Western News – Western college students take on real-world business challenges

The latest iteration of work-embedded learning at Western has transformed the way InterVal, a London, Ontario tech startup, mentors its people and how seven other companies in the city do business.

And what’s new about this new partnership is that this time, sophomores and juniors were the spark for ideas that helped the industry.

More than 1,000 liberal arts students spent part of their term problem-solving with eight industry partners as part of a pilot program supported by the Business Roundtable + Higher Education (BHER), of London technology Alliance, Red blood cells Future Launch and Canada’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

In work-integrated learning, students gain experience in teamwork and problem solving, while partner companies gain insight into pressing questions they want to address.

Western’s goal is for every graduating student to have had at least one such experience.

Most of the time, that has meant co-ops or internships for fourth-year students. before they graduate.

“The idea here is to give students the opportunity to engage with industry in their second or third year at Western so they can be exposed to companies they may not have considered and careers that may not have crossed their minds,” said Heather Wakely, Team Leader for Experiential Learning.

Wakely said many of the business partners, and welcome others, are Western alumni.

“This has the potential to be an important part of the experiential learning framework we seek to build.”

With research and written assignments lasting from two to ten weeks, the projects included studies on mental health, environmental monitoring, workplace accessibility, virtual tourism, and the challenges and benefits of using artificial intelligence for accounts payable.

transferable skills

Trevor Greenway, co-founder of interval, knows that liberal arts students are capable. He graduated from Western with a degree in political science and never thought he would be running a new technology company. “Skills are transferable,” he said. “My degree taught me to think differently, to understand different thought processes and strategies and apply them to solve different problems as they arose.”

InterVal, which has developed software tools that help companies with valuation, risk mitigation and management strategy, it has grown rapidly from just a handful of employees to 27. With that growth came the dilemma of how to ensure that everyone felt welcome and valued.

“I think you have to foster a safe environment in which people can grow,” Greenway said.

So when TechAlliance and Western asked if Greenway would work with a team of students, he proposed that they diagnose and prescribe a research-based framework for mentoring staff, from within and outside the organization, and ways to measure mentoring success. .

Key elements of the sophomores’ report on the industrial/organizational psychology course they are now integrated into the company’s strategic human resources plan.

The scope and depth of the report far exceeded Greenway’s expectations. “It was incredibly complete. They really captured the essence of what we were looking for, which was fascinating because he wasn’t sure what he was looking for.”

For the students it was an invaluable experience. “We got to see what it actually looks like to develop a white paper for a company on a problem they needed help with. We have to apply psychological research to it. I think that helps me focus on where I want to go in my career,” said student Mason Bruner-Moore.

And because it was integrated into coursework, rather than an add-on, students learned and shared what they learned, said fellow student Lena Marks. “It seemed like we were really contributing to something bigger than just general textbook content.”

Purposeful Instruction

Professor Bonnie Simpson, who teaches a market research course, said a key advantage was the Western-TechAlliance partnership which created a good match with the industry partner; in this case, with polar images, a London company that provides personalized document scanning.

Simpson’s class reviewed the research to understand how the company could commercialize an AI-driven accounts payable system.

The students found that learning to dig for investigation could be not only relevant but important in the world of work, Simpson said.

“Having an industry project helps students connect with the value they can offer. They had a higher level of understanding and respect for what the course material could mean outside of the classroom,” Simpson said.

“It just mattered to them more than me saying, ‘This is going to matter.'”

looking to repeat

Funding for the project came from a grant from BHER, an organization that aims to create work-integrated learning opportunities for all students and build greater capacity for industry and students to innovate together.

Western joined BHER just over a year ago.

Valerie Walker, Executive Director of BHER, said: “BHER is delighted that our partnership with Western is helping to create work-integrated learning experiences for students in Arts and Humanities, Information and Media Studies, and Social Sciences, faculties that are traditionally underrepresented in work-integrated learning.

“Crucially, Western students are gaining career exploration experience early in their degree programs that will help prepare them for structured work experiences later in their career path. Along the way, Western students gain real-world experience and build skills, while local tech employers gain access to new ideas and new pipelines of talent.”

The initial hope was that 500 students could participate; but more than double that number went on to join industry associations, said Karen Chalmers, vice president of TechAlliance.

Although this was a pilot project, the objective is to repeat and build on the experience.

“We would love to be able to bring this opportunity to more students and more industry partners in the future,” said Chalmers. “We truly see the value for students, faculty, and our industry partners to hone their skills, grow their businesses, and be successful in the future.”

Walker said he “would like to see Western’s program become a model that can be expanded to other disciplines and post-secondary institutions.”

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