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Road to career success

May 16, 2019

Thanks to a new career integration pilot course, Kirsten Hay [right], a fourth-year sociology student who is graduating in June, says her job shadow placement with Ryerson alumna Jackie Omstead [left] at Elizabeth Fry Toronto has given her more insight and broadened her professional network in the nonprofit sector.
Photo credit: Michael Pereira

By Suelan Toye

If you were to ask Kirsten Hay what she wanted to do after she graduated from Ryerson, her answer would be very simple: work for a non-profit.

“I think it’s something I would love to do. You have to give back and I think nonprofits are a great way to do it,” said the fourth-year sociology student.

Indeed, nonprofits were the reason why she chose to attend university. After volunteering for four years with a Vancouver-based organization that advocates for women’s rights, she decided to pursue a sociology degree at Ryerson with the goal of working for an organization that supports women and youth.

Now, the student will be graduating in June with a solid career plan to reach her professional goal, thanks to a unique pilot credit course that she and other Arts students took this winter semester – the Social Sciences and Humanities Career Integration (external link, opens in new window) .

Sociology (opens in new window)  Professor and Chair Alan Sears and Nikki Waheed, a career education specialist from the Ryerson Career & Co-op Centre (opens in new window) , designed the credit course after successfully piloting a smaller non-credit version last year, where a few sociology students completed a one-day job shadow placement. One student actually received a job offer while others made valuable connections with industry professionals in their chosen field of interest.

“In engineering or in social work, [these students] have a sense of where they are heading. In Arts, part of the beauty of the degree, but also the challenge, is that not everyone is headed in the same direction. Our students can apply their critical thinking, problem-solving and communications skills across a dizzying array of industry sectors,” said Sears.

To help guide students’ career interests, Sears and Waheed decided to expand the pilot and co-teach a credit course this winter semester – the first of its kind at the Faculty of Arts.

The response was overwhelming: 26 third- and fourth-year Arts students signed up for the course that taught them how to identify their career pathways, research their chosen field to understand the labour market, and work on their professional goals to develop a solid career roadmap.

The most valuable component of the course was a short (1 to 5 day) job shadow opportunity where Waheed diligently matched the students with 23 businesses and organizations in fields of their choice, industries ranging from law and business to social services and the arts. Employees often invited the students into meetings, or gave them opportunities to participate in projects. Students also shadowed a staff member during a typical day so they learn more about their role and the skills and experiences they would need if they were interested in that type of position.

The goal, said Waheed, was to give students some exposure to an industry they are interested in, and at the same time, help organizations identify new talent. “It is a great way for employers to start building a talent pipeline and diversify their talent pool with graduates with liberal arts degrees.”

Waheed also added that when students are meeting professionals who have similar academic backgrounds, they immediately see the connection between their degree and the labour market. “These students feel that validation. They can see the work employees are doing in the workplace and connect that with what they are learning in class.”

Hay experienced this first-hand with her job-shadow placement in April. Based on her professional interest in nonprofits, she was matched with Jackie Omstead, a 2018 criminology and social justice master’s graduate and a community programs coordinator for Elizabeth Fry Toronto (external link, opens in new window) .

The sociology student spent one day attending a grant funding meeting with Omstead and observing a volunteer answering calls on a toll-free line that women who are incarcerated can call for support and access various services and resources. Hay also accompanied Omstead to a courthouse where the organization has an office staffed by volunteers to support women through the court process.

The course and the job-shadow placement re-affirmed Hay’s interest in working in the non-profit sector. “Seeing all the programs that Jackie manages and all the work that goes into it was an eye-opener,” said Hay. “I was also very inspired after meeting Jackie and learning about her career journey.”

The student also saw that many of the skills she honed during her degree are ones that organizations value in their employees. “Nikki pointed out all the valuable skills I acquired and learned how they can be applied to the job application process, from writing résumés and preparing for an interview.”

For Omstead, she was delighted to help Waheed by hosting Hay and one other student at her organization because of her strong connection with Ryerson and the invaluable career advice she received from the career education specialist while completing her degree.

The criminology graduate also believed the course helps students expand their professional networks. “Networking is very important, so we need to create pathways to help students build those connections. That’s something I think this course does and is valuable for.”