LEDlab Impact on Students
Ara Beittoei is a Project Manager at the LEDlab, working to support the lab community partners and the cohort of Project Coordinators. Ara has professional experience working in sustainability research, student development, community engagement, and designing experiential learning curriculum.
As we are reaching the close of the LEDlab, we wanted to assess the impact that the lab has had on our cohort of graduate students through the past years. I interviewed the current and past cohort to understand what they were able to learn during their time at the lab, their personal journey and growth, as well as their career and future aspirations. Below is a summary of the findings:
Interdisciplinary and interinstitutional
In total 17 students were hired from 4 universities: Simon Fraser University (11), University of British Columbia (3), University of Victoria (1), and University of Waterloo (2). Disciplines included Resource and Environmental Management, Business, Urban Studies, International Studies, Planning, Health Science, Public Policy, Local Economic Development and Innovation, Sustainability Management, and Public Administration. Seven of these students chose to base their Master’s thesis research on their work with the lab, and two students continued to pursue a PhD in a related area.
Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes
The students were generally appreciative of what they learned as a result of their project work and participation in the LEDlab curriculum. Social innovation and systems thinking concepts and tools were fairly new for most students, and it provided them with a framework and language for better understanding and engaging with complex community issues, and seeing and responding to emerging patterns.
“The adaptive cycle shows up in my work all the time. We are constantly seeing where we are as an organization in the different phases and what factors we need to consider. It’s relevant for my personal work as well.” – Anna Migicovsky, Project Coordinator with Knack, 2015
Students identified the ability to listen and empathize as being crucial in the success of their projects, allowing them to gain trust and work with diverse partners and community members.
“I developed more empathy and developed my listening skills even more. It was interesting to look at the project as an outsider and not force the process, took time to get results, it wasn’t going to take a few days, but months. I developed patience, empathy, and listening skills.” – Priyanka Roy Chakrabarti, Project Coordinator with The Binners’ Project, 2015
The shift in focus in our third year from working directly with social enterprises to more intermediary organizations also affected the curriculum concepts that were relevant for the cohort. Students in Years 1 and 2 benefited from drawing on business model canvas, value proposition, and minimum viable product to support business development with social enterprises, while the Year 3 students used service design concepts such as user journey maps to understand the needs of their stakeholders at various stages of engagement with their projects.
Getting out of their Comfort Zone
For several students, this was their first time working in a community setting where plans could regularly change, and where they were accountable to multiple partners. By realizing that they weren’t meant to know the best responses right away, and by drawing on the LEDlab’s approach of being humble, inquisitive, experimental, and adaptive, the pressure was taken off.
“It’s easy to want to have things done, but we need to stop and think: is this meeting our objectives? No, ok, we need to go back to the drawing board and iterate. It’s easy to want to solve things but these are sticky issues and there’s no silver bullet, but then not being discouraged if you can’t solve everything. This feeds into leveraging failure and embracing it. For example, not having all the people you wanted to have attend an event.” – Amelia Huang, Project Coordinator with Hives for Humanity, 2016
Future Aspirations and Career
As a result of their experience, 80% of the students are continuing to work in fields that are either addressing the same challenges as the lab or drawing upon similar concepts. Five of these student were hired by their project supervisors post internship.
“My internship confirmed that I want to work on environmental and social justice issues” – Brendan Toews, Project Coordinator with The Binners’ Project, 2016
In addition to the above outcomes students felt a sense of community and the cohorts continued to stay in touch with each other and support one another after their time with the lab.
Thank you to all the lab student alumni who dedicated their time to participate in this assessment!
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