Get to know our team! First up: Cassidy Swanston

The following interview took place between our Sustainable Development Coordinator, Emelia, and our Web Designer, Cassidy. Cassidy has been part of the Water Rangers team since 2019. Since then, she’s contributed to our organization in more ways than we can count. Thanks for all you do for Water Rangers, Cassidy!

Trust us when we say our Web Designer, Cassidy, is an incredible human. Not only is she great at what she does here at Water Rangers, but she’s also: 

  • A Master’s Student at the University of Ottawa 
  • Podcast Host at SciComm School
  • Communications Director at the Pelling Lab 
  • The Executive Director of Pulsar Collective, a federal non-profit that advocates for gender equality & opportunity in STEM
  • And so much more! 

If this sounds like a lot, that’s because well… it is. Somehow, though, Cassidy manages to make it all look easy! Recently, we got the chance to ask Cassidy some questions about how she got to where she is today. For anyone who’s interested in science, science communication, non-profits, or grad school, this one’s for you!

Our Web Designer, Cassidy, standing on a dock by the water.
Our Web Designer, Cassidy

Cassidy’s work at Water Rangers

Q: First thing’s first- tell me about your position at Water Rangers and what it entails.

A: This is actually a harder question to answer than you think! Technically my position is called “web designer” but I’ve kind of done all sorts of different things at Water Rangers related to communications and design. Right now I’m working a lot on graphic design and user experience design. 

Q: How did you first hear about Water Rangers, and how did you get your foot in the door?

A: I used to work at the Canada Science & Technology museum, where I helped with program and exhibit development. While I was there, I was partially in charge of developing a citizen science exhibit, and in that exhibit we featured Water Rangers. Because of that exhibit I got in touch with Kat, and we continued to stay in touch afterwards. 

In 2019, I was just about to come back from a semester abroad in Australia, and there was a month and a half long period where I didn’t have anything planned before school started up again. I saw Kat had an open position, and decided to apply for it because it overlapped with my free schedule. The rest is history! I’ve been here ever since. 

Q: Did you always see yourself working in the water realm, or in the environmental realm more broadly?

A: Hmm… the environmental realm, not as much, because my science degree was a bit more focused on animal biology as opposed to environmental science. However, I always knew I was going to work in some way at the intersection of science and art since that’s what I got my Bachelor’s degree in. So this was a pretty natural evolution I think. 

Kat, Cassidy, and Tina from WWF-Canada at a media event in 2019.
Kat, Cassidy, Tina from WWF-Canada during a media blitz in 2019

What else does Cassidy do?

Q: Where else have you worked other than Water Rangers?

A: As I mentioned, I worked for a few years at the Science & Tech museum, which was incredible. After that, I moved on to become the Communications Director at the Pelling Lab at the University of Ottawa, which I still do on a part-time basis where I’m working on my own side project with NSERC

I am also the Executive Director of Pulsar Collective, and I have been in school this entire time. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science last year, and now I’m doing my Masters. So it’s been pretty busy!

Q: Tell me more about your Master’s. Remind me what it’s in again?

A: I’m doing a Master’s of Arts in Communication with a specialization in science, society, and policy. 

Q: Are you enjoying it so far?

A: It’s been quite the challenge given that everything has been online, but I’m learning a lot! 

Q: Okay so, your background is in Science and Communication… How did you end up developing skills related to web design and graphic design?!

A: Practice! I have no formal academic training in design. I’m nearly finished getting my user experience certification from Google, but in terms of design- graphic design, web design, and so on- that is all self taught from the internet and from watching and copying Kat, essentially. 

Cassidy and Luke hard at work at the Water Rangers headquarters
Cassidy and Luke hard at work at Water Rangers HQ

All about Cassidy’s non-profit

Q: You also founded your own non-profit, is that right? Tell me about that. 

A: Pulsar Collective was founded in 2018; we got a small grant from NSERC to run one event, and then it sort of spiralled out from there. So what started as a singular event that my friends and I put on for one day turned into a federal non-profit. Right now, we have about 20 people on the team not including our volunteers, so it’s quite the operation. 

Q: What does Pulsar Collective do?

A: It focuses on gender equality in STEM. So we have programs for high school students which allow them to hear stories of gender diverse scientists and engineers, and then we have networking events for university students as well. 

Q: So you said it started with one event, but what inspired you or motivated you to run that event in the first place?

A: I was a science student myself at the time, and I was definitely seeing a lot of discrimination take place. I’ve always been pretty lucky to have great supervisors and mentors, but I still witnessed lots of gender discrimination among my peers, and I was frustrated by that. 

Q: What kind of people do you need on your team, at your non-profit, to get the job done?

A: We usually have a few people working in operations, so that’s kind of the day to day maintenance of the organization. We also have people working on our programs, which includes program development, program maintenance, making sure our programs are running and functional, and so on. We also have people working in communications, so that includes design, promotion, all of that fun stuff. And then finally, we have people working in business development, on things like fundraising, partnerships, strategic planning, that sort of thing. 

Q: Do most of the people who work at your non-profit also go to university?

A: Some of them do- many are upper year Bachelor students or Master’s Students. Our Board of Directors is mostly proper adults who are out in the workforce, however. 

Cassidy and Luke kayaking at Water Rangers' headquarters.
Cassidy and Luke out on the water!

Learning from experience

Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

A: Definitely graduated, hopefully working somewhere full time in a design or user experience role. I definitely hope that I’m travelling more since that’s one of my passions. Hopefully I’ll be taking even more time to learn new skills and evolve; my favourite part of the professional world is iterating on what I know and my skill set. 

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who may want to pursue a career like yours? 

A: Stay curious, stay open, be willing to try something that you don’t know how to do, and be willing to fail. I think by staying open to experiences and soaking in the knowledge of the people that you meet, not only do you make connections like the one I made with Kat, but you also have the opportunity to pivot in ways you weren’t expecting. I never expected to do something related to graphic design or UX design, but because I was willing to give it a go when the opportunity arose, I was able to find out that I had quite the knack for it. 

Q: If you could go back in time and give your 18-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

A: Calm Down. I’ve always been pretty neurotic, worried about everything. I worried about making the right decisions, where I’d be, how I’d make it work, how I’d pay for it, how I’d be happy with what I have. 

I wish I could go back and say “hey, the road isn’t going to be straight, it isn’t for anybody. But as long as you work hard, try your best, and stay curious, things will work out, even if it’s not in the way you anticipate.” 

Want to learn more about our team?

We’ll be posting more about our team in the coming weeks, but until then, check out our “About us” page.