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Concordia Continuing Education connects students to the workplace through experiential learning

The work-integrated learning and mentorship components of programs like UX have helped students bridge the gap to employment with leading organizations
July 31, 2023
By Giordano Cescutti

Mentorship Photo by Next Academy on Unsplash

If Sasha van Stavel is scared of change, his career resume doesn’t show it. The 33-year-old has studied and worked in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Barcelona in fields including earth sciences, urban planning and education. In 2022, fueled by a desire to stay in motion and expand his resume, van Stavel pivoted again, this time to the burgeoning field of user experience (UX).

In pursuit of this new venture, van Stavel, who was living in Toronto at the time, researched UX programs in Ontario and Quebec. Ultimately, it was the work-integrated learning and mentorship components of Concordia Continuing Education’s UX certificate program that cemented his decision.

Sasha van Stavel Concordia Continuing Education UX alum Sasha van Stavel

“It was crucial,” says van Stavel about the program’s bridge to the workplace. “It helps you with networking, building a professional skillset and applying everything you’ve learned in the classroom to a work environment, which is priceless. Most of the other UX programs out there don’t offer this. It was a huge factor in me choosing CCE.”

Concordia Continuing Education introduced work-integrated learning and mentorship into its curriculum in 2019. To meet the 120-hour requirement, students can opt for an internship, a personal project of their design or a group consulting project with classmates. Each option aims to provide students with an opportunity to put their education to work and position themselves for permanent employment.

Sherry Blok, the director of programs at Concordia Continuing Education, says this initiative is a significant stride toward enhancing workplace readiness.

“When you are transitioning into another field, it's very difficult to do that solo without any kind of support system,” says Blok. “People need a community; they need a network. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we support learners who are looking at transitioning into a new field?’”

Work-integrated learning and mentorship have proven to be effective answers to that question. According to Statistics Canada, nearly two-thirds of postsecondary students who participated in work-integrated learning credited their placement with helping them find a job, particularly within their field of study. 

To bolster the skills of work-integrated learning participants and streamline the placement process, Concordia Continuing Education pairs each student with a mentor from their respective industry. 

Before van Stavel began his UX studies, he was matched with Grégory Petit, the UX/UI practice lead at the city of Montreal. During their weekly meetings, Petit offered design feedback to amplify user resonance, provided additional insight into the industry, and steered van Stavel toward complementary areas of study.

The wisdom Petit provided helped van Stavel land a three-month internship at design studio Blache Yong & Co.

“My mentor was a big reason why I got the internship that I did,” van Stavel said. “He introduced me to his network in the UX world and that was a big foot in the door.” 

When Petit saw that van Stavel tackled class projects with an insatiable curiosity, he became certain of his potential.

“Sasha was very eager to learn,” Petit said. “I knew if he worked in a great environment, he would do great because he’s a great learner.”

During his internship, van Stavel created mock-ups for mobile devices, and worked on designing a library of components and visual assets for clients including Bell Canada. The quality of his work shone through during those three months and before he departed, Blache Yong & Co. offered to retain him — a proposal van Stavel accepted with great relief.

“It’s uncertain when you’re pivoting careers, so it was definitely exciting to be able to see that the program and its internship and mentorship components paid off in the context of a job,” van Stavel said.

At Blache Yong & Co., van Stavel is one of two Concordia Continuing Education UX alums. And while the majority of the studio’s new hires are master’s students, art director Francois-Philippe Dupont says that Concordia’s UX alums arrived with two essential qualities.

“We’re looking for curiosity and a good attitude,” Dupont said. “Sasha had the best attitude and always wanted to do things the right way, so he learnt so fast. It’s crazy to me to see where he is now after just a couple of months.”

Instructional designers at Concordia Continuing Education are working to implement work-integrated learning and mentorship into more programs to align with the university’s mission to expand the breadth of experiential learning opportunities for students. As a result, in the winter of 2024, Concordia Continuing Education will incorporate work-integrated learning and mentorship into its full-time Diploma in Digital Marketing.

“We are always focused on making our students employable,” says Blok. “We give them the education aspects; we give them a mentor who's going to be amazingly supportive through the process, but we also want to give them an opportunity to connect with employers and demonstrate their skills.”

For students or professionals contemplating pivoting to a new industry like UX, van Stavel says having access to work-integrated learning and the mentors Concordia Continuing Education provides is the key to a seamless transition.

“Having that mentor is a super big asset, especially if you’re coming from a different industry altogether,” says van Stavel. “They are a huge lifeline to open up this new world and connect you with a bunch of different companies and industries within UX. It's a blessing to have that mentorship component.”


Participate in experiential learning this fall by registering for our UX Certificate.

Explore our work-integrated learning opportunities.

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