A new MRU program transforms students to professionals
By Julie Patton, News Editor
Learning is not limited to the classroom, and the new AccelerateU program is an example of that. Piloting during the 2023-24 academic year at Mount Royal University (MRU), the AccelerateU classes will be held at the Open Learning Lab in downtown Calgary.
A unique experience, students will work alongside industry professionals, gaining valuable experience in the workforce and creating network connections that will help students land jobs after graduation.
AccelerateU challenges the traditional post-secondary model that Finch calls the “Cliff graduation model.”
“At the end of 40 courses we’re pushed off the cliff,” he says. “We hope over those 40 courses you are ready to ‘hit the ground running,’ right? What this model, AccelerateU, does is it becomes a controlled off-ramp.”
The Open Learning Lab is a city-level study designed to increase collaboration between students and organizations. Piloted by the LearningCITY Collective, a Calgary organization dedicated to redefining the way students learn, the Open Learning Lab will complement and augment Calgary’s learning system.
Located in Bow Valley Square, a professional building in downtown Calgary, the program removes barriers between students and professionals and provides them with experiential learning.
Not only do the students further their education in the classroom, it helps them build confidence in the workforce as they immerse themselves in the downtown work life with tens of thousands of other professionals in the city.
Finch says there are about 150,000 people who work in Bow Valley Square, and students of the Open Learning Lab can engage with those professionals through the programming both formally and informally.
“The students have a new level of confidence because they realize what they’ve learned is valuable, they realize how to tell the story more effectively, and they’re not intimidated any longer,” he says.
A successful start
Gracie Curlock was one of the students who took on the challenge of joining AccelerateU in August.
Hoping to take a block week course and cram a semester’s worth of work into five days, Curlock decided to take an AccelerateU course after Finch reached out to her.
“I was really drawn to getting a little more hands-on experience by being in a different building right in the heart of downtown,” she says.
A public relations major with a minor in marketing, Curlock was nervous with what to expect, however she says the whole experience was wonderful.
In her marketing course, she says the first half of the day was spent on career development where Finch helped tailor the course to each students’ specific goals. The second half of the day was spent in fast paced interviews and networking with industry professionals.
“The interviews honestly just opened my eyes to all the possibilities that are in Calgary and that are tangible for me to reach,” she says. “I feel like even on campus, we talk so much about what we could possibly want to do but it seems so rigid… but by meeting with what felt like almost hundreds of professionals over the week, it really opened my eyes to what I can do.”
Finch says classes for the program are about 80 per cent full which exceeds their projections for the first year of the program.
Muntahir Ahmed also participated in the block week course alongside Curlock. He also had a positive experience with the course and decided to take two more AccelerateU courses.
“It’s quite intensive and rigorous, compared to that of a regular, traditional course,” he says. “Not only are you balancing and juggling class work, but you’re also in the face of professionals and organizations and experts… But I find it quite beneficial and transformative.”
Ahmed says the transition from student to professional is daunting, but after his experience with AccelerateU he feels confident in his future.
“If there are students out there that are truly contemplating about taking this program, next semester or in several years, I just say go for it… I’ve met more professionals and experts in the last several weeks than I have in the last four years studying at Mount Royal. It’s really getting your foot in the door.”
On Sept. 13, the LearningCITY Collective hosted its grand opening of the Open Learning Lab. “We’re trying to have individuals and the community recognize that we all learn in a variety of different ways,” he says, adding that the most transformative experiences happen outside of the classroom.
The traditional classroom and blackboard learning, what Finch calls pipe learning, represents 80 per cent of the learning programs in Calgary. The LearningCITY Collective is challenging that model, and the grand opening is an example of the community wanting to see that change.
Finch says the grand opening exploded with a variety of organizations from different sectors, all who want to be a part of this bigger learning system. Additionally, there is interest from almost all of Calgary’s post-secondary institutions to collaborate and work together on community-oriented initiatives.
“Those conversations are very difficult and don’t generally happen in places like Toronto. So, the opportunity for us, is Mount Royal University really becomes part of that broader community conversation and has an opportunity to play a leadership role in that collaborative model.”