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Allan Crane, a student in George Brown College’s Sport and Event Marketing program, began the program online while still in Trinidad. He is currently gaining real-world experience doing a work term for a Toronto marketing company.THOMAS BOLLMANN

Learning by experience

How George Brown students gained new opportunities to grow skills through alternative and virtual internships, despite the pandemic

Experiential learning plays a central role in the Sport and Event Marketing program at George Brown College. Before the pandemic, its students were able to get internships with companies in their chosen field and expand their education through mentorship and real-world experience. When COVID-19 hit, some of those opportunities were lost.

Knowing how invaluable this experience is to students, Nicole Gallucci, a professor with the program, knew it was essential to come up with a workable alternative. She helped create the E-ternship Academic Work Term Class.

“I reached out to my network and borrowed projects from anyone we could get them from – former clients, former students, colleagues…” she recalls. “We were able to give students real-life assignments so they could get the learning, with professors stepping in to become mentors.”

Students and faculty made the new setup work. Though the hands-on learning component could have been cancelled, it was pivotal to program participants and to staff to keep it going.

“This is real life,” explains Gallucci. “The pandemic was an example of the challenges companies face. It’s one thing to teach marketing and strategy, but it’s another to apply it. This was an opportunity for students to learn by doing.”

“Experiential learning opportunities help our students prepare for the workplace. Often the more traditional co-op opportunities are well understood by students and employers, however, experiential learning is much broader and can include capstone projects, industry or community partners, interactive simulations and applied research projects,” says John Peco, Chair of the School of Marketing at George Brown College. “The pandemic caused us to get even more creative.”

In the fall semester of 2020, internships found a new normal, with students working with outside firms, often remotely. That September, Nate Trewin, 25, started a 15-week work term with Amuka Esports. After graduating from the Sport and Event Marketing program, the company invited him to join them full-time as part of its education department.

“At the beginning of 2021 during lockdown, it was tough to find work,” he says. His internship opened the door. “It helped me start my career.”

For new Canadians, the stakes for having an experiential learning component are high. “We have a high percentage of new Canadians coming into our academic systems,” says Gallucci. “It’s a gift for us because we learn new systems and fresh ways of thinking.”

The challenge for the students is adopting to different processes in Canada, adjusting to their new home and perhaps a new language. Some also support families back home, so being able to learn, build their resumes and find a good job are especially important.

Allan Crane, 34, enrolled in the Sport and Event Marketing program while living in Trinidad, and studied online before coming to Toronto in September 2021 to begin a work term with SDImktg and its Rogers Hometown Hockey cross-Canada tour.

Back home, he operated his own online sports stock-photography business, but felt he needed experience working in a larger organization. “Now, I’m actually learning how a sports marketing business is run and how they do things,” he says.

After he graduates in December, he’s hoping to build his sports and event marketing career in Canada. “I think it has a fantastic marketplace,” he says. “My internship has shown me that there are great opportunities here.”

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Rooted in industry

Companies help steer innovative new programming and opportunities, such as work-integrated learning

Students at George Brown College’s business program don’t just graduate from the polytechnic school job ready.

They’re viewed by the business community at large as up-and-comers in marketing, finance, accounting, management and human resources, who will be among the most successful and innovative leaders of tomorrow.

In fact, some alumni of George Brown’s Centre for Business have been recognized over the past decade as winners of Canada’s Sport Business Awards, known as 5 to Watch (5TW) – a George Brown initiative conceived of and still guided by its PAC (program advisory committee).

“The 5 to Watch is really an outreach of our Sport and Event marketing graduate certificate program,” says John Peco, Chair of the School of Marketing at George Brown College’s Centre for Business, based in Toronto.

In its 10th year, the popular awards event, which includes an annual gala (to be held virtually for the first time ever on November 18 this year), recognizes the top five leaders in the sports business industry under age 40.

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Dr. Elizabeth Speers, Academic Director at the Centre for Business at George Brown College.Supplied

“5 to Watch has been more successful than ever expected,” says Mike Fenton, School of Marketing former PAC member and Co-Chair and founding organizer of 5TW. “It’s not only become an important event for the sports business industry, it is also a critical fundraiser for George Brown’s popular 12-month Sport and Event Marketing graduate certificate, providing multiple annual bursaries of $2,500 and numerous $500 bursaries because of the endowment fund the event has created.”

More broadly, 5TW fosters a strong connection between industry leaders and the school and its students, often leading to ongoing internships and job co-ops.

“The awards show attracts close to 400 industry executives annually and generates awareness across the industry of George Brown and its Sport and Event Marketing program,” Fenton explains.

Yet the awards are only the tip of the iceberg of innovative, industry and PAC-inspired ideas that permeate programming at the Centre for Business.

More broadly, industry advisors help create education that relates closely to the day-to-day operations of businesses and organizations, often referred to as work-integrated learning – or WIL.

“WIL is a combination of project-oriented study, often driven by industry, which incorporates real-world business examples into the classroom, and can include intern and co-op placements,” Peco adds.

Among those WIL opportunities is hearing from expert guest speakers, including 5 to Watch award winners like George Brown alumni Dan MacKenzie, President of the Canadian Hockey League and Tyler Mazereeuw, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at the Canadian Football League.

“George Brown’s strong connection with many industry organizations has led to longstanding internship programs for Sport and Event Marketing students with all major sports leagues,” says Mike Fenton, Co-Chair and one of the founders of 5TW.

Of course, the overarching goal at George Brown is providing learning opportunities in synch with industry via its Centre for Business’s four main departments: the School of Marketing, School of Management, School of Human Resources, and School of Accounting and Finance.

In turn, the Centre for Business relies on its PACs to develop innovative programs, including its newest: the Business Analytics degree in the Centre for Business.

“Analytics involves using all the data available to businesses,” says Elizabeth Speers, Academic Director at the Centre for Business who is managing the four-year degree, which starts next fall. “Business Analytics involves analyzing data from many sources and using it to make business recommendations and decisions. Frankly, data will be a driver that supports businesses in their decision-making and supports their future economic growth.”

One of the few degree programs in this field in North America, Business Analytics blends business knowledge with information technology (IT) know-how, so graduates can serve as a bridge between senior leadership and IT to find the most meaningful data, do the analysis and make recommendations to support management in making good decisions, she adds.

Like most George Brown offerings, students work with leaders in the field in the classroom – through volunteer industry mentorship – and in the real world via work-term experiences.

“That field experience is critical to putting into practice skills learned in the classroom,” adds Peco.

Central to study is curriculum instep with industry, thanks to its PACs.

“External industry professionals volunteer their time, giving vital input,” Peco explains.

Yet it’s not just PACs. Many George Brown professors work part- or even full-time in their respective industries and, consequently, offer current industry know-how while helping students plug into co-op, intern and even job opportunities.

Altogether, its approach to program design creates job-ready graduates, who often find employment quickly, embarking on bright career paths.

Not surprisingly, industry also grasps the importance of George Brown’s Centre for Business.

“We not only help build industry capacity,” Peco adds, “we’re influencing economic growth by educating talented grads to fuel that growth.”

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Education for all

During the pandemic, scholarships – and the fundraising efforts to create them – have never been more important at George Brown College

It’s a critical time for college students. They face unprecedented challenges receiving an education, finding meaningful work opportunities and pursuing careers. To help ease financial issues, fundraising for scholarships plays a crucial role.

Student scholarships have always been important at George Brown College, but the pandemic has made them a more urgent priority.

In recognition of this great need, the George Brown College Centre for Business, in conjunction with the George Brown College Foundation, has launched the 5 to Watch: Canada’s Sports Business Awards’ Anniversary Fundraising Campaign.

The campaign intends to raise $10,000 to fund entrance scholarships for incoming Sport and Event Marketing students from underrepresented groups, including BIPOC, women, 2SLGBTQIA+, newcomers to Canada and people with disabilities.

“The Foundation is pleased to facilitate this campaign as it dovetails with our organization’s mandate to work to ensure no student is denied access to education at George Brown College due to financial constraints,” explains Cindy Gouveia, President, George Brown College Foundation.

Besides tuition fees, incidental costs, such as transportation, rent, food and school supplies, can threaten a student’s ability to complete their course of study.

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Dr. Ian Austin, Dean, George Brown College Centre for Business.Supplied

“Unexpected events, such as illness, injury, loss of financial support and even a global pandemic, can leave students financially vulnerable,” says Gouveia. “The support that not-for-profits, like the George Brown College Foundation, provide for students’ needs is invaluable.”

Giving back to the community is a core principle of George Brown College. Students of its Sport and Event Marketing program have a stand-alone, cause-related marketing and non-profit course as a required part of the formal curriculum.

In addition to its altruistic goals, the course provides students with the chance to explore career opportunities in the sport business that are linked to the not-for-profit world.

Out of that course, the Virtual Chase evolved. It began as a scavenger hunt that moved from physical to virtual in May 2020. The organization continues as part of the Pinball Clemons Foundation under the leadership of the same students (now graduates) who started Virtual Chase.

“We have raised scholarship funds for George Brown students for 11 years,” says Jennifer Branco, Executive Director, Pinball Clemons Foundation.

“The interconnectivity between the sports business and the not-for-profit work has never been stronger,” says Ian Austin, Dean, George Brown College Centre for Business. “Partnership marketing and event management are integral to revenue realization in both, as well as the importance to giving back to the community.”

He feels confident about the future of his students: “With the support of our generous donors and partners, we aim to ensure the next decade of sports business leaders are as diverse and inclusive as the community that George Brown College represents?

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with George Brown College. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.