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High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: Students’ Perspectives

By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement

In the last High Impact Practice Spotlight,[1] we asked students and recent alumni about their experiences learning through high-impact practices. As four small, primarily undergraduate institutions, the Maple League provides endless opportunities for students to participate in HIPs and create their own to suit their educational journeys. Below are the first-hand experiences of high-impact experiences at the Maple League Universities.

Nathan Penman (He/His) St. Francis Xavier University Learning Communities

Learning goes beyond the classroom—and that’s just what I love about the Forensic Psychology program at StFX. The classes are interesting and the faculty are engaging, but the reasons for why I love it go further than that. Composed of 19 students, the program requires us to take several courses together. It’s here in these classes that I actually feel like I’m part of a connected community apart from living in residence. Outside of the classroom, the Forensic Psychology program pushes us to get involved like no other program on campus. The program tries to match practicum placements with student interests—and if it doesn’t exist, you create it. This year, many student practicum placements have been pushed online to protect the inmate population, and that has resulted in my classmates taking on research with professors, the NS Archives, and even Innocence Canada. I’ve been able to develop a podcast series, article series, and have a profile article on the program published by the Canadian Psychology Association. Prior to entering the program, I couldn’t imagine myself doing any of those activities, but now I’ve found something that I’m passionate about and want to stay involved with.

Addy Strickland (She/Her) St. Francis Xavier University Common Intellectual Experiences

In 2017, I began my studies at StFX in the first year Social Justice Colloquium (SJC). The colloquium was (and still is) comprised of three subjects—anthropology, history, and women’s and gender studies—alongside group and individual service learning placements that aimed to put what we learned in the classroom to practice. The course was certainly successful in this regard, and we often joke that the university may have done itself a disservice by training us to fight for change, because it was often the university itself that became the object of our efforts. Only two months into the course, the university came under fire for mishandling a case of sexual assault, and so our colloquium wrote an open letter, invited the president to class to grill him about the school’s action plan, and threw ourselves into fighting for real-life social justice. Our professors not only encouraged our efforts, but gave up class time to make them happen, and offered valuable expertise. An interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed over the past four years, as well, is that if you point to any student doing activist or leadership work on campus, there’s a fairly high chance that they were in the SJC: running the students’ union, organizing protests, founding student support programs…

The connections we made through the program also stand out to me as something that makes it unique. We were a small group of only twenty-two students spending upwards of nine hours together each week, so we bonded fairly quickly, and on a level that is fairly unusual for people whose primary interactions happen in the classroom. Most of the people I met through the SJC are still close friends, and many of us have continued to work together on projects both academically and in our day-to-day lives. As I approach the end of my undergraduate experience, I can say with certainty that enrolling in the SJC was the best decision I could have made, and that what I learned will stay with me well beyond my time at StFX.

Sally Cunningham (She/Her) Bishop’s University Writing Intensive Courses

In 2019, I took ENG224, Jacobean Shakespeare, at Bishop’s University. The course syllabus outlined a scaffolded writing program which meant that every week students wrote in private learning journals and small-group discussion forums, and every two weeks, I wrote a short paper based on ideas explored in those lower-stakes spaces. Because of the sizable amount of writing, I engaged with the course and materials while exercising different writing muscles for the private, public, and academic spheres. The final project of the course was up to the decision of the individual student: to either write a formal research paper or create a play program for an imaginary mounting of a Shakespeare play we studied. In choosing the program note, I embodied the critical voice of a reviewer, the formal voice of a program director, as well as the creative voice of an interviewer and cast member. Through the writing-intensive course, I learned to better express myself in different spheres of writing as well as develop ideas from a casual thought into a full work several times over; thus increasing the amount of feedback and ability to grow as a writer and student.

Tiffany MacLennan (She/Her) St. Francis Xavier University Alumni (’19, ’20) First-Year Experiences and Undergraduate Research

For science students, your first-year experience is more hands-on than one might think. Alongside your required courses, you spend hours each week in labs working on lab experiments and developing techniques to allow you to facilitate more difficult experiments in your later years. It’s a great model to begin with, but introductory lab experiments are often not representative of “real-life” research.

In my first year of university, I took an introductory Earth Science course with Dr. Dave Risk. The class met once a week in the evening and covered climate change, biogeochemical cycles, and air pollution. As students, we were given two options for an assignment worth a large portion of our grade: 1) write a (big) paper on an environmental topic or 2) do a one-day field school with Dr. Risk. I nervously opted for the field school option as writing has never been my strongest talent. On a chilly Saturday, we started the field school where Dr. Risk taught us about the research he conducts in his lab – from taking air samples and water samples in field environments to analyzing carbon dioxide in both air and water. Following the in-class session, we went to the brooks and streams in the town of Antigonish collecting air and water samples, bringing the samples back to the lab, conducting a CO2 analysis using a spectrophotometer and laser-based gas analysis for all the samples, and producing a lab report of the findings. Dr. Risk almost single-handedly changed my fundamental understanding of the excitement and value of fieldwork and research. Because of his course, I continued taking Earth Science courses and eventually became a Research Assistant myself – two things I likely would not have done without Dr. Risk’s first-year research experiment.

PS: I kept my (admittedly poorly written) lab report “Carbon Content of Flowing Water Systems in Various Locations in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.” It’s a great reminder of how nervous I was to participate in the lab portion but how impactful of an experience it was on my education. If you’re reading this, Dave, thank you.

Brendan MacNeil (He/Him) Acadia University Collaborative Projects and Assignments

There are numerous opportunities for group work and collaboration in Acadia’s business school, and this really came out in my fourth year. In one of my final required business courses, Strategic Issues in Business, we got to (finally) dive into real world pressing issues as a team and come up with solutions. A memorable one I did with my team was on Addiction where we were tasked to research this issue in its multiple forms on campus, identify how it positively and negatively impacted businesses (cash flows, operating margins, growth potential, as well as public perception/branding etc.) and present to the class on our findings as well as recommendations regarding where this is heading in the future. Being able to work in a team of students from diverse backgrounds allowed us to identify where we had seen this issue in our own lives and lived experiences, as well as build on our knowledge of business together to identify how each of these facets would affect particular industries and businesses. This course was a chance to fully apply my knowledge of finance and business alongside students of other majors to develop a real world recommendation to businesses and industries around this problem. Another great course in my fourth year was Business Strategy where we were assigned groups at the beginning of the year to dive into various business cases and formulate proposed strategies for the issues they were facing. We were given the power and responsibility to fully apply our full scope of knowledge of business, from analytics to operations management, marketing to business modelling, on these cases throughout the semester. We would have weekly papers on a specific business, and monthly presentations on a larger case, often drawn from the local region by our professor Conor Vibert’s work in collecting first hand real business cases. Being assigned a team for the whole semester allowed us to develop synergies based on our areas of expertise, and the assignments provided by Dr. Vibert would force us to not only draw on our knowledge and concepts, but also on tools and skills he would provide such as patent searching, google analytics/trends, corporate filings, and a number of other useful databases and tools. These team projects ultimately prepared us to go into working on real business issues primarily because we were doing just that through Dr. Vibert’s great work with CaseNet, and secondly through having the ability to apply our knowledge, skills, and new tools as a team to work as young professionals supporting each other in a live environment.

Diverse and Global Learning

In my third year I had the chance to leave Acadia and travel to Asia again, this time fortunately without having to leave my degree behind. In Doing Business In Japan, myself and 11 other students learned the culture of Japan, common business practices, how major corporations (domestic and international) operated in Japan, and even got the chance to meet and discuss these with someone from Japan. In Mid February we took off on our 12-day trip to Japan and spent the time meeting with business like Daiking, Mitsubishi, and Toyota and getting to tour their factories, talk to senior engineers, and get presentations from the president. This experience was possibly the single most impactful experience of my degree, it is one thing to talk about Lean manufacturing and operations management, and a whole other to walk down the polished cement floor and see the split timer running on various screens, whiteboards with process improvements drawn, and dodging robots rolling by you on tracks to different lines. We saw the marvel that is Japanese manufacturing and what it really means to be the fourth largest economy in the world and how they got there. Travelling Japan and meeting with businesses was a highlight of my education.

Tanisha Campbell (She/Her/Elle) Bishop’s University Diverse and Global Learning

During my study abroad experience, I had the opportunity to live in Japan amongst other colleagues in the Modern Languages program. From 2014 to 2015, I was fully immersed in the Japanese language and culture and was provided with a plethora of opportunities to utilize and enhance my linguistic skills as well as expanded my perspective on the different life perspectives shared by the students and faculty. I was offered the chance to spear-head my own project and share it with the sister-cities of Tokushima over in Europe: Leiria in Portugal, and Jelgava in Latvia. Honing in on my artistic and communicative abilities and with the close guidance of university professor Donald Sturge, I opted to do an Art and Cultural Exchange project though a photographic exhibition. As a first-generation student, this experience was most enriching and culminated ideas and connections that have since shaped my academic journey.

Lara M. Hartman (She/Her) Acadia University Capstone Projects and Assignments

In September of 2017 I began my journey at Acadia University studying politics and legal studies. Throughout my time here I have had a lot of amazing opportunities to engage with my culture as well as the university as a whole. My cultural focus came down to my own interest as well as the support from some of my professors. Finally in my third year of study I decided that I wanted to write my honours thesis. My thesis is focussed on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) with a specific lens on the Highway of Tears. This highway is located in Northern British Columbia and runs 724 km. I grew up along this highway in a small town called Fraser Lake. Having this opportunity in my undergrad was amazing and my thesis has been my entire life for over a year. Writing this thesis made sure that I would be using a variety of different skills that I acquired over my years at Acadia. This thesis was a sizable amount of writing so I had to make sure I was scheduling my time in order to get it done as well as engaging in enough literature to both stay inspired and to make sure my argument was present from cover to cover. My thesis also allowed me to look at something that is taking place all across Canada with a specific lens on what was happening at home. Although I was based in Nova Scotia while I was writing, I looked at my home region as well as what was happening elsewhere to understand the full story of MMIWG and look at different policy options for why this problem has not been solved, and why there has been so much inaction. Not only was I able to focus on my writing and literature that came from all across Canada, but I was able to do this with the help and guidance of my supervisor who helped keep me motivated and understood what I was going through even if I did not even comprehend it sometimes. Writing my thesis showed me how important an experience like this is to an undergraduate degree. At the end of the day, at the end of an undergraduate degree, the pieces of paper aren’t just about you, they’re about the relationships you make along the way, and the things you are able to accomplish.

Rebecca Mesay (She/Her) St. Francis Xavier University Alumni (’20) Service Learning and Community Engaged Learning

One of the greatest complaints that students have about what they learn in the classroom is that there is no “real world” applicability to their learning. This is perhaps a reasonable complaint when considering that there are a limited number of professional, undergraduate programs in our four institutions. Field-based applied learning or service learning as it is referred to at StFX, aims to disrupt the belief that students will not apply what they learn in the classroom to real life. My first experience with Service Learning was in my first semester at university through Women’s and Gender Studies 100 (WMGS 100). In this course we discussed topics such as gender discrimination, systemic racism, and how the education and health systems often reinforce preconceived beliefs about marginalized groups that are held more widely in society. My placement was with the Black Educators Association (BEA) at St. Andrew Junior School. I learned that BEA’s had been established in Nova Scotia, beginning in 1969, to advocate for equitable educational outcomes for African Nova Scotian students. The program that I was part of focused on creating a sense of community among the Black students that attended the Junior School, as well as offering after school programming that helped students understand more about their cultural heritage. The conversations that I had with the teachers that headed the program, as well as the students, helped me understand the impact of racism in the school system in Nova Scotia and how historically, it had been weaponized to compromise educational outcomes for Black students. Furthermore, I was also given a unique insight into how the legacy of racism in the school system continued to have a resounding impact on current students. This placement made it so that I was even more engaged in the course curriculum than I had been previously, because I now had a real life connection to the issues that were being covered in the classroom.

Georges-Philippe Gadoury-Sansfaçon (He/Him) Bishop’s University Internships and Field Experiences

During my studies, I participated in a 12-week applied psychology practicum, the Phelps Helps pilot project. Over the 12 weeks, I worked with at-risk youth to develop socio-emotional skills, organization skills, critical-thinking skills, creative problem-solving skills. As an intern, I designed and implemented conversation exercises, helped co-design personalized organization techniques/plans and supported students with their schoolwork. I also had the opportunity to put together the final project (letter to themselves in 10 years), focusing on generativity and identity formation. This experience allowed me to foster leadership, empower others, and work one-on-one with high school/adult education students in ways that I would not have been able to otherwise. The internship allowed me to gain experience in the field of education while also developing my listening skills, my ability to work with a variety of students, and a better ability to understand where people are to work together productively.

[1] The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project, please contact Tiffany at

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