Graduate Story – Bella Schaffer

At high school Bella didn’t feel that university was the right fit as classroom only learning did not appeal to her. In terms of her career, she was looking for something more dynamic and adventurous. When considering the best tourism management course, with a passion for outdoors and the environment, Queenstown and QRC’s Diploma in Adventure Tourism Management seemed to be a perfect fit.

Read her full story below.

On the Couch with Bella Schaffer – Environmental Policy Officer

Why did you choose to follow a career in tourism?
I was fresh out of high school and I was lacking confidence. I was not even considering the option of University as classroom learning did not appeal to me. After 12 years of school, I wanted to be outdoors, and I was planning on taking a gap year. I was passionate about art, the environment, hiking and kayaking and I really loved working with people.

Tourism appealed to me as it was dynamic and adventurous.


Why did you choose QRC?
I had my mind set on travelling and was something I was not going to do (I can be stubborn like that). Queenstown Resort College (QRC) fell into my lap, at the beginning of year 12 I stumbled into the career advisor’s office at school with a closed mind. By the end of the session, I walked away with a brochure for the Diploma in Adventure Tourism Management at QRC and by the end of that night and after a google search I submitted my application.


QRC offered me the escapism of living abroad whilst also the stability of a course and the ability to connect and meet new people in an amazing location.


Where did you undertake your internship? (employer / position)
I was very fortunate to get a seasonal job as a Multiday Hiking Guide for Ultimate Hikes on the Milford Track, I applied for a few other roles such as a glacier guide however felt the role suited me best and I could be based out of Queenstown.


What role are you in now?
I work for the Victorian State Government (in Australia) as a Policy Officer in the Environmental Water team. Water is pretty sparse and we have complex systems in Australia and I work with stakeholders to deliver and monitor water for the environment in river and wetland systems that have changed significantly due to climate change and population growth. The work we do improves the health of waterways to support habitat for plants and animals.


What are your main responsibilities?
I work with an amazing and knowledgeable team. A large component of my work is engaging scientists and experts, working with community members and industry to deliver projects. My work varies day to day but in a nutshell, I often review and develop reports, policy documents and frameworks, contract manage consultants, work closely with delivery partners on key projects and administrative tasks such as organising meetings, briefings, reporting etc.


Why did you make the shift from tourism to your current industry?
I really loved the tourism industry, however my longing for more started to develop as the course and my career progressed. My passion for the environment and sustainability grew the more I learned particularly when undertaking a sustainable ecotourism subject. Whilst working on the track as a guide, I found I was fascinated by the conservation work and was intrigued and loved chatting to the Department of Conservation Rangers and staff with backgrounds in natural resource management. It was in my second season as a hiking guide that I started to reconsider and wonder what was next for me. My change didn’t happen overnight, and I took some time off after graduating to go travelling. It was only when I was back in Australia unemployed and spending my days at the beach when my aunty sat me down for a frank conversation about my future that I took the leap and started researching courses.

At the end of 2014, I had enrolled in a Bachelors Degree of Environmental Science and by March 2015 I started studying, by the end of my degree and after a few internships and volunteering opportunities I knew I wanted to work in water and catchment management.


How did your time at QRC help prepare you for your current job?
I was not ready for university fresh out of high school and I lacked confidence in my academic capabilities. QRC offered a short and condensed curriculum it allowed me to dip my toes in the water. Studying abroad allowed me to mature and grow, I learnt a lot about myself during those two years. QRC taught me about the importance of soft skills such as teamwork and communication which is a large component of my current job and any job really! Leaving QRC I was able to present, and public speak to large crowds which I do a regular basis.


A lot of the foundational business management skills I learnt throughout my QRC Diploma, I carry with me today. I am required to do develop and adhere to OHS Policies and Risk Management Plans, for example I am required to do this for field work and at the beginning of a project. I also manage budgets which is something you don’t learn in a science degree.


What do you enjoy the most about your current position? What energises you?
I really love that I work for the people as a public servant (cheesy I know) but striving for financial gain didn’t motivate me. I love that I am working on something I am passionate about and although at times it is testing, I feel like I am contributing to and driving change for the environment.


What are your goals / plans for the future?
My career path has never been stepped out in a detailed career plan. I am flexible and open to change, however in the back of my mind I am aspiring for Management/Executive role one day. I have three must haves when applying for a role they are.

  1. the role needs to align to my values of equity and sustainability.
  2. I need to feel valued in the team; and
  3. team culture needs to be fun and positive.

I try and have a ‘go getter attitude’ and take on roles which challenge me.


What’s the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?
I have had a few mentors and coaches in recent years to bounce ideas from and get career advice.

An old Director gave me some really sound career advice, she said don’t be afraid to push back on job prospects when it doesn’t sit right with you. Whether that is climbing the ladder/getting a promotion, do what feels right for you and don’t feel pressured into taking on a role.

She taught me about thinking deeply about what drives you and work and what are the must haves you need in a role (E.g my role must haves listed above).

A previous manager also gave me this advice which has helped me muster up the confidence to apply for a few roles out of my depth:

‘Be open to applying for roles out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to strive for higher’

Any words of wisdom for someone considering a career in the industry?
Don’t be afraid of change and a challenge and put yourself out there! I think a can-do attitude is something which is really sought after in many industries and companies. Find a company that aligns with your values and look for job openings even if it isn’t your dream job, once they know you are a great worker and you have an open mind, they will want to keep you!


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