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Guided by nature

September 11, 2013

Rikki MacCuish landed a job with Sierra Club BC before she graduated.

Some people would call Rikki MacCuish lucky. But Sierra Club BC’s mulitmedia specialist thought long and hard about her career.

Four months out from graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication (BAPC) at Royal Roads, MacCuish landed a job with the influential environmental advocacy group. As Sierra Club BC’s go-to person for multimedia communication, MacCuish is in charge of video, social media and updating the website, as well as print and web layout and design. It's a plum role for a new graduate.

“I was really surprised when I got the job because I had wanted something like this for so long,” MacCuish says. “I wanted to work with a values-based organization, I wanted to be creative and I wanted to work for an organization that did good things.

"This was exactly what I wanted to be doing.”

Since starting in April, MacCuish has flexed her creative muscles, designing campaign posters, updating website content and developing new social media strategies for the non-profit group. Her next challenge will be to create a short documentary video about Sierra Club BC’s efforts to stop a controversial hydro-electric dam in B.C.’s Peace River Valley.

“There is a lot of footage that has been shot by us and other organizations,” she says. “I’m trying to tell a story through that, what’s going on there, how it will impact local people and how it relates to the bigger picture. It’s been busy but I totally love it.”

MacCuish’s path was not always so clear. Raised in the North Thompson River valley town of Clearwater, in B.C.’s interior, MacCuish loved the outdoors. She was drawn to the visual arts but after high school completed a diploma in tourism and hospitality. It was while working in Tofino, Revelstoke and Sun Peaks Resort, near Kamloops, that MacCuish’s interest in protecting the environment grew.

“As a kid I did tons of hiking and biking. I was a horseback rider. I grew up surrounded by wilderness but I never knew how lucky I was,” she says. “I had the opportunity to work and live in three beautiful resort towns and it piqued my interest in environmental issues.”

After working as a freelancer and staff writer for a newspaper in Sun Peaks, MacCuish enrolled at Royal Roads eager to write and learn. But first she had to figure out what she wanted from her degree.

BAPC Program Head Virginia McKendry was part of the team that helped MacCuish channel her interests into a plan.

“She was one of the many students who was not entirely clear on what she wanted to do as a communicator, or what skills and knowledge she would need to get there, but with persistence and the help of her instructors and cohort members, she figured out who she is, what she needs to thrive, and how she can best serve her world,” McKendry says. “And then Rikki took action.”

MacCuish focused her studies on environmental communication. She became volunteer editor of South Island Mountain Bike Society’s Mud News and helped the non-profit group develop a communications strategy to boost their membership.

“I think that’s a good way to go about university,” MacCuish says. If you’re going to try to work in a specific field, you might as well focus on it and learn all you can before you leave.”

Working for a non-profit group means making do with fewer resources than many large organizations. But it also gives MacCuish a chance to multitask and improve her skills across multiple mediums, something she sees as essential for communication professionals.

“We need to be generalists rather than just really good writers or spokespeople. We need to be able to reach out to audiences in different ways,” she says. “I think that’s where communications are heading.”

For those struggling to find a niche, MacCuish suggests contacting someone working in their ideal job and ask about the skills and experience needed to make it.

“I definitely didn’t expect my job so soon. It just popped up,” she says.

“Always be ready to apply and do interviews at the drop of a hat. Think about who you are and what you stand for.”