Experiential education sharpens career focus, York U students say

EE symposium
EE symposium

“My experiential education (EE) experience opened a whole new world to me, showing me how many career opportunities there are in education,” said Zuzana Balazova, a graduating education studies major.

Undergraduate student Gurneed Bhela presented a poster on her experiential education opportunity

Balazova previously anticipated spending years in the classroom, but now she is equally attracted by curriculum development and training opportunities, thanks to her work with a York pilot project, Student Consultants on Teaching. She and her classmates served as consultants to faculty and graduate students, observing them in the classroom, helping them identify weaknesses in various aspects of their teaching and offering solutions and training to help them improve.

“I’m looking into both teaching abroad and educational development as I prepare for graduation,” Balazova said.

Balazova is not alone in adopting a new lens for viewing the working world. As students and recent graduates noted again and again during the 2020 EE Symposium on Jan. 21-22 at York University, their EE experiences have been transformative.

Kathleen Winningham

“Most students have said their EE experience has made them more directed in their careers,” said Kathleen Winningham, director of the YU Experience Hub, one of the symposium’s organizers for the event, which was sponsored by the Associate Vice-President (AVP), Teaching & Learning and YU Libraries. “This event gives students the opportunity to present and reflect on their experiences and share with other students how important their EE exposure has been.”

Thirty-two students, representing all of the Faculties and Glendon College, presented posters individually or in groups, detailing their EE Experiences. All of them talked about the growth required by the challenges of their placements or class experiences.

Abina Thayaparan, a graduating human resources (HR) student from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, was enthusiastic about her 16-month placement with Celestica, an electronics manufacturer.

“I was able to do a full-year recruitment cycle and filled 24 roles,” Thayaparan said proudly. “I was part of the team, and I truly developed as a person. My placement made me realize how much I can do in this world.

Visitors view one of the posters on display at the EE Symposium

In addition to learning workplace skills, Thayaparan was also able to narrow down her interest in HR and determine that she would like to pursue a career in diversity and inclusion.

“You learn so much outside the lecture halls,” she said.

Izabella Martirosyan and Megan Schwegel, fourth-year biology majors from Glendon College, participated in a two-week intensive biology research course based in the Gaspé region of Quebec. They studied crustaceans called grammarids.s, hosts to numerous parasites, measuring the rates of parasitism in various areas of the local bay.

“This experience confirmed for me how important it is to have a practicum,” said Martirosyan, “because we got to see everything we learned in our text. It demonstrated how dynamic biology is in the field.”

Agreed Schwegel, “It brought the classroom to life, and it also gave me insight into how research unfolds, so that when I read a journal article, I have an understanding of what the authors actually experienced.”

It also changed her plans for the future.

“I originally went into biology to be an optometrist,” Schwegel said. “I’d never considered fieldwork, but now it’s a real option for me.”

The EE Symposium kicked off on Jan. 21 with remarks from Interim Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning, Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, and the Dean of Libraries, Joy Kirchner. On on Jan. 22, York University President & Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton opened the proceedings.

“I believe universities have an obligation to connect student learning to career interests,” Lenton said. “Experiential education prepares students for the changing workplace and gives them the ability to move easily from one job or career to another, given their broad-based, transferable skills.

“I’m a strong believer in advancing the broad umbrella of EE that includes, for example, role modelling and in-class simulations, not just co-ops.”

Fisher-Stitt’s remarks were in a more tactical vein, while Kirchner highlighted a number of the EE supports the library could offer students and urged them to take advantage.

“We want to provide students as many opportunities as possible to take what they have learned and go into the world, apply what they read, talk and think about in class and see how it plays out in the real world,” Fisher-Stitt said, noting that her own summer placement during university showed her that the career path she had chosen wasn’t one she’d be content following.

Before leaving students and other attendees to explore the EE posters on Jan. 22, the symposium featured a panel discussion about EE moderated by Educational Developer Lisa Endersby. Diana Pik, a recent Faculty of Science graduate; Esha Bhardwaj, a history major at the Faculty of Education; Mavoy Bertram, an assistant professor of nursing at the Faculty of Health; and Véronique Tomaszewski, a sociology course director at Glendon College shared their EE experiences and lessons learned. Their answers all underscored the value of EE experiences, whether in the classroom, in the field or both.

A faculty and student panel offered attendees an opportunity to hear abut the power and potential of experiential education

“Traditional learning is not the only work we do as faculty,” said Tomaszewski, who incorporated field trips, poster sessions and other immersive activities into her courses. “We allow our students to explore the connections of body, mind and heart to what we teach.”

Bertram uses simulations in her classes, creating a safe space for student to experience some of the things they will encounter on a hospital ward and to practice appropriate responses. For example, the “family member” of a “patient” might yell at a student about a medical error affecting the parent.

“We debrief afterward and the goal is for student to feel supported and for classmates to see how other students handle these crises,” she said.

Pik discussed how her EE experience had clarified her career ambitions and suggested that students “give things a shot, because “You never know where opportunities will lead.” Bhardwaj, meanwhile, echoed the emphasis of the symposium.

“Experiential education is important for life after York,” she said. “Take any one of these experiences, because you’ll learn something from it. You can apply many of the things you learn to your future career.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus, a special issue of YFile