Experiential Education Symposium highlights benefits of hands-on experience

A student panel moderated by Teaching Commons Educational Developer Lisa Endersby (far left) offered student perspectives on experiential education

Experiential education offers students a gateway to access, connectedness, excellence and impact – all of the four pillars that define post-secondary education at York University, said Kathleen Winningham, director of the YU Experience Hub, as she formally opened the University’s inaugural Experiential Education (EE) Symposium.

Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies student presenter Catherine Mutune offered a poster that documented her experience while on an international volunteer placement in South Africa

The symposium, organized in partnership with the Office of the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning and York University Libraries, took place Jan. 22 in the Scott Library Collaboratory. The three-hour event offered students, faculty, staff and University partners an opportunity to discover how varied experiential education can be and the ways in which it adds depth to the academic experience. More than 100 people attended the inaugural event.

“People think experiential education is very narrow, but it’s not just internships and co-ops,” said Rhonda L. Lenton, York’s president and vice-chancellor, addressing the gathering. “It also includes computer simulations and community-based research.

“Our commitment is that every student will be able to have one or more experiential education opportunities. I really hope that experiential education at York only gets bigger, the connection with our community only gets better and our students’ learning experience is enriched.”

Student presenters field questions about their experiential education posters

The EE Symposium also included remarks from the event partners; an address by alumna Denise Bang, who parlayed her human resources co-op into a full-time job; a panel of students who had taken part in experiential education opportunities at York; and posters by 23 students showcasing the outcomes of their experiential education opportunities. Learning Commons partners also hosted booths for student participants to explore.

“I was a co-op student,” noted Professor Will Gage, associate vice-president teaching and learning. “It was transformative for me. I met my wife, but I also learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do with my career and discovered a lot that I did want.”

Bang, who works for CGI, likened a co-op program to speed dating.

Denise Bang speaks to participants at the EE Symposium

“It’s an opportunity to test the water,” Bang said. “I hated the work I was doing during my internship, but that’s the point of getting your hands dirty before you make career choices. You also learn skills that are transferable and employers value students who have taken part in experiential education.

“You won’t be the same person you were before you started your internship. You will have learned and grown.”

Students on the panel had their own wisdom to offer.

A student panel moderated by Teaching Commons Educational Developer Lisa Endersby (far left) offered student perspectives on experiential education

“Know that an internship or a co-op isn’t your end game,” said Victoria Gubiani, an alumna of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. “Whatever you gain will be transferable, so enjoy yourself and learn.”

Roger Angus, a law student at Osgoode, told students that there is freedom in being an intern.

“People cut you some slack,” he said. “You can explore things in a way you might not have the opportunity to as an employee; you have special status.”

Jonathan Clodman, a student in the concurrent teacher education program, learned that “we create our own success; we don’t find it.” An uncomfortable classroom placement experience made him realize what was important to him and what he was willing to fight for.

For Fernanda Sierra, a culture and expression student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, a community-based experience gave her the confidence to continue on her chosen path, something others might also discover.

“It completely changed my perspective on how I fit into the cultural sector,” she said. “It confirmed that I did belong.”

Renuga Navaratnarajah, an IMBA student at Schulich, believes that experiential education is a privilege.

“It’s an opportunity to prove that you have something to offer,” she said. “Don’t look at in terms of success or failure. Consider, instead, what you can learn from it.”

As the formal portion of the symposium ceded the spotlight to the poster session, panel moderator Lisa Endersby, an educational developer with Teaching Commons, noted that the session offered a learning opportunity for faculty and staff, as well as students.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus