Cassandra Ruggiero

Nothing says welcome to Canada like being greeted at the airport by people bearing Timbits and coffee from Tim Hortons. So when the members of AIESEC Guelph, a University of Guelph club, head to the airport to meet the students and recent grads who come to work here through the AIESEC program, they make sure they not only have welcome signs but plenty of traditional Timmies treats.

Cassandra Ruggiero, who graduated with a bachelor of science this spring, is a past president of the University’s AIESEC chapter. During her tenure, group members did a Tim Hortons run before heading out to meet a student arriving from another country 10 times – more than any other AIESEC group in Canada. “And we sent about the same number of Guelph students or grads to work abroad,” she adds.

Ruggiero’s leadership experience with the U of G club helped her get her current position as vice-president of communications and alumni relations with AIESEC Canada. AIESEC originally stood for Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, but that long title is no longer used. The organization was founded 60 years ago internationally and 50 years ago in Canada; it’s run by students for students and recent grads, and it’s the largest of its kind in the world.

Each University-based club helps with both incoming and outgoing internships. The club helps local students who want to work abroad find internships in other countries. Once a match is made, the student receives preparatory training to help with the adjustment to living and working in a new culture. Canadian students are met by local AIESEC members when they arrive in the country where the internship position is located. “We make sure you’re not alone, wherever you go,” says Ruggiero.

Back in Guelph, club members are also working with local businesses – the University, in particular – to find opportunities for youth from other countries who might like to come here. They are also seeking homes or apartments where AISEC interns can stay and planning events to help them feel welcomed.

As happens to many people, Ruggiero’s path through university took her in directions she hadn’t intended. Her original goal was to go into medicine, so she majored in biological science. But after discovering that she loved political science, she switched to a double major in those two subjects in her third year.

“It was in a political science class that I first heard about AIESEC,” she says. She joined and was soon taking on responsibilities to help students planning to go abroad for internships. The following year, she became president of the club.

Being president was an amazing opportunity to learn, says Ruggiero. “I’ve never taken a business class, and they don’t teach you in a classroom the skills you need to manage people and work with different personalities,” she says. “I was soon meeting with business executives and realized that I could have an impact even though I was still a student. It definitely gives you more confidence.”

Ruggiero also values the networking opportunities she enjoyed because of AIESEC. “We’re in 110 countries around the world, and we have regular conferences, so you have the opportunity to meet people from many of these countries. That’s a really cool experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.” As well, by working to help arrange internships, she’s gotten to know many employers and understand their needs.

Ruggiero says the leadership, collaboration and management skills she acquired are crucial to success in today’s job market. Youth unemployment is twice the national rate, and an undergraduate degree no longer guarantees a good job, she says. She believes employers are looking for the kind of experience that being involved in a group like AIESEC provides. An internship abroad also gives an employer an extra reason to hire you:  you’ve shown adaptability and the willingness to learn about another culture, qualities that are highly valued as more and more business are competing globally.

Ruggiero says she focused on leadership skills during her time with AIESEC Guelph, so she hasn’t yet been able to do an internship abroad. She considered applying this year, but her new position at AIESEC Canada has put that on hold again. “I really like Latin America,” she says. “I am going on vacation to Brazil this fall, and I’ve been to the Dominican Republic, so I think it would be great to find an internship there.”