Bridging education and commerce in Welland

Market research students from York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies garnered support from the business sector and local government in late June for an Experiential Education project in Welland, Ont.  

Welland, famous for its canal bypass of Niagara Falls, is in the midst of a regional economic rebound following a generation of decline that saw the steel and automotive industries close down and consolidate in other centres.  

The renewed drive to attract businesses to the municipality is an ideal opportunity for York’s market research students to cultivate relationships with companies that can benefit from their project-oriented services.  

In the latest of a series of Experiential Education (EE) partnerships, the student team is working with Welland’s Universal Resource Recovery Inc., a local environmental recycling company, to determine potential partners in the Niagara area. In the weeks to come they will be surveying local nurseries, sod farms, greenhouses and other organizations that may have a need for organic compost clients and then present a marketing strategy to Universal in early August.

Left: Universal Resource Recovery’s Gerald Patt (third from right) with students. From left, teaching assistant Yavehnia Pena, Alin-Alexandru Ionita, Gisele Sawaya, Eddie (Adib) Semaan, Patt, Dina Dimakis and Lucas Diaz-Molaro

"These York students present themselves in a very professional way," said Gerald Patt, Universal’s general manager. "The progressive perspective these students bring to us is fantastic. They look at our issues in ways that a traditional marketing group might not. Ultimately, the group’s research will provide us with a road map of how to move our business forward."  

As part of a recent regional tour, students held meetings with the Niagara Economic Development Corporation and Welland Mayor Damian Goulbourne to gain a greater understanding of the area for their project. Supplied with letters of endorsement from the corporation and mayor, students hope to interest businesses they survey to participate in the EE program in the future.

"I like the fresh ideas and perspective that York students are bringing to the work they are doing in our community," said Goulbourne, who also teaches part time at Niagara College. "I am happy to support them in identifying new opportunities in our area. Having York University students doing this type of work in Welland allows us to keep up with the new realities of evolving markets and I hope they can do more in the future."  

Right: Students with Welland’s Mayor Damian Goulbourne (third from left) and economic development manager Dan Degazio (second from left)

Marketing research course director Jim Davidson says, "This is a tremendous opportunity for students to extend beyond the classroom to work with both business and local government."  

Team member Dina Dimakos agrees: "It is very exciting to have the opportunity to get out into the real world and apply my market research skills to a project that a company like Universal will put to use."  

Atkinson offers EE programs in marketing, human resources, finance, sociology, social work and accounting. With a personal gift from former York president and vice-chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, the Experiential Education Innovator Fund has been established to allow professors to apply for funds that will help them incorporate EE into an even wider range of liberal arts and professional studies courses.

For more information, visit the EE program Web site.