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extracurricular

Six Ryerson students spent a week in Colombia assisting a local non-profit that works with low-income children in Cartagena and spent another week on a trek through the jungle of one of the country’s major national parks.

Growing up in small-town Ontario, 20-year-old Ben Canning thought he had his career plans set.

"I wanted to go to business school to make a whole bunch of money," he says. "I wanted to be rich."

But after three years of studies at Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, where he is pursuing an undergraduate commerce degree with a specialization in entrepreneurship and marketing, Mr. Canning discovered there's more to the bottom line than making money.

While studying full-time, he has immersed himself in several outside-the-classroom, non-credit initiatives – one a greenhouse project to grow local produce in Canada's high Arctic – supported by the Rogers school.

"Being able to take entrepreneurship classes and start a socially oriented business up North and understand the problems facing the world, I realize that making a profit is only part of the bottom line," says Mr. Canning. "In terms of how I view business now, it is an equal third to social and environmental impact."

Like a growing number of business schools across Canada, Rogers in Toronto encourages students to pursue non-classroom activities to gain real-world experience that, it is hoped, will make them attractive to employers after graduation. Rogers, for example, is explicit about its ambition to become a "pre-eminent entrepreneurial-focused" business school using experiential and theoretical learning.

"Our students are getting their hands dirty in every way," says Rogers dean Steven Murphy, citing student-led initiatives to promote bee-keeping in Kenya and tackle homelessness in east-end Toronto.

This year, as a pilot project that may eventually go university-wide, Rogers is developing a "co-curricular record" for students to catalogue business skills honed outside the classroom working for-profit companies, including Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and non-profit ventures.

"You don't just graduate with a piece of parchment that has your grades, you also graduate with a record of everything you have done while you have been at Ryerson as a student," says Dr. Murphy, of the co-curricular record. "We want students to use that … as a talking point [with employers] about who they are as a human being and what their values are."

Last year, the student-run Ryerson Commerce Society ran a case competition for After Breast Cancer, a charity founded in 2012, that provides special bras and fittings to low-income women recovering from mastectomies and breast reconstruction surgery.

"We are a 100-per-cent volunteer organization, including me," says founder Alicia Vianga, owner of Premier Jour Fine Lingerie, who wanted advice on how to build the charity's profile in advance of a spring 2016 conference on providing support for breast cancer survivors.

Students had one week to come up with marketing and other advice of practical value to the charity.

"It was brilliant," says Ms. Vianga, delighted that some Rogers students continue to volunteer with the charity in preparation for next year's conference.

In a twist on the typical business student-only case competition, the Commerce Society invited interdisciplinary teams from across campus.

"Given our entrepreneurial culture, we know people from commerce needed to meet people from engineering and communications and design," says Andrew Ashton, a fourth-year commerce student specializing in accounting who dreamed up the interdisciplinary format.

The emphasis on solving real-world problems appeals to students, says Mr. Ashton.

"In most case competitions, there is a fictitious problem and it's all about making money," he says. "Any time you can take on a real company to work with, there is a completely different feel. Everything is current; nothing is made up."

The competition's interdisciplinary focus appealed to Ryan Ing, 22, a third-year commerce student with aspirations to join a startup company in Silicon Valley or Toronto after graduation next year.

"I really wanted to meet students from other faculties, engineering and others," he says. His team, which included students from journalism and science, won $500 in one category of the competition.

Promoting student engagement and experiential learning opportunities is the goal of a special Rogers office for student engagement and business development, set up several years ago, that reports directly to the dean.

The office was the brainchild of Abdullah Snobar, now executive director of Ryerson's Digital Media Zone. In his view, direct exposure to real-world problems gives students a chance to apply classroom knowledge and practice networking and other soft skills.

Doing so in a school environment, he adds, "gives students the ability to succeed and fail."

Natasha Campagna, the office's current co-ordinator, says "having the students involved gets them experiences they would never have in a part-time job," enabling them to describe their leadership experience developed in real-life settings to a prospective employer.

Layla Hussein, who graduated this year from Rogers with a specialty in finance, says a school-sponsored trip to Colombia last year enhanced her résumé.

One of six students selected for the two-week trip, she and her classmates spent one week assisting a local non-profit that works with low-income children in Cartagena and spent another week on a trek through the jungle of one of the country's major national parks.

"It was eye-opening and a good reminder of what is actually important in life," says Ms. Hussein, impressed with the work-life balance of Colombians.

After graduating, Ms. Hussein joined Bell Canada as a member of its graduate leadership development program.

She is convinced her outside-the-classroom activities at business school helped her stand out in the interview process.

"In the program I was hired into [at Bell], they were looking for people who had not just academic experience but extracurricular involvement," she says. "They wanted well-rounded people."

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