By Mark Toljagic and Anthony Geremia

Some people learn better by doing, rather than by reading a textbook and attending lectures steeped in theory.

It’s called experiential learning and former Ontario Education Minister and Premier Bill Davis made certain that his blueprint for a network of community colleges he established in the province in the 1960s would accommodate young people who prefer to “learn with their hands”.

It’s a proven teaching and learning model that pays dividends, and it’s not limited to the skilled trades. Business, technology, health care and social work students all benefit from assignments that simulate employment situations.

Today virtually every full-time program at Centennial College offers an element of experiential learning, whether in the form of paid co-op education, internship, practicum, clinical or field placement, or a keystone project involving an employer.

In interviews with Centennial graduates – especially desi students who had studied previously in India – many point to their practical learning experiences as the “Ah-ha” moment when they knew they were on the right track in terms of finding a fulfilling career path.

Here are a few examples of Centennial students doing real work related to their programs of study.

 Reporting from a pre-Olympic event

 A team of Centennial College sports journalism students were assigned to report on the NACAC 2018 international track and field meet in August, often working side-by-side with the CBC and international broadcasters.

World-class athletes from 28 countries across North America, Central America and the Caribbean (NACAC) came together at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium in a major event that participants view as an opportunity to size up rivals ahead of the 2020 Olympic summer games.

The 23 students performed every role from producers to reporters, on-air talent and technical support as they covered the event with three broadcast programs, plus social media and articles for the TorontoObserver.ca news website.

They were there when the men’s 4x100m relay running team of Bismark Boateng, Jerome Blake, Mobolade Ajomale and Aaron Brown powered past the Barbados team to earn a gold medal for Canada in an incredibly tight race. In women’s 200m running action, Canada’s Crystal Emmanuel fought hard for a 22.67 time, good enough for second place, only three hundredths of a second behind Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson.

“It’s inspiring to watch as our students discover and develop all the skills it takes to compete in today’s world of sport journalism,” says Debbi Wilkes, an Olympic medalist herself and a veteran journalist who is the program’s summer coordinator. “For them to have the opportunity to report on top-notch events and international athletes makes the experience that much richer!”

At the conclusion of the meet Canada had collected 21 medals – three gold, eight silver, and 10 bronze – to finish third overall in the standings behind the United States (61 medals) and Jamaica (22).

Centennial’s students are no strangers to sports spectacles. They have reported from the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, and baseball spring training in Florida.

When in Rome

 Food and culture go hand in hand, and sometimes you have to go straight to the source to understand the cuisines of the world. Centennial gives its students experiential learning on a global scale with its Faculty Led International Programs (FLIPs) that send those students overseas as a part of their program, earning credit while they gain hands-on experience.

Italian cuisine is beloved worldwide, so it made sense for students of the Culinary Skills program to immerse themselves with a FLIP that took them across Italy for 10 days in May to learn the secrets of Italian cooking. When they weren’t and sample some delicious food.

“Here at Centennial College, you have a nice influence of Italian cuisine because one of the main chefs has an Italian background,” says student Simone Ramos. “But another different thing is when you go there to the source and learn from them. It was a confirmation of my passion for Italian cuisine. Once you list this experience on your resumé, it speaks out loud.”

Ramos and the other participating students enjoyed classes at an Italian culinary institute, toured a winery and visited a facility that made Parmigiano Reggiano, a specially protected cheese produced in only one place in Italy. What does she advise other students to do when offered a FLIP trip?

“Throw yourself into the experience. Learn about what’s going on there, because then you can perceive more easily what you’ll get from the experience itself. But also you can understand the why, when you have a lot of questions there. Don’t go there as a tourist, go there to study, to get involved.”

Learning on the road

 Punctuated by driving rain, wind, cold and a little sun, the Targa Newfoundland rally begins and ends in the city of St. John’s, involving 1,500 km of paved and gravel roads. It’s so gruelling that one-third of the vehicles that start the race never finish due to mechanical failure. That’s where Centennial’s skilled auto technician students step in.

“We had more than a few technical and mechanical items with all four vehicles to keep them well occupied all week,” says John Hume Sr. of the college instructor and students who put in long hours to maintain his team’s competition vehicles. “They kept us in the race to be sure. And they assisted other teams, as well.”

Professor Garrett Nalepka of Centennial’s School of Transportation has returned to the island several times to wrench at Targa Newfoundland. He assisted the Hume Media team for their best podium finish previously. And each year he is accompanied by automotive students who work on the race vehicles.

This month, Nalepka is bringing students Sooan Jang, Randy Yerxa, Alistair Hutton and Leyana Proferio and, for the first time, Alan McClelland, dean of the school, who also will be working with the tech crew to fix the cars overnight while the drivers sleep, usually in makeshift garages and hockey arenas.

Also joining them this year is Toronto Star auto writer Jim Kenzie, who will drive a modified Nissan Juke. Keep an eye on the Star’s website for updates from Kenzie as he races across the province between September 13 and 22. Centennial’s crew will help keep him rolling in a once-in-a-lifetime experience no student will soon forget.

Desi News