By: Namish Modi (he/him)

Global leaders in work-integrated learning (WIL) recently gathered at the University of Waterloo to discuss the future of work. Key themes of the conference included innovation, entrepreneurship and economic recovery. 

More than 250 delegates from 24 countries participated in the World Association for Co-operative and Work-integrated Education (WACE) 2023 Conference. The event, hosted by Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education unit, took place from June 28-30. The conference theme was "The future of work: engaging work-integrated learning to achieve innovation, entrepreneurship & economic recovery in an uncertain world.”

Remote video URL

Among the 100+ sessions at the conference was the keynote session with The Right Honourable David Johnston, Canada’s 28th Governor General and the university’s fifth president, and Dr. Vivek Goel, Waterloo’s current president and vice-chancellor.

The fireside chat centered around Johnston’s new book, “Empathy.” Johnston and Goel are both strong advocates of experiential learning.

During his presidency from 1999-2010, Johnston focused on extending Waterloo’s co-op program internationally.

Goel is looking to ensure the continued growth of the program through the Waterloo at 100 strategic visioning process.

“Engaging in work-integrated learning provides students and employers (with) a platform to learn from one another,” says Johnston. “Students have an opportunity to learn tangible skills and intangibles ones like empathy.”

According to Johnston and Goel, co-op and experiential education empowers students to better understand the world around them.

Our role as a leader in co-op and experiential learning needs to evolve to become more socially engaged, robust and relevant. Incorporating an understanding of how our actions impact others, in other words, empathy, is how our students and graduates will continue to make a positive impact on the world.

DR. VIVEK GOEL, president and vice-chancellor, University of Waterloo

Delegates had the opportunity to choose their own path by selecting which breakout sessions to attend. Sessions ran concurrently and included presentations by delegates on various WIL topics.

Engaging with Waterloo’s Indigenous community

Held during National Indigenous History month in Canada, the conference featured several Indigenous components.

Attendees learned about some of aspects of Indigenous cultures and voices. Indigenous ceremonies were central components to the conference.

Indigenous Elders Henry and Miller opened and closed the conference with a special ceremony.

Conference attendees experienced an Indigenous curated lunch, learned how to braid sweetgrass and took part in guided imagery.

As part of the conference, Waterloo also hosted a Gala and Awards Ceremony at Tapestry Hall on Thursday, June 29.

The night featured a performance by Indigenous group Tribal Vision, dinner, awards ceremony and an open dance floor. Waterloo staff and WIL leaders from across the world were honoured at the awards.

“These fundamental components of our conference, and the experiences for our delegates, were made possible through the leadership and commitment of Bryanne Smart (CEE’s associate director, Indigenous relations) who helped with the programming and community connections,” says Dr. Norah McRae, associate provost of CEE.

Indigenous elder speaking
Indigenous elder dancing

Many delegates had never experienced anything like this, and it provided a profoundly different and memorable conference. The messages that the Elders shared of the importance of healing, community and thankfulness were especially relevant following the traumatic event on campus last Wednesday and resonated with our global audience.

Norah McRae, associate provost of CEE

Man playing a flute
Indigenous person dancing

At the conference, institutions and supporters signed the renewed WACE global charter. The renewed charter reflects changes to the calls to action in light of significant challenges faced globally since 2019, including a global pandemic.

Waterloo staff and WIL leaders from across the world were honoured at the awards
WACE Outstanding Professional Contribution Award Dr. Judene Pretti (Waterloo)
WACE Leadership and Innovation Award Dr. Nancy Johnston
WACE Employer/Partner Contribution Award Robert Douglas & Brian Train
WACE Best (Refereed) Paper Award Antoine Pennaforte
Global WIL Module Certificates

Colleen Phillips-Davis (Waterloo)

David Fenton

Mohna Baichoo

Shabnam Ivkovic (Waterloo)