Atkinson students put their learning to work

The Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies at York University is providing students with a unique opportunity to obtain hands-on work experience while completing their degree. Atkinson’s Experiential Education (EE) Program allows students to put their academic knowledge to use by partnering with a variety of organizations across a range of disciplines including human resources, marketing, sociology and accounting.

“The beauty of experiential education at Atkinson is that student teams are able to select an actual client and undertake an on-the-ground project as a significant part of their course grade,” says Geoff Webb (right), manager of Aktinson’s Experiential Education program.

The program was founded in 2004 by Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton. One of the main motivations in launching EE was to provide students with multiple opportunities to use their classroom knowledge in live settings, while enabling community groups and businesses to utilize the sharp insights and fresh perspectives Atkinson students bring to project endeavours.

The Atkinson Experiential Education Program is made up of three distinct facets:

Community Service Learning (CSL) allows students to expand their classroom learning through volunteering for course credit at a not-for-profit organization. Students typically devote 35 hours over the length of a one semester course. During this time, they put theory to practice, and in the process, obtain unique experience directly tied to their major. This also also expands their career options – early student feedback suggests that this is one of their favourite parts of CSL.

In-class or client-centric EE provides students with the opportunity to work in small teams on projects for up to 50 per cent of their course grade. The student team selects a client project from a pre-approved list, and the team then meets with the client three to five times over the semester. Classroom activity informs the project, and the project informs the course. At the end of the course teams make strategic recommendations and present these to the client for real time feedback and further suggestions. Students are saying that they love this arrangement as they get to “try out”‘ their discipline in a setting where course concepts come to life, while simultaneously career connections and ties to organizations are established.

Paid Internships are open to upper-year honours students in the human resources, accounting and marketing streams. Internships vary in length from four to 16 months, during which students work full-time, are paid and possibly squeeze in one or two courses. It helps if a student has a CSL and/or a client-centric EE endeavour in their background prior to getting into the internship program, so that when they are in front of an internship employer, they can point ot something unique, relevant and meaningful. This maximizes their chances at obtaining the internship position.

Atkinson’s Experiential Education program provides students with situations where the world of textbooks and course concepts are brought to life and wrestled with in the “messy reality” of the work world. EE builds on classroom exercises such as case studies and problem-based learning. These sorts of exercises enable students to take charge of an EE project, through which they obtain course credit, career experience, and enhanced knowledge about their likes and dislikes in the realm of jobs and careers.

“Imagine, as a student during your studies at York, being able to do a project with UNICEF, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Canadian Cancer Society or the Variety Children’s Charity,” says Webb. “Upon graduation you would have something very, very interesting to put on your resumé and speak about as a fantastic university experience.”

As well, the EE program is a great way for employers to recruit students straight out of university. Clients can witness students putting their learning in action, and obtain a chance to mentor and provide guidance to the next generation of community and business leaders.

Over the last year, the program has grown dramatically. In the past two semesters, approximately 500 students have been involved with 75 clients, including Last Gang Records, Volunteer Toronto, Princess Margaret Hospital, Child Find Ontario, York International and Evergreen.

The future of the EE program is very bright and Webb is optimistic that even more opportunities will become available to students. “Literally every semester more and more faculty members are embracing EE as a mechanism to enhance and broaden the classroom experience,” says Webb. He expects the internship program to expand right alongside the course-based offerings.

“You will see a rich and varied array of EE opportunities that give students numerous ways to challenge and expand their learning, and thus enhance their overall York experience,” says Webb.

For more information, visit the Atkinson Experiential Education Program Web site.

This story was written by Bethany Hansraj, a student assistant in the Publications unit of York’s Marketing & Communications Division.