Renee St. Denis, Co-op Advisor, Computing Programs at Sheridan, has spent her career getting students ready for the next phase of their lives. Through reviewing resumes and cover letters, performing mock interviews and teaching preparatory courses, St. Denis has prepared more than 300 students each semester for the work force. And now, after 31 years at Sheridan, St. Denis is moving into the next phase of her life, after recently retiring from her full-time role at Sheridan.
As she reflects on her career, St. Denis says it’s her passion for helping students succeed that has inspired and motivated her every day. “I love working with the students, it’s very rewarding,” she says. “Just to see the change in them as they progress through their academics and their co-op work terms. You see them when they’re green. They’re young and afraid, and scared to go on interviews—and they just grow. As you see them grow, it motivates me to keep going and help them be better prepared for the work force.”
Third year student Maitri Patel (Computer Systems Technology – Software Development and Network Engineering) is one of the countless co-op students whose lives St. Denis has changed. Patel arrived at Sheridan as an international student from India when she was just 17 years old. Worried about her lack of job experience while she was preparing for her first co-op term, she sought St. Denis’ advice. “I had no experience in the IT industry,” Patel remembers. “Everything I knew about IT I had learned at Sheridan during my courses. I was stressed and worried about what I should put on my resume because I had pretty much nothing.”
St. Denis reassured Patel, helped her with her resume, and did mock interviews with her. “I think of Renee as my ‘co-op Mom,’” Patel says. “She built up my confidence as an international student, and the confidence I got was multiplied by 100 after I met her. She helped me get rid of my insecurities.”
After moving to the Greater Toronto Area from Ottawa, St. Denis started her Sheridan career in the former Training and Development department. In that role, she worked with businesses at a satellite campus. She was seconded to Cooperative Education a couple of times, and became a permanent part of that department in 1994, where she worked with Information Technology students at the Davis and Trafalgar Road Campuses.
Her proudest moments haven’t been her own, but when she has watched co-op students cross the stage to shake hands with Sheridan’s President and receive their diplomas and degrees, while exuding a confidence that wasn’t there the first time she met them. “Convocation is definitely a big highlight of my career,” she says. “You think ‘there’s our little co-op guys, they’re all grown up.’ I love Convocation! On a few occasions, an IT co-op student has even been valedictorian. That makes us very proud.”
Andrew Jackson (Computer Systems Technology – Software Development and Network Engineering student) will be graduating in June 2018. He remembers seeking St. Denis’ advice after nearly every preparation class about how he could stand out as a candidate, and again during his first co-op term when he faced some challenges. “Renee is absolutely fantastic, she’s somebody who cares about your future and your co-op term just as much as you do,” he says. “Anyone that’s that invested, is a godsend for us. She takes the time to care, and you can really tell with everything she does.”
“Sheridan is a great community, it’s a family. I’m from Ottawa and my family’s all there, so when I came here, these people became my family.” – Renee St. Denis
“As the student advisor for the IT team, Renee’s very supportive of the students,” agrees St. Denis’ colleague, Fran Burke. “She’s also willing and able to ‘tell it like it is’ when there’s a need to deal with issues.”
Patel says she appreciated St. Denis’ honest and direct approach. “She didn’t sugar-coat anything,” she says. “For me, coming out of my teenage years, she helped me to grow as a person, and build up my personality to go out there in the industry and present myself as a candidate. I will remember the advice Renee has given me for a lifetime.”
The relationships built with co-op students often last long after convocation. “Our alumni stay in touch with us,” explains Burke. “They thank us for working with them, and often, they keep us in the loop with where they are in their lives, personally and professionally.” St. Denis says sometimes alumni who were co-op students will later post jobs with the Sheridan co-op office. “They’ll come back years later and they’ll start posting jobs for current co-op students as they’ve now become hiring managers,” St. Denis says. “They go from co-op student to graduate to employer. That’s always nice.”
Although she’s officially retired, St. Denis will stay on at Sheridan part time, and will continue to impact students’ lives. “Sheridan is a great community, it’s a family,” says St. Denis. “I’m from Ottawa and my family’s all there, so when I came here, these people became my family.”
“I have a lot of knowledge about co-op up here,” she continues, pointing to her head. “It’s not on paper, it comes from doing things for years and years, and the opportunity to share that with other people and help them out, having less responsibility but still being able to help those who are taking over, is wonderful.”
When her husband retires in a few years, St. Denis hopes to move back to Ottawa to be closer to her family and spend more time at their cottage on the outskirts of the city. But until then, she is happy to still be part of the Sheridan community. “When that time comes, I’ll miss seeing my friends every day; but now I’m still here, so I can still get my Sheridan fix,” she laughs.
Pictured at top of page: Renee St. Denis, Co-op Advisor, Computing Programs at Sheridan.
Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan and Diane Moore, Marketing and Communications Officer, Career Education and Co-curricular Learning at Sheridan.