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March 29, 2018

Opening the door to meaningful partnerships between students and community centres helps to expand both the service capacity of the organization and the social development of students.

A recently redesigned Human Rights and Human Diversity (HRHD) program course at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus equips students with career-focused skills and matches them with local non-profit organizations which have identified projects requiring grant funding.

After Associate Professor Andrew Robinson selected partner organizations, project teams of four to five students from his HR300 Professionalization Seminar class prepared grant applications on the organizations’ behalf.

“To be honest, I was a little intimidated when I first read the course syllabus,” says Nicole Ho, a third-year student in the Department of Criminology and HRHD. “But working directly with a group that needed this funding really opened my eyes to tough realities faced by local non-profits. It was totally different than just reading a report highlighting the same difficulties.”

This work-integrated learning experience was made possible through partnerships with local non-profit agencies and the City of Brantford’s grant program administered through the Brant Community Foundation.

Of the four project groups that prepared grant applications, three were submitted to the foundation for review and all three were successful in securing grants ranging from $4,000-$5,000 each.

“Throughout the years, I have spoken with senior students who wished they had more hands-on experiences throughout the program,” says Robinson, program coordinator for HRHD at Laurier’s Brantford campus. “I had the opportunity to redesign this course in 2015 and I take great pride in seeing these students rise to the challenge and succeed.”

The course is required for all HRHD students and has a particular focus on developing teamwork, project management, networking, and professional writing skills. In addition to the core community-based project, students are also tasked with conducting informational interviews with individuals in a wide range of industries, allowing them to learn about the versatility of their field of study from career professionals.

Growing as a Student, Citizen and Professional

For student Alexa Kovacs, this was the first time she could see the wide range of potential career pathways open to her after graduation.

“I’m sure I’m not alone, but I really didn’t know what types of jobs were out there for graduates in my field,” says Kovacs, a third year HRHD student at Laurier’s Brantford campus. “A lot of my peers want to become lawyers, but that’s just not for me. Seeing how my degree can open doors in a broad range of industries gives me hope.”

Kovacs’ group collaborated with Lansdowne Children’s Centre, an organization that treats children and youth with physical, developmental, and communication needs and provides them with equal opportunities through services and supports. The centre serves 2,600 children and their families annually.

The $4,800 awarded to the centre through the grant fund will help to expand their therapeutic recreation program. Through this program, children with special needs are provided with an outlet to express their developmental goals, enhance their physical and social abilities, and build lasting friendships in a recreational setting.

“It was an honour and a pleasure to engage with such vibrant and enthusiastic students from Laurier,” says Angee Turnbull, fund development officer at Lansdowne Children’s Centre. “We hope they understand that they have made a real difference, and because of their hard work, so many of the wonderful children we serve will be able to go to camp, meet friends, and have fun.”

While Kovacs grew up in Brantford, she hadn’t interacted with her community in this way before. Beyond the course learning outcomes, she found this experience a great way to gain an understanding of the complexities of the agencies serving vulnerable populations in and around her hometown.
Today, Kovacs is interested in applying to post-graduate studies in social work.

“Learning through interacting with a real community partner was so different,” says Kovacs. “It broke down some of the routine habits and assumptions that I had formed as a student and made me rethink where my degree could take me.”

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