At the University of British Columbia (UBC), experiential learning is embedded in the university experience. Whether it’s participating in community service learning, work-learn opportunities, field research, co-op, a startup incubator or other programs, 78 per cent of graduating students say they participated in at least one enhanced learning opportunity during their undergraduate program at UBC.
“Universities have always prepared citizens for the world, and now that our world is so much more interconnected, it’s reflected in the types of experiences we’re making available to our students,” says Dr. Janet Teasdale, managing director of student development and services at UBC.
“By design, a UBC education helps students explore diverse cultures and worldviews – whether that comes from a group research project, working in a lab or studying abroad in a co-op placement. And through these experiences, our students are coming to better understand themselves, the world of work and the opportunities they have to apply their knowledge and contribute to the local and global community.”
This was certainly the case for Ryan Hirakida, a fifth-year integrated engineering student. At the end of his third year of academic studies, Mr. Hirakida took a year-long co-op position in Tokyo, Japan, to work as an engineering assistant in a food packaging facility at Dai Nippon Printing.
Reflecting on the experience two years later, he says that in addition to the transferable skills he developed during his work term, one of the most valuable aspects of his year in Japan was being immersed in a very different business culture.
“There was a dedication to doing what’s best for the collective rather than the North American tendency to focus on the individual,” he says. “This sense of shared responsibility was clearly evident; for example, in the scheduled workplace cleaning times in which everyone, regardless of position, would contribute to sweeping floors, taking out garbage and organizing supplies.”
Last year, Mr. Hirakida participated in a UBC study abroad course in the Netherlands to learn about sustainable transportation systems, spending three weeks travelling by bike and public transit to visit cities and meet with transportation engineers and planners who had contributed to the country’s renowned bike-friendly culture.
As he says, it’s one thing to learn about transportation infrastructure from a textbook or lecture, and quite another “to actually be on a bike riding through intersections and getting a feel for how certain design elements contribute to a greater sense of safety.”
As a passionate advocate for the value of experiential learning, Dr. Teasdale is quick to point out its many positive outcomes. Students tend to have more success in their academic inquiries – their research papers, lab work and group projects. They are more likely to develop the skills employers are looking for, whether in digital literacy, problem-solving or effective communication. And they are more familiar with dynamic work environments and being part of a team, which means they are also developing professional networks while still undergrads.
But perhaps most importantly, she says, students who have participated in experiential learning gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the wider world. “UBC deliberately creates opportunities for students to work on challenging projects in places where new knowledge is created,” she says. “These are the experiences that are essential in helping you deepen your understanding of your role in society and developing a life of purpose.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.