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Hire Education

Arts Co-op student, Alex Chen. Photo by Martin Dee.

The Vancouver Sun on Saturday ran a wonderful feature story about an Arts Co-op student, Alex Chen (International Relations, minor in French), recently named “Student of the Year” by the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education. Alex, who also received the “Student of the Year” award from our own Co-op program, spent eight months last year at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development in Ottawa, helping to advise the ministry (research, write briefs, prepare presentations) on issues and events in East Asia.
(see “Higher education elevated by co-op program’s working-world placements: Co-op degrees allow students to explore career options while building their skills and completing their schooling”, by Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun March 21, 2014 at

This last week, Astronaut Chris Hadfield made a splash at the Vancouver-based Ted Talks, explaining how he overcame his fear when his suit malfunctioned during his space-walk. While he was aboard the space station, his web conferences, podcasts, and his own consumption of news and entertainment were managed by another Arts Co-op student, Eva Kwan (Psychology), whose role at the Canadian Space Agency could basically be described as keeping Astronaut Hadfield happy and psychologically grounded (See

Arts Co-op student Eva Kwan at the Canadian Space Agency (from UBC Reports)

Arts’ Co-op Program turns 15 this year, and so it seemed like a great time for me to express what an essential part of our education I think this program occupies. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know how passionate I am about active, experiential and transformative learning. In the last four years, we have striven mightily to increase the global learning opportunities in Arts; to provide our students with greater possibilities to study and research in the community; to change the nature of the classroom itself to emphasize problem-based learning; and to enhance career preparation for our students. Central to this is the innovative strategy of integrating learning and work so as to better prepare students for life after university.

Three stats that bring the Co-op program into relief: more that 4,000 UBC students participated in Co-op last year; Arts Co-op students earned more than $3 million dollars in the same year; and most importantly, some 90% of our Arts Co-op students were employed within three months of graduation!

Now that I’ve got your attention… I just returned from a trip to three cities in China, and while in Hong Kong I visited a handful of our Co-op students at their workplaces. Let me tell you about a few of them. Tim works with Time-Warner, the media and film company, and is handling much of their research on intellectual property rights in Asia. Mandy has had a very successful 8 months with the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, using her French, Mandarin, and English to arrange conferences, translate documents, and engage with entertainment industry executives. Her supervisor says she is doing junior executive level work, and Fox Searchlight Pictures has asked her to work for them for two months before she goes back for her last year at UBC. And Hilda has helped Sino Credit Management expand their client base in Europe, the US and Canada. All of their employers have stressed that UBC students are ready to engage with the world and in business at a top level, and a couple of the employers only look to UBC for Co-op students because of the quality of students they’ve encountered. Can you imagine how well prepared these students will be when they’re ready to look for work?!

I was especially pleased to learn about how these students are assessed and about the tasks they’re given while on assignment. Students write up a set of goals, describing what they want to learn and the experiences they hope to have. They are asked to interview a professional while on their placement, something that furthers their network of professional contacts and provides them with an expanded view into the world of professional work. Students prepare LinkedIn sites with their cv’s and build a network of contact, and students also prepare a description of the work they do to aid future students at the same placement site. Site visits are conducted to assess how well things are going for both the student and the supervisors. The whole package strikes me as the ideal circumstances for integrating what one has learned into professional practice. One student described her Co-op experience as “lighting up” her education, allowing her to make sense of her classroom learning.

We’ve committed extra resources to Co-op, and have seen about 15% growth in placements per year in the last few years. In 2012-13, the job postings doubled. So here’s a salute to Alex Chen, to Eva Kwan and to all of our Co-op students and staff in the 15th year of a very successful, and very important program for Arts. The Faculty of Arts Co-op Program uses the tag line “Hire Education”, which is just so clever that I had to steal it for the title of this blog posting.

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