The past seven months have been a wild, wild ride for our little department at the University of Lethbridge. During the pandemic, we’ve navigated a departmental re-organization while working remotely and within the confines of provincial budget challenges, staffing shortages and public service cutbacks.
Under the umbrella of the Career Bridge Centre for Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) and Career Development, we have centralized our WIL, Co-op and Applied Studies programs with career services and our co-curricular transcript advisor. We have co-ordinated, redesigned and delivered curriculum online (because, pandemic).
I will be the first to admit that the day-to-day work has the entire team grinding. We are hair-on-fire, no time-to-waste, burning the candle-at-both-ends kind of grinding. But the passion with which my colleagues and I approach our work is unparalleled. We love this stuff. Co-operative education, applied research, career development and experiential learning – all these endeavours support our students to explore a holistic academic path as well as to sustain the pillars our liberal arts institution is built upon. This is fulfilling work, and we are excited by the opportunities our integration opens for us to explore as WIL practitioners, career advisors and experiential learning facilitators.
Four-pillar model for liberal education
Liberal education at the University of Lethbridge is based on a broad model that encompasses four main aspects or pillars:
- Breadth across disciplines is seen as foundational; students should be exposed to ways of looking at and studying the world beyond their own disciplinary boundaries.
- The ability to connect and integrate knowledge across disciplines is crucial.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are emphasized: students need to know how to identify an argument, evaluate evidence and reasoning, produce informed decisions, and communicate and defend those decisions.
- Education for citizenship, which encourages students to be contributing community members on all levels, and to participate in the running of those communities.
In all ways then, the programs and services we offer via the Career Bridge work to support this model. When we expose our students to a breadth of disciplines and concepts, offer opportunities to connect and integrate academic concepts in an “applied” context, both within and without the classroom, we are engaging education on a level that fosters critical thinking and citizenship. Our students are therefore uniquely positioned to develop a sense of personal agency and primed to “pivot” successfully in a post-pandemic, technologically industrialized world.
Now for the hard part …
We have our teaching and service philosophy established. We have engaged in a process of internal strategic plan development as well as stakeholder plan development. We have conducted in-service training between units and, as time allows, we will review and refine curriculum design and administrative processes. But how will we tackle those larger strategic initiatives? How will we support our expanding network of stakeholder partners effectively in a time when resources have dried up like a popcorn puff on a windy southern-Alberta day?
I think the answer lies somewhere on the spectrum of time, hard work and purpose. In a literal sense, success under these circumstances requires a lot of sharing of resources. Personally, I will rely on my colleagues in WIL and Career Services at institutions and professional associations across the country. Seeking help and support (or maybe just a little bit of context) wherever possible. I will endeavour to share what I have learned through this process in the hope of assisting others. There will be challenges, certainly. But we will approach these challenges with the knowledge that we learn from the experience, and make it count. In this way, walking the same path we teach our students to walk, prioritizing a passion-meets-purpose approach, we are capable of achieving just about anything.
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