They’ve helped float a boat-building camp for kids. Directed social agencies’ digital marketing campaigns. Created a directory to support local business retention and attraction.
More than 2,500 Western students each year take part in community-engaged learning – a form of experiential learning that’s embedded in a range of courses. It’s a win-win that benefits students and the community.
Building more, and stronger, symbiotic connections between Western and the community is a key theme in Western’s new strategic plan, Towards Western at 150.
Now Western students and their community partners are telling, in a series of short videos, the importance and benefits of these relationships, and how they’re working for good in the world. Experiential learning and community-engaged learning (CEL) are key elements in courses across every faculty at Western, said Heather Wakely, team lead of experiential learning through Western’s Careers & Experience office of Student Experience.
As part of the coursework, CEL offers students a chance to use and build on their skills to aid a local agency, while at the same time learning from the community partners’ expertise.
“The goal of the videos was to increase the profile of these innovative forms of experiential learning through peer-to-peer storytelling. We want other students to become inspired to learn more and understand the possibilities that are open to them,” said Heather Wakely, team lead of experiential learning through Western’s Careers & Experience office of Student Experience.
“What we heard in these students’ stories was how much they valued the experience, especially in light of the pandemic. Even virtual spaces of interaction between students and a local partner were meaningful.”
More than 200 non-profit organizations partner with Western each year in projects significant to them and to student learning.
“These are the students’ stories but this is also a spotlight on some incredible local organizations that partner with Western, and a tribute to the exceptional faculty members who make this a priority in their courses,” Wakely said.
David Vine, BA’83, BEd’94, founder of Stem2Stern, a community boat-building program working with underserved youth, said, “The CEL program at Western was a game-changer for Stem2Stern. The undergraduate students created our entire social media campaign and the masters students worked on program management for the purposes of community outreach.”
Project management student Alvin Leenus said once his team began securing sponsorship commitments for Stem2Stern, “my peers and I realized we were making a real impact on the lives of youth.”
This video storytelling project was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning program and CEWIL Canada’s iHub,which provides grants to projects that enable and promote curricular work-integrated learning experiences.
Participating businesses/agencies and students received a stipend for their time spent sharing their stories.
Students in the videos, developed by videographer Ian McAlpine, say experiential learning has helped with career preparation, skill development, teamwork and confidence.
Sierra Joseph said it has even helped find a career direction. Joseph is sometimes asked the value of an arts andhumanities degree: “What we’re doing is building a lot of skills in research writing and editing” that can be applied to a range of fields. Joseph helped create social media content and campaigns for a women’s shelter, Optimism Place.
Meanwhile, Katie Franklin spent much of her environmental health promotion class in partnership with STEAM Education Centre in St. Thomas, on programs to re-use and repurpose instead of sending discarded items to landfills or recyclers.
“What you create and work on throughout the entire semester helps this partner and this business thrive – and it’s very rewarding to see our hard work translated into something that can help our community,” Franklin said.
Said Fred Cahill, director of education at the STEAM Centre, “It really felt like we were a team, working together to effect change directly all across the region.”
Wakely said the videos are valuable for existing students looking to use their skills and gain community connection. And they’re ideal for recruiting students who increasingly are looking for meaningful local participation embedded inclasswork but offered outside of the classroom.
“Prospective students are seeking out degrees that offer these experiences as part of the whole learning experience.”