The elevator opens up into a collaborative workspace, designed in a “town-hall” setting. Each classroom is equipped with a 90-inch screen, a projection system and a high-quality sound system.
This is the newly designed, innovative headquarters of the Ryerson English as an Additional Language (REAL) Institute.
The new 30,000 square-foot space, located in the College Park building on Yonge Street, was completed for the start of this school year and allows students and faculty to coexist in one place.
“We also have spaces that accommodate the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural makeup of our students,” said Gerd Hauck, director of the REAL Institute.
“We have spaces where students can retreat to pray, or take some time to meditate, or nurse a baby… and those are spaces we didn’t have when we occupied…four different floors in the Chang School and three or four different floors in the Victoria Building,” Hauck said. “We were terribly dispersed all over the place and didn’t have a sense of identity, a sense of cohesion.”
Victor Hu Wong, originally from Panama, is now in his final year of studies at Ryerson and has plans to graduate with his degree in human resources next year.
“The old space was not as open as the new environment,” he said. “The new environment provides more accessibility. You feel safe here.”
The REAL program has experienced exceptional growth since its inception in 2013. At the time, only 25 students were part of the program; this year it’s home to 220.
“The students’ lives don’t begin and end in the classroom so we know it’s not easy to integrate, be it a new academic, or for some of the students, a new cultural environment,” said John Barnes, a REAL Institute lecturer. “Our team works very hard to support them in both those capacities.”
Barnes has been with the program since the spring of 2014 and said he has witnessed its growth first-hand.
Hauck attributes the growth of the program to two things: word-of-mouth advertising and the university’s strategy.
Many of the program’s students come from the Ontario high school system. Current students advertise the program to junior students at their respective high schools.
“The other very important aspect is that the university is very aggressively pursuing international students more than they had done in the past,” Hauck said. “The university increased in the past year its intake of international students by 40 per cent.”
The U.S. and England traditionally have been the two most popular English-language training destinations, according to Hauck. But he added that the program will continue to experience growth because interest in Canada has increased significantly since Trump came into power and because of the impact of Brexit.
The new facility is expected to accommodate more than 600 students, but Hauck said it’s too early to tell whether the program will reach this capacity.