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UNB Program Inspires Students To Be ‘Change-Makers’

Kayla Johnson, a past participant in the Pond-Deshpande Centre Student Ambassador Program. Image: Kayla Johnson Projects & Events Facebook page.

The future job market awaiting our students upon graduation is more uncertain than ever. How do post-secondary institutions keep up with the changing needs of a marketplace that is virtually unknown?

At the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre, students are given the chance to explore being opportunity creators in lieu of job seekers, helping students become change-makers in the region and around the world.

PDC’s Student Ambassadors Program is a one-year experiential learning program that provides students with a first-hand look into the world of entrepreneurship as a career path, a mindset and an approach.

Students gain valuable knowledge, build technical skills and learn about social entrepreneurship, social innovation, social policy and companies using business as a force for good. It’s a program open to any post-secondary student in New Brunswick.

“It takes them through an experiential learning opportunity to help them connect with key stakeholders across New Brunswick and the region. This includes entrepreneurs, innovation ecosystem builders and other like-minded changemakers,” says Rachel Mathis, one of the program’s facilitators and an alumnus of the program.

“It’s a connection program that also helps them upscale in specific skills that are needed now more than ever in an unknown job market. These include things like networking and leadership development.”

Student Ambassadors will experience the opportunity to tour and engage with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston and India, execute a team entrepreneurial campus project, co-create and host YES Atlantic (Youth Entrepreneurship Summit) and take part in a broad range of opt-in opportunities throughout the year.

Previous campus projects that have come out of the program include podcasts, coaching and summer camps for students focusing on leadership, and speaker events like FredTalks (UNB), Start-Up Sackville (Mount Allison) and Eveil PME (UdeM).

Depending on where the students are in school and life, they might carry on the projects outside the program, while some projects continue to be run by other students even after they graduate.

Sometimes, students start their own businesses, like Mathis did when she was an ambassador. That’s where she started her company, Invigorate Leaders.

“Typically a student would be inspired by an aspect of the programming and then they would go out and initiate their own idea,” says Mathis. “So they are in various different levels of becoming a reality.”

About 120 students have gone through the program so far. About 15 students are accepted into each cohort. Mathis says for many students who go through the program, it’s an “eye-opener” to what other options are out there for careers.

“It helps to illustrate to the students that stereotypical pathways that are painted towards them in high school, that you’re going to graduate, you’re going to go into post-secondary, you’re going to get a job, you’re going to get married and have kids … That’s not actually what happens and that’s ok. You can mix it up and this is what reality could look like,” she says.

That’s actually what happened to Kayla Johnson, a past participant in the program. She now runs her own project event planning business and she credits the program for giving her career a boost before she even completed school.

“The relationships, connections, and support helped me gain so much knowledge and a larger network before I even graduated university. This support has helped open doors, encouraging me to be my own boss at 23 years old,” says Johnson. “It also opened my eyes to the B4C Social Venture Accelerator with the Pond-Deshpande Centre, which I am currently participating in now.

It also shows students that they can make a difference.

“You could make a change in your local community. You could make change in the province and help inspire students,” says Mathis. “A lot of what we are hearing is that students didn’t know opportunities were there, that they could make change and earn a living.  They did not know that being a change-maker was a valid career opportunity..”

In fact, that was the realization that Mathis, who was a student ambassador in her second year, came to on the bus back from the program’s Boston trip.

“It was on the way back where I started to let myself seriously think about an idea that I had for a long time,” she says. “That carried through the rest of the year and I realized that I’d have support systems through the Pond-Deshpande Centre to see that through, and if I needed funding, I knew where I could find it. I knew where I could ask for help. It helped to highlight a path for me that I didn’t really realize existed.”

The next cohort of Student Ambassadors Program is expected to take place sometime in 2019. Students interested can apply now.

This story is sponsored by the Pond-Deshpande Centre.