The University of New Brunswick has introduced a new experiential learning initiative – FutureReadyNB – in collaboration with the Government of New Brunswick and three other New Brunswick universities.
Experiential education is an educational philosophy focused on the practical application of knowledge through connection with the community and independent learning, according to UNB’s experiential education website.
Sarah King, director of the Office of Experiential Education at UNB, said there are many positive experiences which stem from experiential learning. She believes it can provide students with an opportunity to make change while furthering engagement with their field of study.
“I haven't seen a student have a poor experience with experiential learning ever,” she said. “If the opportunity is good, students always have good experiences.”
King said expanding experiential learning opportunities is important in Atlantic Canada, which has been behind the rest of the country in the field. As the largest university in the province, UNB has the responsibility to be a leader with the initiative.
She mentioned the declining population of New Brunswick, and said that experiential learning and community engagement can show students career opportunities they might not have been aware of in the communities they grew up in.
“Our young people don't see Atlantic Canada as a place they want to stay, or see that they can build really meaningful lives here,” King said.
FutureReadyNB is a project implemented into four universities across New Brunswick, including UNB, to grant students opportunities in this kind of learning and community involvement.
This form of education is not new to UNB, which has been hosting the longest-running computer science co-op program east of Ontario for 36 years. Many other faculties and programs have maintained experiential learning programs, King said, including engineering, kinesiology and Renaissance College.
King said she aims to diversify the range of experiential learning opportunities at UNB to appeal to more areas of study. One of the goals of this initiative is to increase these opportunities in non-STEM fields, as not many currently exist.
She said adopting experiential learning can lead to more collaboration at UNB.
“I think it will make learning a more collegial experience; students, professors, administrators, and community partners are all part of students’ learning,” King said. “We’re all partners in the learning journey.”
FutureReadyNB currently aims to provide connections with four month co-op placements, internships, summer employment, practica in nursing and teaching and in-course components to students in all faculties.
It has a guaranteed three-year commitment from the provincial government, which will allow the team to grow and introduce new opportunities.
“Our ultimate goal is that every student at a New Brunswick university will have an experiential opportunity before they graduate,” King said.
She said that for this initiative to succeed, it will require partnership and collaboration between the government, public and private sectors and all four implicated universities.
Every undergraduate student at UNB is eligible to take part in this program, with opportunities available across New Brunswick. King urges students to visit the experiential education website to see what opportunities are available to them.