Are you needing to acquire skills and competencies to join the job market? Do you need experience leading projects and working with communities to demonstrate you are a team player?
These kinds of skills (leadership, project coordination and intercultural communication) are what employers call “soft skills”, and they are the key to your successful integration into the job market. Learning such competencies takes time and effort but an effective way to develop them is through activities outside the classroom and beyond your traditional course work.
The process of "learning through doing" is known as the Experiential Learning (EL) methodology and you gain it through projects with professors, staff, classmates and your local community. If you are either new to Montreal or do not have work experience you might wonder where you could acquire such “soft skills” that will make a positive impact to your future job prospects.
We attended the workshop Spark! Articulate and communicate your skills led by Alex Oster, Coordinator of Student Engagement, to understand how graduate students can engage in EL through opportunities and initiatives available on campus. Spark! is a project led by the Dean of Students Office to foster Concordia students to engage in learning activities outside their traditional course work. The objective is to raise awareness among students about extracurricular activities that teach, develop and support employment of Concordia’s students.
Spark! wishes to create awareness among students about projects, internships and voluntary work that will give them an opportunity to apply their academic knowledge, learn new competencies, meet people and achieve a sense of belonging. These initiatives strongly contribute to build the so-called “soft skills” that will increase students’ likelihood to find a job after graduation. Experiential Learning is not only about acquiring skills but also a fun and enjoyable way to have a broader world knowledge as a lifetime learning.
Alex explained that it is important that grad students start by mapping their professional, personal and academic goals while at Concordia before diving into Experiential Learning activities. For instance, a popular goal grad students have is to develop their professional network during their studies. Secondly, students need to envision the steps they may take to achieve their goal. Thirdly, a self-assessment helps to map where students are in relation to this goal and what it is their desired level. Finally, students need to list concrete activities in which they could engage to change from the current to the desired level of professional networking.
This is when Experiential Learning is helpful to increase networking or developing a specific ability that grad school alone is not able to offer. EL method focuses on learning by doing something, and there are plenty of opportunities available at Concordia, such as:
1. Course-integrated learning
It is a hands-on learning approach that involves taking the theory of your course work into practice within or outside the classroom, like capstone projects, performances or exhibits, and workshops.
2. Work-integrated learning
This is the chance to put your theoretical knowledge into work through clinical placements, teaching assistantships, apprenticeships, internships, and camp counselling just to name a few.
3. Research-based learning
You can contribute with your knowledge and expertise to your field by taking research assistant roles or joining a major research project. Contacting your supervisor or your program’s directors might be a good start to show your interest to contribute to your department’s scholarship.
4. Community-based learning
This is a great opportunity to apply your research to practical problems to produce social change and engage with a local community through volunteer positions and social action research. This experience will allow you to bring your field knowledge back to your studies while you are making a real impact on peoples’ lives. Concordia offers support to students to find strategic volunteering options targeted to develop specific skills and competencies.
5. International learning
This is the chance to experience a new culture and learn flexibility at the workplace by going abroad to take a course or doing reserach relevant to their field of study, or to take an internship with an overseas company to learn how to work with different people under completely new working conditions.
6. Student life learning
Student life offers a vast range of activities like participating in design competitions with your classmates, developing a business plan, workshops and mentorships. The easiest way to engage is by joining your department’s student associations that will give you the chance to organize events, know your faculty and help new students to integrate into academic life.
Alex advocates that students need to reflect on their skills and competencies, and, more importantly, they need to be able to tell a practical example of how these skills were acquired and key learning points and contributions. A great way of doing it is by providing your audience with a real-life example in a 30-second elevator pitch that you can rehearse with your friends and family. The more you practice the more you feel confident about talking yourself in professional and personal stances.
You can learn how Spark! positively contributed to students who engaged with Experiential Learning activities.