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Hands-on learning during a time of physical distancing

Keiko Kataokaby Keiko KataokaJun 23, 2021
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Finding employment can be challenging at the best of times. Securing a co-op placement during a global pandemic can seem insurmountable.

While the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic brought its share of obstacles, co-op and internship students showcased their agility, flexibility and creativity, with the backing of Sheridan’s Career-Integrated Learning team’s 30 years of experience delivering work-integrated learning, The result? These extraordinary students not only completed program requirements — they were equipped to thrive in the face of uncertainty.

Five of these students, all of whom were recognized by Sheridan as standout co-op and WIL Students of the Year at a virtual awards ceremony in May, share a look into their placement experiences, what surprised them and what their future has in store.

The students and their employers

Shelby MacTavish and Sarah Butt from the Honours Bachelor of Interior Design program found their placements through Sheridan’s new Virtual Internship Program (VIP) at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre – a horse sanctuary for people with disabilities in Punslich, Ontario.

Alia El Khadem from Advertising – Account Management, found herself a role at EDGE – Sheridan’s hub for impact entrepreneurs and changemakers in Mississauga.

Hesham Gohary from the Software Development and Network Engineering program completed his placement at Inovex Inc. – a technology and custom software solution company based in Oakville, Ontario.

Tamara Thompson, part of the first-ever graduating class of the Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing and Publishing program, was her own employer. She completed her practical work requirements by launching her own independent publishing house - Whispering Wick Chapbook Press – something that earned her the Work-Integrated Learning Student of the Year recognition from Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada.

Collage of co-op and work-integrated learning students

Commonalities across diverse experiences

MacTavish and Butt, El Khadem, Gohary and Thompson, hailing from programs across five different Sheridan Faculties, each found themselves in placement positions with significant responsibilities.

“Something that we hear time and time again from our students participating in work-integrated learning is that they’re often trusted with projects and responsibilities that directly involve clients or a customer experience” says Dr. Matt Rempel, Director of Career-Integrated Learning at Sheridan. “Our students are making a real difference in their organizations and have a direct impact on their employer’s bottom line.”

For Sunrise, MacTavish and Butt were the sole designers tasked with developing plans for the facility’s new building. They worked closely with architect David McAuley, meeting weekly with him and the clients to talk through plans. “We conducted a lot of research on different disabilities and important aspects to consider when designing specifically for this population. This included consideration of spatial layouts, specifying materials, furniture and lighting and developing custom millwork drawings,” says MacTavish.

El Khadem leveraged her advertising prowess to content writing at EDGE. She was responsible for researching and developing new content ideas with the aim of profiling the entrepreneurs accessing the hub’s services, helping build brand awareness, increase visibility and deliver effective messaging.

Thompson, as the founder, coordinator, editor and manager of Whispering Wick, press, had a lot on her plate. She oversaw a team – including many Sheridan students who were afforded an opportunity to complete their internships through the Press - and had a hand in reviewing drafts, layouts, covers, social media posts, and more. “We could make things we were really passionate about without the typical approval process a company might have. We all worked collaboratively and it yielded amazing results,” she said.

Gohary put his technical skills to the test, analyzing clients’ inputs and identifying the root causes of bugs, deploying .NET applications and participating in progress meetings with clients.

When asked to describe their Sheridan co-op or work-integrated experience, here’s the words the six students selected:

Word cloud including: inclusion, connection, challenging, innovation, rewarding

Pleasantly surprising results

Though entering their experiences in an uncertain time due to COVID-19, each student was able to leverage their in-class learning, fresh ideas and ingenuity to turn precarity into impact.

A highlight of Gohary’s experience at Inovex was finding a coding patch for a problem that had been roadblocking a client’s project. “I was able to come up with a solution that almost eliminated the issue, and the client approved it. It meant they were able to save money, and avoid unnecessarily buying new hardware,” he explains.

The Whispering Wick team shared with Thompson that they wanted to keep working with her even after she fulfilled her Sheridan internship requirements. “This meant that all of the hard work I had put into the Press was worth it,” she says. “People enjoyed their experience, and we were making something good for the world, and that was a very rewarding feeling.”

The EDGE team found El Khadem’s work so valuable they extended her contract and surprised her with a “Tough Cookie” Award, presented to a team member who demonstrates persistence and resilience.

MacTavish and Butt gained a newfound perspective for design, creating for a real-world client with a budget, collaborating on ideas, and designing with accessibility and sustainability in mind has provided an invaluable understanding of how their in-class learning can be brought to life. “We had to shift our mindset,” says Butt. MacTavish adds: “Considering who would use the space needs to be at the forefront of any great project and as designers, it’s our responsibility to make its so.”

Converting Sheridan experience into career opportunities

One of the many benefits of experiential learning is how it positions students to be career-ready. Students gain real-world experience and projects to add to their resumes and portfolios, providing them with an advantage in a competitive landscape. For international students like El Khadem, work placements are often a student’s first Canadian employment experiences. It provides them with invaluable insight into the dynamics of the workplace and opportunities to make new contacts. The networking opportunities afforded to all students involved in career-integrated learning often result in an offer of employment upon graduation.

MacTavish, Butt, El Khadem, Gohary and Thompson have each found reassurance from their Sheridan experiences that their career aspirations are attainable; they’re optimistic as they step into the first leg of their post-Sheridan life. For Thompson, Whispering Wick will continue to be her focus for the foreseeable future. With Gohary’s co-op placement experience added to his resume, he secured a role as a software developer.

MacTavish’s experience at Sunrise opened her eyes to commercial design, and she is now pursuing opportunities with a firm that would enable her to explore that passion in more than one sector. Butt is now working as a junior interior design at a high-end firm in Toronto.

El Khadem has secured a position as Account Executive at Oliver Agency. “I love the agency world. In Account Services, I have the opportunity to collaborate with my team, our clients and media agencies on different projects. Being part of a campaign from start to finish and bringing it to life is very satisfying,” she says.

Are you an employer looking to hire a co-op student or intern? Please email sheridanworkscoop@sheridancollege.ca.

Read about the value of co-op and work-integrated learning in this Sheridan Newsroom story.

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