Strategic what?

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It’s no secret that a common reason students choose UW is for its co-op program, however, around 40 per cent of students are enrolled in the regular stream. UW’s strategic plan includes the theme of experiential education, with the goal of integrating work experience and preparation into everyone’s study programs.


Susan Elliot, former dean of applied health sciences (AHS), and Peggy Jarvie, executive director of co-op education and career action, are leading the theme. 


“UW already has a world-renowned reputation for co-op —there’s no question. We have a lot of students here who are not in co-op … so a key question is what are we doing for those students from a work-integrating perspective?” Elliot said.


Though the theme does look to improve the co-op program and make it more effective for students, a large portion of the theme is developing alternative experiential education for non-co-op students.


“What do we call students who are not co-op students? Some students feel like they’re second-class citizens because they are not in co-op,” Elliot said.


Part of the plan is to develop a “work-readiness” certificate program so that regular-stream students can learn the skills they may miss out on by not being in co-op, like interviewing and writing a cover letter. Elliot said UW needs to ensure that regular-stream students are prepared for the “real world” when they leave school.


Despite UW co-op’s world-renowned status, Jarvie recognizes there is a lot of room for improvement.


“Often, co-op students don’t necessarily recognize the link between what they learned on a co-op experience and what they are studying in class until a couple years after they graduate,” Jarvie said. To solve that, they are looking into ways to get professors to integrate students’ work term experiences in the classroom so they can connect the dots earlier on.


Elliot cited former AHS student Ami Richter as a success story. Richter completed her last work term at Telus in a job unrelated to her studies. A year later, she founded Lug Bags, a luxury baggage company. Within her first few years of business, Telus reached out to her to design phone accessories for them.


As part of the plan, several pilot projects are being developed in order to reach more students with experiential education. One will be a first-year inquiry course, which will focus on providing students with transferable skills, such as how to give an effective presentation and think critically. The class will be open to AHS students in its experimental phase.


“It gives [students] the skills they need to be successful for the rest of university,” Elliot said. Other things that will be addressed are how to work in groups, how to chair meetings and make an agenda, as well as how to deal with difficult group members.


“Experiential education is kind of a big deal in academic circles these days, largely because there is so much focus on student success after graduation,” Jarvie said.


Ultimately, the goal of the theme is to provide all students with experience to prepare them for post-grad life, not just co-op students.


<em>In this seven-part series, Imprint sits down with the leaders of each theme of UW&#39;s strategic plan to learn what the university is working on and why students should pay attention.&nbsp;</em>


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