Faculty Champion working to bolster experiential opportunities

A fundamental part of Michael Mindzak’s work as an educator is enriching students’ Brock experience with opportunities to apply their learning outside of the classroom.

As one of the University’s six Experiential Education (EE) Faculty Champions, the Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education is helping to highlight the significant impact hands-on learning experiences can have.

Organized by Brock’s Experiential Education team, the Faculty Champion initiative sees one full-time teaching faculty member from each of Brock’s six teaching Faculties chosen to advocate for and support experiential learning opportunities across campus.

Mindzak hopes his work in this role will help students engage in meaningful experiential learning opportunities that they see as being important to their time at the University.

“Whether students are here for a one-year certificate program or a six-year Concurrent Teacher Education program, experiential education can become an integral part of their university experience; it and can literally be life-changing,” he says.

As a Faculty Champion, Mindzak aims to raise awareness about the value of experiential education and the many forms it can take, particularly when it comes to misconceptions about the nature of experiential education in the field of education itself.

While many of his students take part in more traditional experiential education opportunities in K-12 classrooms through Brock’s Teacher Education programs, he says education students can explore a broad range of experiences using their knowledge of education theory and practice.

“We see students taking part in the Niagara community with a lot of agencies and non-profits, where they’re working with individuals and groups in diverse settings, marginalized communities or those who might have particular exceptionalities,” says Mindzak.

Through these experiences, Mindzak’s undergraduate and graduate students give back to the local community while applying their learning to real-world situations and exploring ways they can use their education expertise in the future.

One of Mindzak’s goals is to expand these opportunities even further so students can gain more public and private-sector experiences and discover new, and perhaps unexpected, potential education-related career paths.

As well as broadening understandings of the career options for education students, Mindzak hopes to use his role as an EE Faculty Champion to share best practices and help colleagues to find ways to weave experiential learning into courses that go beyond more traditional workplace placements.

Mindzak has seen experiential education opportunities of all types impact his students professionally and personally, whether they’re working with a local organization or travelling to Guatemala as part of a field course on global education.

“These experiences get them to think about education, work and industries in different ways,” he says. “Some students find they like working with adults more than they like working with kindergarteners. Some find they like doing research and policy work more than teaching in a classroom.”

Mindzak believes the profile of experiential education is growing in response to social and economic changes facing post-secondary students.

“We can see that experiential education is becoming increasingly important as the labour market evolves and as students’ focus shifts as they become increasingly interdisciplinary and are looking at what they want to do in their working lives,” he says.

Mindzak’s passion for experiential education, and much of his research, is driven by his own professional journey.

After graduating from a teacher education program during the Great Recession, Mindzak struggled to find employment in the education sector. He went on to pursue a master’s degree and PhD in Educational Studies. His graduate research focused on teacher unemployment and labour dynamics and, he continues to study the intersection of work and education today.

To learn more about Brock’s Faculty Champion program, visit the Experiential Education website.

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