This text is part of the special section on higher education
Since the beginning of the 2022 academic year, Concordia University has committed to providing at least one experiential learning opportunity (APE) to each of its 30,000 undergraduate students.
The formula goes far beyond the classic paid internships in the company, which have already established the reputation of the institution. An APE can be part of a course in the form of a laboratory, thesis project, studio work, performance or exhibition, or it can be an innovation research project commissioned by a company, NPO, ministry or other Community. The list also includes student internships abroad and even participation in competitions or start-up workshops.
“The idea of the APE came naturally to us because Concordia has been practicing the cooperative system for 42 years,” says Anne Whitelaw, Executive Vice Rector for Academic Affairs.
Nadia Bhuiyan, Assistant Executive Vice Rector for Partnerships and Experiential Learning, led the overall APE operation. She is surprised at the speed at which things have happened. “We thought we would get there in 2025, but the target for 2025 is now two [occasions d’] APE for each student. »
The results of a poll
The idea stems from a 2016 survey of student expectations. Almost universally, they state that gaining work experience is their first wish.
This year, four faculties (Engineering and Computer Science, Management, Arts and Sciences, and Fine Arts) practiced the cooperative regime – three paid volunteer internships at work during the entire duration of the Matura. As a first step, the university decides to expand this program to 54 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. “Within four years, we have tripled the number of students in the cooperative system to 5,110,” says Nadia Bhuiyan.
The new Office for Experiential Education creates and coordinates many initiatives. For example, the possibility of carrying out a synthesis project with industrial, commercial, social or scientific objectives at the end of the course. Students can also form multidisciplinary teams to respond to an innovation challenge created by an industry, ministry or city. We have also chosen to support certain particularly rewarding volunteer activities, such as B. competitions. “We had students designing satellites and even rockets. These experiences are now being credited,” reveals Nadia Bhuiyan, herself a professor of mechanical engineering and head of the Concordia Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation.
The Office of Experiential Learning also worked with all faculty to identify at least one required course per program that qualifies for an APE, with at least 40% of the grade attributed to that experience. “We received a lot of participation from our teachers,” explains Nadia Bhuiyan. Nobody said it was impossible. »
“It is important to us that any form of APE is compensated or at least credited,” says Anne Whitelaw. The Doggone Foundation offers paid internships to fine arts students, an environment where employers are often short of resources. And another RBC Foundation gift, earmarked for the Succeeding Until Everything program, supports students from marginalized backgrounds.
The merits of the formula
The two Vice-Rectors have long been convinced that experience-based learning leads to better academic and professional success. “Studies show it. The effect on motivation and interest is direct,” says Nadia Bhuiyan.
The operation would never have worked without the enthusiastic response of public, private and local employers. “They see it as an opportunity to develop knowledge and seek out rare workers. Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has even guaranteed to hire at least 25 students a year, says Nadia Bhuiyan. But it requires a constant effort of communication and representation because many employers don’t realize they have this opportunity. »
All universities conduct APE, but Concordia is the first to guarantee at least one APE, and soon two, for every undergraduate student. This expanded educational offering will not only contribute to Quebec society, but also strengthen its position in the global race for university philanthropy, faculty hiring and student recruitment.
“For students of engineering or economics, the career prospects are very obvious, but less so in the humanities and social sciences, in the arts,” says Anne Whitelaw, who as an art historian understands something about it. “APEs will allow them to gain experience and better understand the path to employment. »
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