Increasingly, the education provided by universities, colleges and institutes includes experiential learning components. Often sourced in partnerships with business and industry, hands-on learning opportunities prepare graduates to contribute from the first day on the job.
“Applied research partnerships have the potential to bring the educational sector and industry together to look for solutions to industry challenges and to address environmental issues,” says Eddy Isaacs, CEO of Alberta Innovates – Energy & Environment Solutions.
“When part of their education involves understanding the issues that industry is facing, graduates can be of tremendous benefit to industry, which needs solution-oriented people.”
Here are two examples of such initiatives.
Mount Royal University
At age 20, Derek Rucki was already a top-10 Canadian junior golfer and had been awarded a coveted sports scholarship to Texas A&M University. But when it was time to focus on life off the course, he transferred to Mount Royal University in Calgary, aiming for a career in investment banking.
His career direction changed one day last September, in the first class of Mount Royal’s introductory course in entrepreneurship. “After class, Derek came up to me and said, ‘I just found out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,’” says Ray DePaul, a successful tech entrepreneur who joined Mount Royal’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as director in 2012.
"When part of their education involves understanding the issues that industry is facing, graduates can be of tremendous benefit to industry.”
Eddy Isaacs is CEO of Alberta Innovates – Energy & Environment Solutions
With its focus on undergraduate education, the Calgary-based university provides a rich learning environment that engages students from all departments in cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial learning activities, says Mr. DePaul. “We have marketing students working with environmental science and computer information system students.”
In addition to the instruction delivered by faculty, community experts volunteered more 1,200 hours last year to share their expertise with Mount Royal students. “Many of our partners, such as JMH & Co. and Stikeman Elliott LLP, see this as a great opportunity to connect with the next generation of leaders,” says Mr. DePaul. “But I think many do it just because it’s such a wonderful feeling. I know I smile a lot more now than I did while running my own company.”
Once the students have found the “idea that really drives them,” Mount Royal’s JMH LaunchPad program provides an opportunity to receive startup funding, mentorship and coaching while honing pitch delivery and networking skills.
Since that decisive day last September, Mr. Rucki has applied his golf expertise to the development of a wearable device that dramatically improves upon the tools now available. Together, he and Mount Royal computer science student Stefan Radeta founded TLink, which just closed a successful round of angel investment funding.
“Our product is a lightweight device that displays golf yardages from GPS applications downloaded to your smartphone and can be worn as a watch,” says Mr. Rucki. “This round of funding has really propelled us forward – we’ll launch pre-orders for our product online on August 1 this year.”
Early in the process, Mr. DePaul introduced Mr. Rucki to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Calgary, immersing him in Calgary’s entrepreneurial culture. “We’ve had the opportunity to pitch to hedge fund managers and to people running marketing firms. The feedback and mentorship has been phenomenal.”
Mr. Rucki credits Mount Royal University and its faculty with his remarkably successful start. “Even if you’re not interested in becoming an entrepreneur, the program teaches you how to think differently and to solve problems. I recommend it to all of my friends.”
“We’ve had the opportunity to pitch to hedge fund managers and to people running marketing firms.”
Derek Rucki is co-founder of TLink, a golf technology startup and a student at Mount Royal University
This year, five of SAIT’s bachelor of business administration students helped launch a product with the potential to reduce environmental impact, make life more comfortable in remote locations and potentially keep victims of disaster safer.
The accounting students worked with SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services department and Worthington Construction Ltd. to build a
comprehensive business plan for the Water Closet, a portable, off-the-grid toilet facility that converts waste into valuable fertilizer. Developed in Alberta, it works in severe weather extremes, making it ideal for northern sites such as the oil sands as well as anywhere off-grid sanitation systems are required.
The floods in Calgary last year brought the urgency of off-grid sanitation needs close to home, says SAIT School of Business professor Vicky Roy, but the Water Closet is also designed for use in refugee camps and natural disaster sites around the world.
The students provided market and financial assessments as well as expertise on management, operations and human resource planning for the new venture. Their contributions helped facilitate the Water Closet’s pilot project with the City of Edmonton, and the experience provided significant benefits to the students as well, says Dr. Roy.
“It’s 10 times more difficult to work with real clients, but it’s also 10 times more valuable...”
Vicky Roy is a professor at SAIT School of Business
“These capstone projects are often a student’s first hands-on experience with clients. We take a consultancy approach, which enables them to collaborate with the entrepreneur through all the steps of a startup,” she explains.
In combination with the theoretical knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom, the experience equips students with first-hand knowledge of the integrative approach necessary to successfully start a business, says Dr. Roy. “Throughout the collaborative project, they’re required to research, analyze, evaluate and recommend solutions to real business problems. Entrepreneurs all want to have a great marketing plan, for example, so these projects help transform our students into marketers as well as accountants.”
With each client, students run into and overcome different roadblocks, she notes. “It’s 10 times more difficult to work with real clients, but it’s also 10 times more valuable to the students. This kind of experiential, hands-on learning gives SAIT business students a huge competitive edge when they graduate.”
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