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The South Simcoe Economic Alliance reaps the benefits of York's research expertise

The South Simcoe Economic Alliance reaps the benefits of York's research expertise

York University students who are enrolled in courses affiliated with the University’s Experiential Education initiative get valuable opportunities to apply their skills to real world problems and situations.

Experiential Education (EE) is a form of engaged learning that blends theory and coursework with practical, hands-on experience. As part of their academic studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies students apply key course concepts to a wide variety of case studies and research projects involving both profit and non-profit organizations. The students work with faculty members who serve as guides in the background and scope of the projects.

Above: From left, Course director Frank Miele, York students Daniel Hernandez, Byung Mark Yoo, Tri Ngo, Xiaomin Liang and Waris Ali, Township of Adjala-Tosorontio municipal councillor Mary Brett, York student Christina Kroner, and Margo Cooney and Valerie Ryan, representing the South Simcoe Economic Alliance

Most recently, six students in a fourth-year Regional Economic Development course taught by Frank Miele got a chance to present their research findings to representatives from their Experiential Education community partner, the South Simcoe Economic Alliance (SSEA). The alliance is a partnership of three municipalities and the community economic development organization Nottawasaga Futures. The municipal partners in the SSEA are the Township of Adjala-Tosorontio, the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and the Town of Innisfil. The region is home to two multinational industries, Honda (automotive) and Baxter (pharmaceuticals), yet the lives of it citizens are also shaped through agriculture and many small and medium-sized businesses.

To realize the South Simcoe brand as “The Best of All Worlds,” the SSEA was seeking assistance from the team of York students on a number of initiatives, including:

  • guidance on attracting and retaining investment monies that will drive business growth and enhance the quality of life for the community;
  • an analysis on the recommendations of strategic/core activities arising from two background reports – the Economic Competitive Analysis Project and Competitive Analysis 2004;
  • a review and analysis of the SSEA Web site, including benchmarking it against other Canadian regional economic alliances.

After spending much of the fall term researching and working on their project, assisted by Miele, the students were finally ready to make their presentation and deliver their written report and executive summary to the SSEA. On Dec. 9, York students Daniel Hernandez, Byung Mark Yoo, Tri Ngo, Xiaomin Liang, Waris Ali and Christina Kroner delivered their recommendations to SSEA representatives Valerie Ryan and Margo Cooney of Nottawasaga Futures and Township of Adjala-Tosorontio councillor Mary Brett.

"This project is the capstone endeavour for students enrolled in a regional economic development course," explained Geoff Webb (right), manager of Experiential Education at York. "We found a great team and hit the ground running." Webb commended the students, who started the project on Oct. 18. "You had a lot of work to do and you've done a great job. This form of learning is a great way for students to apply what they've learned and give back to the University's community partners."

In their presentation, the students recommended that the communities in the SSEA view economic development as an investment and expand budget allocation to support economic growth activities. They said that South Simcoe should take a stronger leadership role in promoting the region to the Greater Toronto Area and that local economic developers should establish a partnership fund to leverage joint marketing initiatives. Included in their presentation were specific recommendations on transforming the SSEA Web site into a more user-friendly, marketing tool. The students said the SSEA should also integrate programs and services to retain and attract business investment and accelerate job creation by developing employment parks that have municpal services, are readily available and prominent to possible developers.

Kroner, speaking on behalf of the students, said the EE experience “was a fantastic educational experience that brought our learning to life. The discussion that followed the presentation was very stimulating.”

Ryan thanked the students for their dedication and said she appreciated the depth and clarity of recommendations from students. "I can't tell you how much we appreciate our partnership with York University," said Ryan, who is the CEO of Nottawasaga Futures. “The students displayed a high level of integrity,” she said.

Cooney is a community economic development officer with Nottawasaga Futures and served as the team's contact. "The team was wonderful to work with and I really enjoyed the experience," she said.

There is the potential to carry the SSEA project and some of the conclusions reached by the students into future semesters, said Webb.

In addition to the SSEA project, York students are working with a number of community partners on projects, including the YMCA, UNICEF, the Ontario Non-Profit Network, the Canadian Red Cross, CBC, the University Health Network and numerous other organizations.

York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit is also working to expand York's relationship with SSEA and has placed two KM Interns, both York graduate students funded through the MITACS Accelerate Program, to assist in developing the Nottawasaga Futures Green Transformation Program.

For more information, visit the Experiential Education Web site or contact Geoff Webb, manager of Experiential Education.

Complied with files from Research Impact, York's Knowledge Mobilization blog. Republished courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.