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New Arts co-op program bolsters experiential learning

Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts is introducing co-op opportunities for students in four programs
By: Surbhi Bir
March 12, 2021
Three Ryerson Arts students in conversation.

Pictured here pre-pandemic, Arts students can now gain paid work experience and enhance their employability while earning credits towards their degree. 

Preparing for professional success is a top priority for most university students. That’s exactly why experiential learning is a hallmark of Ryerson’s education model, and the Faculty of Arts is amping up its efforts to get students career ready.

Working with Ryerson’s Career and Co-op Centre, the faculty is now offering co-op, or co-operative education, to students enrolled in the following arts programs: English, politics and governance, history and sociology.

“Co-ops help students enrich their classroom education with practical work experience,” said Pamela Sugiman, dean of the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson. “We’re thrilled that Arts students now have another avenue to expand their professional horizons, build their networks and gain valuable skills that will position them for success in their careers.”

While career-integrated learning isn’t new to the Faculty of Arts and every program includes some form of experiential learning, co-op will open new doors for liberal arts students through paid work experience that earns them credits towards their degree. 

Applications to the co-op program are open for students at the end of their first year. Preparations and job search begins in the fall of their second year and their first work term is the winter of second year.

Currently, about 70 students across the four Arts programs can enroll in co-op and start working in the winter 2022 term. Opportunities will grow over the next couple of years as co-op is introduced in other Arts programs as well. 

While Arts students have the option of taking a fourth work term, they are only required to complete three work terms to graduate with a co-op designation.

Exploring and defining career paths

Academic and career experts at Ryerson acknowledge that although Arts students have the opportunity to work in a variety of industries, their career paths are not always easily defined. 

“Arts is such a diverse field and you can really go anywhere with that degree,” said Thoywell Hemmings, senior manager of career-integrated learning at the Career and Co-op Centre. “We thought it was important for students to get a sense of the different possibilities and sometimes the best way to showcase that is to give them the opportunity to work in new fields they might not have thought about.”

Students in co-op will gain experience in industries such as government, financial services, heritage and culture, not-for-profit and private corporations. Some organizations that students can work with include IBM, banks like TD, RBC and CIBC, Apotex, Ministry of Education and Ontario Power Generation among many others.

“Liberal arts students can often face challenges in forging their career identity,” said Kathleen Kellet, associate dean of undergraduate studies. “The great benefit of the new Arts co-op program is that it will allow our students to explore a number of career choices and relate these experiences to what they learn in the classroom. Earning money at the same time is an added benefit.”

The faculty prioritized creating an accessible co-op program – one that meets the needs of first-generation students who may not have strong networks to rely on for references and other needs.

Listening to the voices of Black-identified students 

Additionally, the faculty is working closely with a newly formed Black student advisory group along with Mélanie Knight, professor and advisor to the dean of Arts on Blackness and Black diasporic education. 

“Student recommendations from Ryerson’s Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report emphasized the need to diversify disciplines and programs – not only in terms of curriculum, but internships and placements,” Knight said. “It’s imperative to consult with Black-identified students at the onset of new programs such as the co-op, because it’s important for students to see their voices reflected in policy decisions and programming.”

The Arts student advisory group is working with Sunny Chan, program advisor at the Career and Co-op Centre, to address important issues such as students’ fears around the school-to-work transition, possible structural barriers and mitigating strategies, representation among employers, lack of financial accessibility, social capital and acknowledgement of the daily realities of anti-Black racism.

“It’s important to think about the ways that the co-op program may be inaccessible due to systemic inequalities, especially in considering the employers that are available to students,” said Alicia Pinnock, a student in the advisory group. 

“Representation is important and we want to make sure that there are Black-identified employers in the co-op program, so students can imagine themselves working in the industry. This can also provide mentorship and additional support when looking for a career after graduation,” Pinnock said. 

A virtual meeting with Black-identified students in Arts.

The Faculty of Arts is consulting with a new advisory group to ensure the co-op program reflects the voices of Black-identified students.

Multiple approaches to experiential learning

Experiential learning is embedded into each program at Ryerson – whether in the form of internships, co-ops, job shadowing, community-engaged learning, field education, placements and practicums, live actor simulations, service learning, zone learning or experiential-focused courses.

While co-op opportunities will gradually be available for all Arts students, long-standing programs such as international economics and finance and geographic analysis have had mandatory internships for many years. Other programs such as environment and urban sustainability have optional placements. Some also integrate diverse placement opportunities into individual courses. 

In collaboration with the Career and Co-op Centre, experiential-based courses such as career integration (SOC 494), field experience (POG 499) and peer learning experience (SSH 500) offer career-integrated learning to Arts students in different ways.

“These courses offer students a concrete career toolkit and opportunities for job shadowing,” said Laura MacKinnon, career education specialist for the Faculty of Arts. “It helps them understand their skills and strengths, create a strong resumé, develop professional networks and effectively job search.”

Introducing more opportunities for students to work while studying has another benefit. 

“We know that students who work while they study are more likely to stay enrolled in university and finish their degrees,” said Emily Jones, interim director of the Career and Co-op Centre. “For us, that underscores the importance of offering as many students as possible an opportunity to take co-op, complete an internship, work through Career Boost, or any other way for them to explore their interests.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating uncertainty in the job market and given the nonlinear career paths that liberal arts students sometimes take, adopting multiple approaches to experiential learning is crucial to offering a holistic education.

For more information and to apply for co-op if you’re a first-year student in one of the four Arts programs, visit the co-op programs website.


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