questions to her and her supervisor,
Bruno Gagne, to find out first-hand if the program is a win-win relationship.
How does U of C’s internship program benefit you as a
Cristina Bacalso: It incorporates academic experience with practical
experience, which is something you just can’t get in the classroom.
After all, when you’re working towards a liberal arts [in political
science] degree, you aren’t getting the hard skills for a specialized
workplace like engineering students receive. This experience allows
me to apply the soft skills I’ve developed, which will make me
more competitive and marketable when I graduate, and prepare me more
fully for the workplace.
As an employer?
Bruno Gagne: The program gives us a pool of students who bring their
own approach to doing things around the centre. We can always use fresh
ideas around here.
If you could use one word to describe this experience, what would it
CB: Empowering! It’s helped me realize my abilities, because I
am put in real life situations. It’s a good feeling to know that
you can handle yourself in the workplace.
BG: Fresh. This way we get fresh
batches of students in every few months who give a different look and
feel to the Drop-In Centre.
Could you describe your typical daily work routine at the centre?
CB: It’s very atypical! I oversee the Career Training Initiative
(CTI) program at the centre, which is a pilot project that provides low-income
people with industry certifications, computer training, and life skills
training. It’s kind of like my internship, in that it gives them
a competitive edge when they are attempting to enter the workforce. So
my main role is as a supervisor over a couple of people to ensure the
program runs smoothly. But, I also teach classes, facilitate workshops,
and work on
reports to be submitted to the federal government, which is funding this
BG: My role with Cristina and her colleagues is to guide the decisions
they make. I’m the person who gives them a good nudge once in a
while if they need it. But Cristina knows what she’s doing, so
that isn’t needed too often.
What has been the best experience for
you at the centre?
CB: Interacting with the clients at the Drop-In Centre. By working
with the homeless population, I’ve realized everyone has a story
and that you learn more about yourself by learning where others came
BG: We’re here to help people, and sometimes we find out first
we really have. I went for breakfast one morning and ran into a CTI grad
told me he’d found a job and was doing really well. It’s
nice to know we’re making a difference.
Was there anything especially challenging that you had to overcome
during the internship program?
CB: I’ve never had a supervisory role like this before, so the
first challenge for me was to figure out our group dynamics and determine
how we could all work as a team to reach the common goal of making the
CTI pilot project a success. Our open communication with one another
has been crucial to achieving it.
BG: The biggest challenge is when we have to transition from one group
of internship students to the next. We try to have a fluent transfer
of information that has been acquired by the departing group during their
time here. But this has to happen within one week, which isn’t
easy! Another challenge—one that can’t be overcome—is
that the common bond among the staff, students, and clients cannot be
passed on. Sometimes this bond can be hard to form, but Cristina and
her group had no trouble with it
What do you learn from the clients
at the centre?
CB: I’ve learned I’m much more like the homeless clients
here than I ever could have imagined. The people living here are just
trying to live their lives like everyone else. We all have shortcomings,
and it’s only by virtue of circumstance that I’m not in the
same situation as them.
BG: I hear tonnes of stories from people here about what they’ve
been through, and it constantly reminds me of how easy I’ve got
What have you learned from your mentor?
CB: Most of all, I’ve learned how to be a good supervisor. Bruno
has an umbrella role overseeing a lot of people at the centre. Every
day I see how important it is for him to be reliable to those who answer
From your intern?
BG: Because of the confidence I have in Cristina, I’ve learned
that I don’t always have to have my fingers too deep into
the projects others are doing here. If everything’s going well,
there’s no need for me to step in.
Where do you see yourself ten years
CB: As a result of my experiences during
this internship I now know being
involved in the non-profit sector will
play a major role in my life, whether it’s as a career or pastime.
My focus will be on helping to improve the quality of life for the underprivileged
on a local or international scale.
Where do you see Cristina ten years
BG: I think Cristina is going to be a great success no matter what
she does, but I could see her in a management role. She has the communication
with her co-workers that’s necessary for a team to reach a common
goal. Being a good manager is a lot like being a good painter; either
you have the skills or you don’t, and Cristina has them.
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