YU Experience Hub helps bring virtual experiential education to life

Photo by Donatello Trisolino from Pexels

Thousands of York University students count on some form of experiential education (EE) – placements, co-ops, internships – to give them a leg up in their understanding of a subject and allow them to develop skills to successfully enter the job market.

This past spring, the YU Experience Hub, the institutional unit at York that helps students bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace, was able to leverage federal government support to increase student employment opportunities through the Talent Opportunities Program (TOP) funded by Employment and Social Development Canada.

Kathleen Winningham

“We were able to use their wage subsidies to hire students for remote work, something that wasn’t previously available,” said Kathleen Winningham, director of the YU Experience Hub.

The government also increased the amount of the subsidies for eligible placements, allowing 75 per cent of wages to be covered up to $7,500 per student. The subsidies were even made available for those positions that weren’t newly created, enabling the University to hire more students during the past summer and the upcoming academic year.

In addition, employee partners hiring students were able to take advantage of the subsidies, making it easier to offer students paid opportunities during a financially challenging time. Any employer hiring a student for the first time was also able to fast track the hiring process.

These flexible measures allowed about 50 York students to each receive up to $7,500 in wages, meaning that more than $350,000 in funding was available to directly support student employment. TOP funding is in place until March 21, 2021, providing work-integrated learning opportunities for students during the 2020-21 academic year.

As EE experiences migrated into the remote realm, the YU Experience Hub was busy developing resources to ease the transition for both students and employers, said Winningham. The YU Experience Hub team created a tip sheet for students working from home as part of the overall redesign of the hub’s website. They have produced a video to promote experiential education with the help of a grant from the University’s Academic Innovation Fund. The video demonstrates how students continue to participate in EE remotely and is available on the YU Experience Hub’s website.

“We’re excited about the new ways of delivering experiential education,” said Winningham. “There is a lot of creativity in evidence, as Professor Danielle Robinson demonstrated with remote placements for her graduate students this summer. (To learn more, see the Aug. 5 YFile article.)

“We are also supporting students in their quest for EE opportunities by implementing a new module to our Experience York platform, the software platform that posts jobs and tracks. We’ll be rolling it out in September. It will be very convenient, since we’re using the platform already,” added Winningham.

The new module will allow staff to conduct virtual appointments and virtual information sessions and will allow employers to interview candidates through the existing portal. Students will even be able to use the module to practise interviews. In addition, York staff will be able to conduct virtual site visits for students involved in the various types of EE: internships, field placements and co-op opportunities.

Recent grad Abina Thayaparan took part in a Human Resources internship. She presented a poster about her internship and the experiential learning it provided at the last EE Symposium, which took place in January 2020. "You learn so much outside the lecture halls," said Thayaparan.
Recent grad Abina Thayaparan took part in a human resources internship. She presented a poster about her internship and the experiential learning it provided at the last EE Symposium, which took place in January 2020. “You learn so much outside the lecture halls,” said Thayaparan.

Finally, the annual EE Symposium will go ahead as always, but it will be held virtually on Jan. 28, 2021. The symposium is a celebration of all types of EE and generally features a panel of students and faculty sharing their experiences and a poster session that allows students to explain their EE projects and what they’ve learned. The call for posters for this year’s EE Symposium opens Oct. 5. Students are encouraged to visit the YU Experience Hub EE Symposium web page to apply to take part in the symposium. website if they are interested in taking part in the symposium.

“We generally start planning in March for a January event,” said Winningham. “This year, we’ll be planning for a virtual event with some great, new ideas.”

So, pandemic notwithstanding, “experiential education continues to thrive,” said Winningham.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus