Canada and the world are in need of talented individuals prepared to hit the ground running and who can enable our future prosperity. They will be the catalyst for positive change, strengthened by their adaptability. At the heart of developing that talent will be experiential education.
We have a strong commitment to all of our students which means the power of experiential education should be open to all. An education at the University of Waterloo, no matter the program should have some element of experiential learning, not only for those in STEM disciplines.
We have a powerful legacy of educating our students in and out of the classroom. The University of Waterloo’s co-operative education program is second to none. It is the largest program of its kind in the world that has more than 21,000 students taking part in our co-op program with nearly 7,000 employers in more than 60 countries. Over 1 million interviews took place on our campus last year leading to a placement rate of 98.5% of co-op students.
These statistics are truly remarkable for any higher education institution. We gain so much as an institution and what our students gain is more than a paycheque. The relationships, confidence and drive to contribute to society are heightened with every passing week when working throughout one’s university studies. While we will continue to improve and expand our co-op program, we will work to ensure that all of our students have access to an education that includes the benefits that come from experiential education, and it’s not limited to only co-op.
Neither Canada, nor our University live in a microcosm. They are a link in a global chain of socioeconomic and geopolitical events that is ever evolving. Leaders who will define industries and create new ones will also need to understand global business, cultural and political practices. This means exposure to valuable international experiences.
This could be a student exchange for a term abroad or a co-op placement at a multi-national with offices in Singapore, Zurich or New York City. More than 3,900 students at Waterloo took part in experiences such as these last year and gained invaluable knowledge along the way. These international opportunities offer so much including lower unemployment rates for students who studied abroad as opposed to those who remained in their home country, as revealed in a recent Erasmus Impact Study.
The connections made, the cultures explored and the skills developed during an international experience are truly priceless and are all part of an experiential education.
Experiential education also is not limited to formalized, academic careers. A university education brings with it the opportunity to take part in countless extracurricular activities from student clubs to volunteer services and entrepreneurial activities.
I had the pleasure of meeting with some exceptional student leaders at the recent President’s Student Leadership Awards Reception and one common trend was their experiences volunteering and developing experiences outside of the classroom or co-op. Whether it was working on the creation of an app that brings together international students on campus or advocating for students through the work of student government and service organizations, there is a great deal of experience attained through extracurricular endeavours like these.
Experiential education can also be found through individuals who can work with you and mentor you. There are mentors all around us at the University. Professors, peers and staff members continuously interact with our students on any number of activities and during that time advice honed from years of experience are passed on. One very large community that can be tapped into for this is the University of Waterloo alumni network.
This growing community of more than 200,000 alumni are entrepreneurs, industry leaders and pioneers who have all sat right where our students are right now. This network actively engages with our students at events and informal mentoring groups all year long. The experience and advice gained from these interactions further add to experiential learning if taken advantage of, just like a co-op job or international exchange.
At the heart of experiential learning is just that, experience. It comes in many different forms and can be transformative for our students and the future of talent. We will continue to be the leader in co-operative and experiential education because, as our students and alumni have shown, it creates curious and confident citizens who do not just follow opportunities, they create them.