Virtual reality internships provide opportunities to address real-world challenges  

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The Risk and Insurance Studies Centre at York University partnered with Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) Industry leaders to establish an initiative funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative (I-WIL) and CEWIL Canada’s iHub.  

With the financial support, HAIIvVE, which stands for Hybrid Academia-Industry Internships via Virtual Engagement, aims to offer an inclusive and innovative Experiential Education Program for all York students.

Twenty-five talented students from multiple programs from the Schulich School of Business, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Faculty of Science, Osgoode Hall of Law School and Lassonde School of Engineering, were divided into teams to work on a real-world challenge and deliver their solution to a panel of industry and faculty advisors within a corporate space created in virtual reality.  

Students work in a virtual reality space with industry leaders and faculty advisors

This paid work-integrated learning helped educate and jump-start careers for York students in a “work-as-you-learn” environment under the mentorship and supervision of prominent leaders in the field, offering an inclusive and innovative experiential education program for all students. VR interactions between students and employers were held in York University Libraries’ Media Creation Lab and helped to inform the ongoing development of the lab spaces.

“It was a pleasure to guide students in building a financial model to assess climate-related risks and opportunities for the company that my students selected. It was not only a great learning experience for students but also for myself,” says Department of Economics Professor Sadia Malik

One of the interns, Sebhat Yacoub, enrolled in actuarial science in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics noted that HAIIvVe provided an opportunity to acquire exposure to virtual reality equipment and applications to facilitate hybrid collaboration. “The experience was a great way to meet new like-minded individuals after the social isolation caused by the pandemic. All necessary skills to kickstart a professional career were honed,” says Yacoub.  

HAIIvVE interns were paired with leading RMI organizations and risk leaders including RBC, CanadaLife, WSIB, AON, Risk Management Services at York University, Clearsum and others on eight unique projects that involve current and global issues impacting society. Projects currently underway address climate risk, cyber risk, nowcasting economics, demographic projections, enterprise risk and financial market risks. 

One of the inaugural HAIIvVE projects has brought together a team of students from the Faculty of Science, Department of Economics and Schulich School of Business, to work on a real-world climate risk challenge under Climate Actuary Didier Serre Ruah, head of Climate Risk Modelling and Research at Clearsum with the industry mentor and Malik serving as the academic mentor.  

“I really enjoyed working with the team. I’ve had a very positive experience with the students, and I was lucky to have had three students thirsty for new knowledge,” shared Ruah. 

The HAIIvVE intern team, with guidance from the project and academic mentors, worked closely with climate data and scenario analysis in developing a climate-financial model. This aims at calculating the impacts of climate change, incorporating climate risks linked to the changes in the natural world. The objective is to develop an understanding of the potential range of positive and negative climate-related impacts that corporations could be exposed to.  

“The HAIIvVe internship was a great opportunity for me. By pairing practitioners with students in a 16-week project, it gave me an inkling of how the industry assesses the impact of climate transition,” says Uzoma Erondu, a student of the Schulich MBA program and 2021 HAIIvVE intern. 

HAIIvVE directly supports York University’s 2020-2025 Academic Plan’s mission in risk governance and sustainable development for social good. Applications for the summer call are in process and another iteration of HAIIvVE is expected to be offered this summer, with plans to explore future opportunities to offer HAIIvVE each year.