By Elaine Smith
When you say, “Get to work,” to a student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), they’ll soon take your suggestion literally, thanks to a new co-op education option that will be introduced in Fall 2024.
LA&PS currently offers an internship program for students in their third or fourth years, but the Faculty will be making the transition to an optional co-op program that begins in second year. The existing paid internship program allows for one work experience during the third or fourth year, while the co-op program will permit the student to alternate study and work terms, providing up to 20 months in paid work experience prior to graduation.
“I’m excited to launch a co-op program at LA&PS,” said Dean J.J. McMurtry. “This will give our students a unique opportunity to work with a diverse group of employers and community partners to gain important professional experience.”
Melanie Belore, associate director, experiential education for LA&PS, says the idea started with former vice-dean Sean Kheraj, and made sense.
“Co-op programs are fairly common in the sciences, technology and engineering, but we’re seeing more and more co-op programs in liberal arts,” Belore said. “It has long been accepted as a high-impact practice for student success and graduate employability, as well as huge payoffs in recruitment and retention for academic programs.
“It might delay a student’s graduation date, but they’ll graduate with an honours degree and paid work experience with an employer in their field. It complements the academic journey, builds their professional network and allows them to reflect on where to go next.”
Other benefits of a co-op program include: the opportunity to apply classroom learning earlier in a student’s university career; a break in academic studies that is relevant; and a chance to earn money to defray university expenses.
“As a means for paid career exploration, a co-op program will offer exciting new pathways and opportunities for all LA&PS students to experience work-integrated learning, regardless of their program of study,” said Anita Lam, associate dean, teaching and learning. “For the Faculty, it represents a crucial step forward. In building a co-op program that will help students develop career-relevant skills, we are also establishing the necessary administrative infrastructure and pedagogical supports for creating and delivering more high-impact experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom.”
Belore and her team are still finalizing details of the program. An academic advisory committee and a steering committee are working toward bringing it to life in partnership with the Dean’s Office and the York Career Education Development Centre, as well as assistance from groups such as academic advising, student success and recruitment.
“We have great support from across campus and there is a series of working groups supporting various aspects of the program’s development,” Belore said.
Students in some majors, such as philosophy, may not find opportunities directly related to their fields, but Belore noted that co-ops are designed to be entry-level work experiences focused on transferrable skills – such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking – that are in high demand across all sectors.
“We want both the employers and students to be open-minded. The idea is to use the opportunity for career exploration and building a future talent pipeline.”
While the students are doing their work term, LA&PS experiential education staff will check in with them during the term and will be available for support if they encounter workplace challenges. There also will be a career education co-ordinator dedicated to the program to assist students with resumes, mock interviews and related concerns.
“From an equity perspective, it’s important to offer paid work experience opportunities to all our students, regardless of field,” said Belore. “Many of our students currently balance academics with part-time or full-time work, so how great will it be to provide an option to gain paid experience in a field they hope to pursue? It’s also a chance to test some jobs and directions in a safe way to determine what they do and don’t want to do career-wise. They’ll have the freedom to change their minds.”