Providing experiences through co-op placements – University of Victoria


darelle.business2_webAt the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business, business students have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, exploring how their education is connected to various industries and businesses that interest them, before they graduate. Students do this through participation in the University of Victoria Co-operative Education Program (Co-op) where they must complete 3 four-month work terms. The Co-op Program offers students the opportunity to try out different jobs, build competencies, and earn income—and possibly a job after graduation. I spoke with Leslie Liggett, Manager of the Business Co-op and Career Centre at the University of Victoria about this programme.

Briefly describe the co-op programme

The Canadian Association for Co-operative Education (CAFCE) defines it as a “Co-operative Education Program,” which means the programme alternates periods of academic study with periods of work experience in appropriate fields of business, industry, government, social services, and the professions. The focus is to ensure that students are given productive work that is supervised and evaluated. Additionally, it is structured so that time spent in periods of work experience is at least thirty per cent of the time spent in academic study.

The key points are that the work is linked to the academic discipline, full-time paid, and assessed. The University of Victoria’s Co-op Programs are accredited by the CAFCE.

How did the Co-op Program at University of Victoria (UVic) come about?

 In the mid 1970s, science programmes at UVic realised that science students could benefit from practical experience in industry as part of their education. Faculty thought that students’ learning could be enriched by applying what they learned as they progressed in their degree programmes, and reflecting on their experiences as they moved through their education. Over time, the programme spread to other disciplines. Now, every undergraduate programme at UVic offers Co-op unless they already require practica or other applications of their learning. Now UVic has the third largest co-op programme in Canada.

In Business and Engineering, Co-op is mandatory. Every BCom student completes 3 four-month work terms, and MBA’s complete one or two, unless they are exempt because they already have enough industry experience.

Why have it?

 Benefits accrue to all three parties involved:

  • Students apply their education to see how it works in practice, and think critically about how what they are being taught is actually implemented; try several types of work to help them choose a direction for their career; earn money to finance their education; build professional networks before they graduate; graduate work-ready; and find work sooner and get paid more than non-co-op graduates.
  • Employers get access to the most current theories and practices; have a chance to hire in a low-risk way (4 months at a time) so they can find candidates that best match their business; gain access to potential future employees even before they graduate; and receive fresh ideas and intelligent questions to help them improve their business.
  • Gustavson School of Business accessess potential Corporate Partners, mentors, donors, and guest instructors who are familiar with our programme; develops engaged students who think critically and ask probing questions in the classroom; and gets better career outcomes for grads, and externally-validated data on student outcomes.

How does it work in practice?

Co-op Coordinators talk to companies, help them identify any needs that could best be met by hiring a co-op student, and help them create job postings to recruit students. Students can apply to the positions we post, or find work through their own networks or other means. Positions qualify as Co-op if they help students develop their core and business-related competencies, include a minimum of 12 weeks of full time employment, and are paid.

University of Victoria was the first Canadian university to develop a competency assessment system that links classroom curriculum with work-term learning. Once students are hired, they meet with their supervisor to define their learning goals. They then review the list of Core and Business Specific Competencies, and choose 3-5 that are relevant to their work. Students then assess where they are on the competency development scale. At the mid-term, students assess themselves again on the same competencies, and their supervisor reviews their assessment and does one of their own. There is then a scheduled meeting with the supervisor, student, and Co-op Coordinator to ensure that the student’s learning is facilitated and meeting the employer’s expectations. The final assessment of competencies happens at the end of the 4-month term, thus allowing the student to measure their learning and development. Students also reflect on their learning by submitting a reflective piece of work for review by their Coordinator in preparation for their return to campus.

What are some examples of the co-op placements?

We are finding that more and more of our students are exploring sustainability related co-op placements or working on sustainability projects within their jobs. One of our students who wanted experience in the tourism industry did her Co-op work term as a Guest Service Agent at Ziptrek Ecotours in Whistler, BC. Ziptrek offers tours to educate guests about the rare temperate coastal rainforest of Whistler while providing an adrenaline-pumping experience as guests soar hundreds of feet above the forest floor on zip lines. Another student worked as a Research Assistant putting together a business plan for a commercial greenhouse business with a local non-profit organisation.

Students love that the programme gives them a chance to get out of the classroom and get first-hand experience of the issues and industries they hope to work with post-graduation.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

There is a Canadian and Associations for Co-operative Education (CAFCE) and a World Association for Co-operative Education (WACE) that are both great starting points! Their conferences offer a wealth of opportunities to learn from others. Additionally, these associations provide resources for programme assessment, which would be helpful is setting a framework for such a programme. Overall, my advice is to secure faculty support, and then do it.

What are the next steps for the programme?

Our next steps are to continue to seek opportunities that are relevant to students’ education, interests, and passion. We are also trying to tap into larger and more international companies, where our students can start to have a bigger impact.


Sustainable Food on Campus (part 2)

Farmer’s Market, University of San Diego

Food is one of the 7 critical issues bring discussed at the upcoming Rio+20 summit taking place this June in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. As the Rio+20 site states, “It is time to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food,” and, in this two part blog, we will be looking at a range of ways that university campuses are doing just that throughout their operations.

Community Gardens

With the increased push to provide more locally produced food, some campuses are taking matters into their own hands by creating gardens where students and staff grow some of the vegetables and produce consumed in the cafeterias. Royal Holloway School of Management has launched its Campus Community Garden to encourage students to grow and eat their own fresh vegetables. With help from the College’s gardeners, an area of wasteland on campus, measuring 152 square meters, has been turned into vegetable patches ready for students to cultivate. SLUG (Student Led Unity Garden) at the University of Portland is an organic, sustainable garden started in 2006 by a small group of students. The University of Victoria Campus Community Garden provides a range of introductory gardening workshops. The school provides 90 plots at the gardens, including individual allotment gardens, communal gardens for volunteers and food bank donations and garden plots used by advocacy groups and classes.

Farmers Markets

A growing number of schools are also providing space for farmers markets, where local farmers and producers can sell their products. The University of San Diego started a market in 2009 that provides fresh fruit and vegetables and food cooked on site on Wednesdays from 11-2pm. The University of London  also has a certified organic farmers market on campus, where students can grab their lunch every Thursday.

Celebrating Progress made

Copenhagen Business School celebrates Sustainable Food Day on campus. The day gives students the opportunity to sample delicious sustainable foods while becoming better informed about the links between social entrepreneurship and sustainable food production. It also gives students and staff the opportunity to interact with innovators who have turned their passion for sustainable food into profitable businesses. EM Strasbourg has been organising annual eco-banquets for volunteers who had taken part in actions dedicated to sustainable development in the School through the year. Each participant is able to discover the regional specialties and chat over a glass of organic cider and fair trade apple juice. The banquet is also an opportunity to speak about progress made on sustainable development projects over the previous year.

Giving back to the community
Campuses are not just looking at food on campus, but how to help ensure food donations for local charities. Students from Marketing Institute of Singapore Training Center had a Food donation drive in support of a local charity called Food from the Heart. They also partnered with the Singapore Environment Council to deliver a talk on “Being a Responsible Consumer by Going Green” to enhance understanding of the impact of food choices. “Food Fight” is an annual tradition in which a number of MBA programs across the US, including the University of Michigan, compete to see who can raise the most food to donate to local communities in need. The school that collects the most food (total or per student) wins money to donate to the charity of their choice and a coveted trophy. Staff, faculty and students at Grenoble Ecole de Management worked with Danone, an international food company, on a humanitarian project to collect food for the Restaurants du Cœur, a nationwide association that distributes meals and food to those in need.

For more on the Rio+20 theme of Food, read the Issue Brief prepared by UN-DESA visit the Rio+20 site.

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