Learning Experience

While I won’t go into the origins of Strong Roots here (sounds like a superhero backstory), suffice to say it was a bit of a twisty path going from wide-eyed student to the slightly less wide-eyed but more experienced consultant you see before you. Along that path, I was helped by numerous amazing people who acted as mentors in some way and provided opportunities for me to learn and grow. Early on in building Strong Roots, I recognized that I wanted to pay that support forward to those new to the for-impact field, be they students, newcomers to the city or country, or someone making the shift into the sector after working elsewhere.

Last August, an urban and regional planning student, Shannon McAvoy, came by the Two Twenty looking for an opportunity to work or volunteer here. We talked and determined we could figured something out, with an opportunity for her to see first-hand what life is like as a solo consultant, and for me to put my principles in action as well as to learn more about the field of urban planning.

One obstacle came up immediately: I didn’t have enough regular work at the time for Shannon to join in on or the funds to compensate her time, aside from paying for her Two Twenty coworking membership. Although the laws in Saskatchewan around unpaid internships are somewhat vague, my position was that I wouldn’t ask her to do work that I would normally pay somebody to do. Instead, we ended up creating a hybrid model that combined a job shadow with volunteering together on a community project.


Discovering a mutual interest in improving public transit in Saskatoon, we started an initiative called Better Transit YXE1, with the aim to encourage dialogue around the role that transit plays in a growing city. We blogged, handed out candy canes on a cold December day, and had many coffee meetings with transit staff, city councillors, and leaders of related organizations like Bus Riders of Saskatoon and Saskatoon Cycles. Those conversations in particular had an unexpected impact, bringing together a small group of committed people who recently held a citywide event, 10 Days for Transit, to spark change around how we think and talk about transportation in our city. While the long-term effects will undoubtedly play out in the months and years to come, the fact that we could contribute in some small way was a huge win for this partnership.

All good things come to an end, and that’s true for this experience as well. With her final exams complete, Shannon will be graduating later this spring and subsequently moving to the south of the province. Better Transit YXE, always intended to last only as long as Shannon’s time with Strong Roots, will officially wrap-up in the coming days. The work of Strong Roots Consulting will continue, but I will miss Shannon’s knowledge, enthusiasm, and positive attitude in the weeks and months to come.

Shannon, thank you for all that you have brought to these last seven months! I hope that you found it a worthwhile experience, and I wish you all the best in the months and years to come.

  1. Like most other Canadian cities, Saskatoon’s three-letter airport code begins with “Y” and has no obvious relation to the city’s name. In this era of hashtags, it’s become a convenient and quirky shorthand.