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Virtual learning opens doors to global industry experience for students

by Dimity Hyde and Kate Milkins

RMIT students studying remotely around the world have gained valuable industry experience with a global organisation, thanks to a creative masters program.

Three students studying the Master of International Development or Master of Urban Planning and Environment Management remotely from Australia and China, have said they found the virtual work integrated learning (WIL) project hugely rewarding.

Working with a social enterprise based in Canada and France, PATHFINDER, students gained practical experience as part of the Introduction to Development Economics subject. Their twelve-week WIL project involved finding and responding to grant opportunities within the international development industry.

Dr Reina Ichii, Program Manager of Master of International Development in School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, said the collaboration allowed students to quickly convert their academic knowledge into professional skills.

“Work integrated learning is a powerful educational activity. Working directly with our industry partner gave these students a much greater understanding of the roles of business in international development and the professional communication skills required for their future career,” she said.

“The involvement of the private sector is becoming increasingly important in the international development sector. This WIL project gave our students an invaluable opportunity to work directly for a company providing innovative solutions in sustainable development for business, academia and policy makers,” she said.

Founding and managing partner of PATHFINDER, Jessica Van Thiel, is passionate about supporting students with practical industry experience.

“Although important, theory is just not sufficient preparation for a professional career. Industry collaborations like this provide students with greater leadership, organisational and communications skills,” she said.

“Additionally, these projects give them an opportunity to develop these skills in a learning environment that will increase their confidence when faced with real world challenges.”

Mutual benefits for industry

Van Thiel is also quick to point out the benefits of university and industry partnerships for all involved.

“Working with students also gives us an innovative approach to our projects,” she said.

“We found that the students often went above and beyond the project requirements and we were pleased with the results of their work.

“We will use many of the final assignments to apply for actual grants and awards and if the grant is not specifically applicable, the content will be repurposed for future opportunities.”

Laotian student, Nouandam Kommana (“Lar”) wrote a grant application for Kwala Chehila, Pathfinder’s partner project based in Zambia.

Lar said she now feels well prepared for work, thanks to being immersed in an environment beyond the university.

“The best outcome for me has been that I learnt a lot from Kwala Chehila’s management team, and they also said I brought a lot to the experience,” she said.

Qihui Wang, studying remotely from China, says he enjoyed learning how to write grant applications for social enterprises and working with a range of people.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds, who often have very different perspectives, and are working across a variety of disciplines,” he said.

“Communicating with these very different people has been an enriching experience. It has really helped me to understand how their background and current position shape their ways of thinking.”

“Initially I thought the grant application would be my achievement from doing this course. However, now I would like to think that my biggest achievement is a greater understanding about the life of those who are extremely poor and how to help them build their own capacity to move out of poverty.”

 “I would recommend this kind of experience to other students. It’s a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.”

Andrew Crane has been studying remotely from New South Wales, Australia and was involved in drafting a tender response for the United Nations.

“This proposal sought a suitable resource agency to conduct the facilitation, adoption and implementation of Women’s Empowerment Principles by the corporate sector in India,” he said.

“It was good to have direct communication and interaction with a private consultancy organisation working in the development industry.

“Supported by the course material, the experience gave me an interesting alternative and personal perspective of the role that private industry plays in development.

“I’m very interested in working for an organisation that works concurrently with industry and academia. This project gave me a good insight into how small, independent organisations like Pathfinder can accomplish this task, especially within constantly evolving political and economic environments.”

This article originally appeared on the RMIT News site.