As high school graduation looms, many students struggle to ensure they are choosing the right path, focusing on post-secondary programs that will lead to a fruitful career, which often won’t align with their personal passions. For Molly Steeves, having grown up with a love of the fine arts; even getting to attend some of her mother’s classes (an art professor herself) at the local university, the decision-making process was a little bit different.
“I was fortunate enough to study for passion instead of occupational training,” Steeves acknowledges. She headed off to King’s College in Halifax for one year, followed by transferring to the University of Victoria the following year and majoring in art history. After graduation, contemplating how to translate her fine arts studies into a job, she returned to her hometown of Calgary and found an ideal job working for the Calgary Art Gallery for three years as an educator and eventually curator.
It was after a move to Vancouver, however, when she began to rethink her professional goals. “It’s very hard to get a job in the arts in Vancouver, especially if you don’t have that existing community or network,” Steeves admits. She worked for a number of small galleries for a while, but began to realize that visual arts didn’t hold the same excitement for her any more.
Like many of us do, she took some time to examine where she saw her future heading, and took a temporary job as an administrator at DIALOG while she thought about her next steps. She made a great first impression, and they quickly asked her submit a resume for a more permanent position.
“I was straightforward with them that I didn’t want to be an administrator,” Steeves explains. “I wanted to be in a place with I could grow.” As it turned our, DIALOG was the perfect place for her to find her new path, with opportunities to be exposed to planning and community engagement, which sparked a particular interest as it drew back to her time as an educator during her time at the Calgary Art Gallery.
Taking this newfound interest as a sign, Steeves enrolled in the Urban Design Certificate at Simon Fraser University, eventually enrolling in the master’s program, for which she successful defended her prospectus in December of 2016. At the same time, she continued working full time, and began taking on work at DIALOG in the engagement area of practice.
While it was not her initial focus, Steeves realized through her experience at DIALOG and her recent studies that this was a logical career for her. It was the natural alignment of her love for cities, travelling, transportation, health and, most notably, ensuring that citizens are politically engaged.
“I don’t think I would have been able to articulate that when I was in high school or even during my first degree,” she concedes. “But looking back it makes sense. It’s been an occupation that ties together many of my passions.”
Through her engagement work, Steeves has been able to use her previous work in art history as a launching point. Being able to look at historical information and translate it into easily communicated materials has proved quite handy, not to mention her experiences teaching.
“Policy and civic politics can be dense and hard to comprehend for a lot of people, and they don’t want to engage,” she points out. “I really love that part of my job – taking complex processes and being able to engage and educate people so they feel empowered to participate.”
Now at DIALOG for nearly five years, Steeves is excited to see her new career take shape, including using her work experience to put towards becoming a registered planner. In the meantime, she continues to be heavily involved in public engagement on a variety of projects, something she says she enjoys because she’s not ready to pick a specialization just yet. “The most I can hope for in a job is going in to work and learning every day.”