Concordia University: knowledge through experience
This text is part of the Higher Education special section
Since the start of the 2022 academic year, Concordia University has committed to providing at least one experiential learning opportunity (APE) to each of its 30,000 undergraduate students.
The formula goes far beyond the classic paid internships in the workplace, which have already earned the reputation of the enterprise. APE can be part of a course in the form of a laboratory, cap project, studio work, performance or exhibition. It can also be an innovation research project commissioned by a company, NPO, ministry or company. municipality. The list includes students doing internships abroad, even participating in competitions or entrepreneurship workshops.
“The idea of APE came naturally to us because Concordia has had a co-op system for 42 years,” said Anne Whitelaw, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Nadia Bhuiyan, executive vice chancellor for partnerships and experiential learning, led all APE operations. He is surprised at the speed of events. “We thought we would get there in 2025, but the target for 2025 is now two [occasions d’] APE for every student. »
The idea comes from a 2016 survey of student expectations. Almost universally, they answer that gaining professional experience is their first desire.
That year, four faculties (Engineering and Computer Science, Management, Arts and Science and Fine Arts) introduced co-op mode – three paid voluntary internships at the workplace the entire duration of the bachelor’s. As a first step, the University decides to expand this scheme to 54 bachelor’s and 20 master’s programs. “In four years, we have tripled the number of students in the co-op system to 5,110,” says Nadia Bhuiyan.
The new Office of Experiential Learning creates and coordinates many initiatives. For example, the possibility to carry out a synthesis project with industrial, commercial, community or scientific purposes at the end of the studies. Students can also come together in multidisciplinary teams to respond to an innovation challenge initiated by an industry, ministry or city. We also decided to recognize volunteer activities that give special rewards, such as competitions. “Our students designed satellites and even rockets. Those experiences are now being counted,” says Nadia Bhuiyan, herself a professor of mechanical engineering and director of Concordia’s Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation.
The Office of Experiential Learning has also worked with all faculty to identify at least one required course in each program that meets the APE and where at least 40% of the grade is attributed to the experience. “We got a great turnout from our teachers,” explains Nadia Bhuiyan. No one said it would be impossible. »
“It’s important to us that any form of APE is rewarded or at least credited,” says Anne Whitelaw. The Doggone Foundation offers paid internships to students in the Fine Arts, an environment where employers often have little funding. And another gift from the RBC Foundation to the Succeed Against Everything program supports students from marginalized backgrounds.
Advantages of the formula
The two vice-chancellors have long believed that experiential learning leads to better academic and professional success. “Research shows that. It directly affects motivation and interest,” says Nadia Bhuiyan.
The operation would never have worked without the enthusiastic response of employers – public, private and community. “They see it as an opportunity to develop knowledge and seek a rare workforce. Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has even guaranteed to hire at least 25 students a year, says Nadia Bhuiyan. However, this requires constant communication and advocacy efforts, as many employers are unaware that they have this option. »
All universities engage in some APE, but Concordia is the first to guarantee at least one APE and soon two APEs for every undergraduate student. This enriched educational offering will strengthen its position in the global competition for university philanthropy, professorial recruitment and student recruitment, while contributing to Quebec society.
“For engineering or management students, the job prospects are quite open, but less so in the humanities and social sciences, in the arts,” says Anne Whitelaw, who knows something about it as an art historian. “Monkeys will allow them to gain experience and better understand the employment path. »
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