Project management students can be agents of change in pandemic recovery
Ushnish Sengupta, an instructor at the Schulich School of Business, wants students to be agents of change, and part of post-COVID-19 recovery planning for the City of Toronto.
In light of this perspective, his summer project management course – MGMT 4700 – provided students with an opportunity to create projects geared toward meeting the requirements of the Toronto Society of Architects’ Main Street Design Challenge, in which participants are invited to develop innovative, responsible, sustainable and resilient design solutions for Canadian main streets that can be implemented during the recovery and post-pandemic.
Sengupta believes experiential education projects, which apply knowledge learned from the classroom to real life contexts, are still possible during COVID-19. In his course, he encouraged students to take advantage of tools like Google Maps and socio-economic Open Data available from the City of Toronto in place of traditional physical site visits typically used to develop these kinds of projects.
Students in Sengupta’s class created projects ranging from the redesign of a community park with a playground, solar panels and a green roof, and a makerspace at a Scarborough library, to projects which will fill the gap in under served areas in the city of Toronto based on student research.
“I am pleased to see the quality creativity, and practicality of student projects and solutions created based on research and application of course project management principles,” Sengupta said.
While all students have been encouraged to, one group – Alina Mirza, Milena Chikhalina, Aishwarza Das and Sara Jamalian – formally submitted their project, titled “Revamping Ephraim’s Place Community Centre,” to the Main Street Design Challenge and received a positive response.
“The project management course provided us with a strong foundation of knowledge regarding project management skills, terms and processes,” said Mirza. “An in-depth understanding of these concepts allowed us to approach the Main Street Design Challenge in a well-informed manner, considering the many factors that play a role in successful projects.”
Accepted submissions receive inclusion in the Main Street Design Playbook, to be released on Oct. 15 for World Architecture Day, in addition to promotional and media exposure across Canada and acknowledgement in Canadian Urban Institute, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and Bring Back Main Street communications and news.
“Having the opportunity to incorporate a class project into an external challenge has allowed us to apply and enhance our knowledge in a real-world setting,” Mirza explained. “There's always a gap between theoretical knowledge and actual application, so participating in the Main Street Design Challenge encouraged us to think critically about real-life complexities and how we would adapt to them to ensure project success. It's definitely been a valuable and rewarding experience.”
Sengupta says instructors have to be willing to take risks with experiential learning and experimental projects. He argues that, while in some cases taking such risks will generate impressive results such as recognition in a competition, in other cases acceptance of failure is part of the learning process.
“I hope both faculty and students are encouraged to implement experiential learning projects that can be completed remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sengupta said.