From Research Paper to “Legendary” Program: How the Arts Co-op Began


Over the past 20 years, the Arts Co-op program has connected thousands of students and employers through their experience at UBC. But not everyone knows that the program started with the coursework of two students.

It was in 1997 when Julie Walchli, graduate of the BA and MA programs in English at UBC, first learned cooperative education by teaching a university writing course as a lecturer. Two of his students, who were in the science co-op program, asked if they could write their main research papers on the benefits of the co-op program for students.

At that time, cooperative education was not common in the humanities, but after reading their articles, Walchli introduced the idea of ​​a co-op arts program to his colleagues and mentors, Dr Anthony Dawson and Dr Kieran Kealy.

Dr Dawson remembers thinking this was something that would be of particular benefit to arts students. “There aren’t that many vacancies for philosophers,” he says. “So what do philosophy students do after they graduate? There was no clear career path, and deciding where to invest their efforts took students’ time and a bit of exploration.

“We have incorporated numerous assessments to ensure that students have valuable, meaningful and quality learning experiences. The cooperative learning model we used was based on decades of research.

Julie walchli

Executive Director, Work Integrated Education and Career Initiatives

This initial conversation ultimately resulted in a successful application for the Teaching and Learning Improvement Fund, which gave Walchli and Dr Dawson the resources they needed to launch the Arts Co-op prototype. .

“It was a series of lucky events that helped propel this idea,” says Walchli, reflecting on the beginnings of what would quickly develop ione of the most successful co-op programs in Canada. “It was partly a coincidence.”

According to for Dr. Dawson, Walchli was the natural fit to lead the program. The English department was chosen to house the prototype, where Walchli was already a lecturer.

At the start of the pilot, Walchli quickly discovered that his main challenge was not to convince companies to hire arts students, but to help students convey what they were learning in the classroom in a way that makes sense to employers.

“The thing I had to think about was coaching students effectively and creating resources for them that would allow them to imagine the value and the practicalities of what they were doing in a classroom setting and then reframe it to that employers can see how they could contribute to a working environment, ”says Walchli.

“I always encourage my students to take a co-op program. I think it made a significant difference in my career trajectory and the opportunities I got afterwards. “

Eric Tung

Alum from the art cooperative

The support they provided to the students greatly contributed to the success of the program. “We have incorporated numerous assessments to ensure that students have valuable, meaningful and quality learning experiences. The cooperative learning model we used was based on decades of research, ”says Walchli.

Eric Tung was one of the students in the initial pilot cohort, as well as the winner of the first prize for Co-operative Arts Student of the Year. He landed his first co-op internship at WorkSafeBC, where he gained experience as a technical writer. He says the skills he learned from his co-op placements led to a job at Business Objects, now known as SAP. Today, he works as a consultant on change management and business transformation and as an instructor at UBC Extended Learning.

Tung sees himself as a strong supporter of cooperatives. “I always encourage my students to take a co-op program,” Tung says. “I think it made a significant difference in the trajectory of my career and the opportunities I got afterwards.”

“It is vital for students to learn how to market their arts degrees to the world. On a personal level, the work has been very rewarding and I feel very lucky.

Julie walchli

Executive Director, Work Integrated Education and Career Initiatives

Since this first cohort, thousands of students have crossed the doors of Arts Co-op and participated in rewarding internships.

Dr Kealy, who participated in the initial planning conversations for the pilot, is proud to see all that has been accomplished over the past 20 years. “I feel like it’s some kind of legendary influence,” he says. “It started out as an extremely small experimental program and is now universally used as a model across Canada. “

Walchli says she is still in contact with many Arts Co-op alumni, including her first cohort, who are all clear that if they hadn’t had this cooperative experience, they wouldn’t be. where they are today.

“I planted the seed, but I couldn’t have grown it myself,” says Walchli. “It is vital for students to learn how to market their arts degrees to the world. On a personal level, the work has been very rewarding and I feel very lucky.


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