By Bobinec, Greg on February 6, 2020.
The University of Lethbridge’s new CIBC Navigator Program is designed to empower students with disabilities by giving them employment opportunities, and is now ready to launch after a large donation from CIBC.
The CIBC Navigator Program is a five-year project made possible by a $250,000 donation. The goals are to support the development of co-operative education placement positions for students with disabilities, provide comprehensive supports to enhance student success upon placement, and encourage all students within the university’s Accommodated Learning Centre to participate in volunteer or co-op education opportunities.
“This is very important work, it is about finding co-op placements for students with disabilities,” says Eileen Sowunmi, third-year sociology student and co-operative education student who helped develop CIBC Navigator Program. “Knowing a few students that I am friends with that have disabilities, it is very important that they are included and are able to find accessible work placements and amazing work environments, and being a co-op student myself, the benefits of the program are immense and so it is very important that the benefits of the program are accessible to all students.”
Co-operative education combines real-world work experience with academic studies, with many added benefits to the experience. Benefits include allowing students to explore a variety of employment sectors, develop valuable research skills for future work experience or graduate school aid in the transition to a career upon graduation, and increase students’ marketability after graduation.
“We are very excited to be able to take the donation from CIBC to be able to build toolkits for our students’ and employers’ success,” says Jasminn Berteotti, U of L director of Co-operative Education and Applied Studies. “We have been doing co-op at the University of Lethbridge for a bit amount of time and now for us to be able to invest some resources into building inclusivity as well as some tool for our students with disabilities to be successful in the workplace is tremendous and we are very excited about it.”
In addition to tangible skill development, co-op educational experience increases social and community connection for students and enhances a sense of belonging, self-identity, confidence and purpose. Many students with disabilities are hampered in accessing these benefits because the framework to help them into the workplace does not exist.
The yearly funds will support the hiring of a program developer and navigator, a hiring subsidy for employers and scholarships for students selected to participate in the program. The first year will see three students selected to take part in the program.
“I think the funding is a great opportunity for us to get started,” says Berteotti. “We are using some of that funding to bring Eileen on board, but as well to offer some wage subsidies for employers, as well as some scholarships for the students and that is just to reduce any possible barriers and to ensure that the experiences are successful for both the students and the employers.”
The investment by CIBC is part of the U of L’s SHINE campaign and highlights the corporate community’s involvement in supporting students and promoting opportunities for them to thrive while working to achieve their academic goals.
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