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FUSION prepares students for the future—no matter what that future looks like
How do you prepare yourself when the thing you are preparing for keeps changing?
In Summer 2021, Simon Fraser University joined five other Canadian universities in piloting the FUSION Skill Development Program, an initiative designed to help students successfully confront that challenge as they prepare for the “rapidly evolving world of work.”
According to Helena Fehr, project manager, experiential education, in the Office of the Associate VP, Learning and Teaching, the program focuses on building capabilities in three areas: communication, meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) and problem-solving.
“Students who are joining the workforce now face constant change,” said Fehr. “The skills they develop in FUSION give them tools for adapting confidently to that change. That’s something that will benefit them in every working environment they enter.”
A recognized need
Some 100 students in the Undergraduate Student Research Awards program completed the initial pilot, and an additional 108 students participated in the Fall 2021 iteration of the program.
For Matthew Wong, a fourth-year student in economics, the reason for joining was clear: “I decided it would be helpful to enrol in this course to help me feel more comfortable and prepared in the workplace.”
Angelica Baniqued, a fourth-year student in biomedical physiology and kinesiology, saw the program as a complement to her co-op experience: “The emphasis on communication, meta-cognition and problem-solving skills piqued my interest, and I wanted to work on these specific skills because I know how important they are, having gone through the co-op program for three terms already.”
Self-paced, online and flexible
Fehr explained that the program is organized as a set of self-paced online learning modules intended for completion in 10 hours. That format was attractive to many of the participants.
“I enjoyed the flexibility of the program and the generous deadlines as I had a very busy schedule,” said Fatima Yaseen, a fourth-year student with a joint major in molecular biology and chemistry.
Ranjot Bhandal, a third-year biomedical physiology major, agreed: “The fact that the program was self-paced convinced me to participate … The videos and exercises in the online modules were engaging, and I was able to get through them in the estimated completion times.”
The student participants identified a number of positive outcomes that they believe will aid them as they move into their post-university endeavours.
“The skills I learned and got to exercise throughout the program will help with building rapport with my future co-workers and contribute to my networking capability,” said Angelica Baniqued. “Not only that, I know that these skills will help me set goals and achieve them more efficiently at my workplace in the future.”
Matthew Wong was especially pleased with one aspect of what he learned: “I think a highlight for me was learning about the steps to take when dealing with problem-solving, as it will allow me to quickly discover solutions [to situations] that may arise.”
Completion of the program is also acknowledged on students’ co-curricular records.
Just do it
The students who spoke about the program were quick to encourage other students to consider participating.
“Do it!” said Fatima Yaseen. “It doesn't take much of your time, and you still end up learning a lot about your habits and how you can change them to make them more respectful and adaptable to the workplace.”
Angelica Baniqued was similarly positive about the experience: “I would highly recommend this program to any student who would like to learn the ‘soft skills’ required in any type of job/position. The skills you will learn are invaluable and will greatly contribute to your character and further develop your professionalism.”
Samakshi Sharma, a third-year student in psychology with a minor in human development and counselling, summed it up like this: “I’d say that if you are struggling to find yourself, what you can achieve and how, this program is perfect for you.”
An impact assessment by research assistant Jennifer Sator demonstrated significant improvement in students’ self-perceived understanding and mastery of the communication, meta-cognition and problem-solving skills covered in the program. Participants also expressed greater self-awareness and confidence.
That’s an encouraging outcome for Helena Fehr.
“Those results indicate that the program makes a positive difference as students prepare for their post-university pathways. I see it as a valuable complement to the discipline-specific knowledge and skills they pick up in their regular studies.”
Although the FUSION funding is ending, the Vice-Provost is looking into ways to extend the program into the future, given the positive response from students. We hope to announce a summer cohort soon!