Canada’s first accelerated degree in interdisciplinary leadership

Leadership is key to success at Renaissance College

Magic. That’s what Charlotte Pyke was looking for when she researched universities.

She wanted to be part of a unique, exciting way of learning – and she found it at Renaissance College.

“Being able to experience different cultures and learn from others, to learn to think critically, and being able to engage in self-driven learning made me want to be part of the interdisciplinary program,” she said.

The interdisciplinary leadership degree takes three years to complete, and relies heavily on student responsibility. Courses are discussion-based rather than lecture-based and none of the classrooms in the Charlotte Street building have any desks.

Pyke, a third-year student in the program, said the style of teaching at Renaissance College helped her grow as a person and as a leader.

“I’ve learned so much about myself and about the world, which I never expected to encounter in an undergraduate degree,” she said.

“I am so grateful I was able to be part of this magic.”

Internships help students gain cultural awareness

Students taking the program complete two summer internships – one in Canada and one abroad – as well as graduate with a minor in another field.

Cynthia Stacey, dean of Renaissance College, said the program is one of the most interdisciplinary on campus.

“Approximately 60 per cent of their credit hours fall into the bachelor of philosophy in interdisciplinary leadership studies. The other 40 per cent belong to elective courses,” she said.

“Every student must have a minor in another discipline so they really get a taste of everything.”

Students study leadership in many ways, including courses on worldviews, cultural awareness, public policy, and effective citizenship. They also get their feet wet by taking on a Canadian internship in their first year of study and an international internship second year.

The internships pair each student with a group or organization, often not-for-profits or universities. The student has a mentor from the group with them to help guide their experience.

Pyke completed internships in Alberta and Vietnam, working with people with disabilities. The internships were an essential part to her education, she said, teaching her everything from different societal views to the importance of authentic relationships.

Preparing graduates for the world

The program celebrated its 15th birthday in September 2015. Stacey said around the turn of the millennium there was a concern that Canada wasn’t producing enough leaders.

To counteract that, the McConnell Family Foundation funded projects at 10 universities across the country.

“There was a large group of interested people at UNB who got together and put together what became Renaissance College. It was a very collaborative process from every faculty on campus.”

The idea was to combine the best of teaching and learning theory with the concept of liberal education. The name of the program grew out of that “rebirth” of an educational approach to teaching.

Stacey said the aim of the program is to ensure students and graduates are fully prepared for the world.

“Leaders need to know a little bit about lots of things, not just focus on one area,” Stacey said.

“These people will have to be effective citizens no matter what they do.”

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