Transforming communities | UNB
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Fall 2021

Experiential Education

Transforming communities



Learning through doing

Romaine Morrison (MScEng’21) has always looked at engineering from a practical point of view, transforming theory into real-life applications. For MBA student Amir Kaveie, the key to making practical and long-lasting decisions is data — analyzing it, making sense of it, and using it effectively.

Thanks to a pilot project coordinated by UNB’s Office of Experiential Education, Morrison and Kaveie applied their knowledge, interests and course work to address the ongoing transportation challenges faced daily by people living in New Brunswick’s largely rural, upper river valley.

It was, says Morrison, a transformational experience that allowed him to see the true potential of engineering theory while giving him valuable and practical work experience.

“I appreciate theory and understand it, but I always look at how I can practically apply those ideas,” he says. “The experiential program is great because it allows you to figure out how you work best, it forces you to work with people who may think differently from you and it makes you a better-rounded professional.”

The Rural Transportation Experiential Learning Pilot for the Upper River Valley is a project involving McCain Foods Ltd., the Carleton-Victoria Community Inclusion Network, UNB and other community representatives.

The goal is to reduce barriers in rural areas while increasing experiential learning opportunities. Kaveie, who is majoring in management analytics, says that the pilot project helped him to use what he has learned over the past year to solve a real-time problem. 

“It gave me a better understanding of my capabilities and helped me to reach a higher level in my professional career,” says Kaveie. “The value I see in experiential learning is that it provided me with an opportunity to put into practice what I learned at UNB and helped me get rid of my fear of the work environment in Canada. As an international student, I had no idea what the professional environment was like in Canada.”

Solving real problems facing small communities 

The upper river valley of New Brunswick includes the communities of Florenceville-Bristol, Perth Andover, Hartland, Centreville and Grand Falls — towns and villages that face barriers in public transportation and access to healthcare. For organizations like McCain Foods Ltd., one of New Brunswick’s largest employers, the goal is to make life better for its employees and their communities.

“The challenge behind this project is the ongoing lack of public transportation to support socio-economic development in our area,” says Vicky Perez, program lead for McCain. “There is no alternative transportation beyond owning a car. When you go to Fredericton, for instance, there are buses and taxis. But that is not the case in many upper river valley communities. There is no public transportation available to support essential needs.”

Perez and Sharon Scholten, program director for McCain, say the problem is not exclusive to the upper river valley. Other rural areas in New Brunswick and Canada face similar hurdles in terms of convenient and cost-effective transportation options for rural residents.

“It’s McCain’s desire to contribute to a robust solution that may work for other communities as well. This is not the only rural area that could benefit from a solution,” says Scholten.

Over the summer, as part of Phase 1 of the project, Morrison and Kaveie performed a deep needs assessment of transportation in the Carleton and Victoria counties. They started by gathering and analyzing data related to demographics, economics, transportation behaviour, and commuting to work.

“We visualized all these analyses and data in charts and GIS maps,“ says Kaveie. They then made a “community ranking profile” to figure out which communities most needed transportation and suggested three solutions. The second phase of the pilot project will look at the implementation of the recommended solutions.

In addition to collecting data, which primarily came from Statistics Canada and from previous studies, Morrison and Kaieve drove through most of the roughly 30 communities in the upper river valley.

“It helped us paint a picture of what is happening there. We got to see firsthand what we were seeing on the spreadsheets and in the data,” says Morrison. “So, after doing that sort of information collection, we also spread our net wider in terms of looking at what kind of solutions have been used across Canada, North America and in other countries to solve transportation challenges.”

Joining forces to share expertise and knowledge

When Sarah King (BPhil’06, PhD’18), director of UNB’s Office of Experiential Education, heard about the McCain Foods River Valley Strategy Program, she saw an opportunity to join forces and create an experiential program for UNB students.

“The intention of this pilot and our growing strategy for experiential education in rural communities of New Brunswick, is really to highlight and use the expertise and experience of our students to examine challenges that are unique to those rural communities and propose solutions,” says Dr. King.

UNB’s Trevor Hanson (BScEng’02, MScEng’04, PhD’10), engineering; and Wan Li, management, were the faculty advisors on the project.

“Our students drew upon their classroom and research lessons to undertake this project, but quickly had to adapt these lessons to this new challenge in a new geographic and work setting, which itself is a great lesson,” says Dr. Hanson. “The collaboration between engineering and management in this setting also really fostered complementary approaches to looking at this problem. This was not an area we worked together in before, but the value of continued collaboration is clear, and we have this project to thank.”

Dr. Li agrees.

“This project offered great opportunities for our students to apply their knowledge to a real-life project. The steering committee, consisting of professionals and academics from different backgrounds and disciplines offered invaluable insights and advice to the students, allowing both the management faculty and our student to expand our horizons. The collaboration with the engineering faculty was fruitful and has spawned interests in initiating more joint work in the future.”

UNB has offered experiential learning opportunities to students, in various forms, for decades helping them build their knowledge through reflection on authentic experiences. “It helps students make connections between academic learning and applications for that learning through engaging in meaningful and valuable opportunities,” says Dr. King.

“What was really important to us,” she adds, “especially with this project, was to bring together students from different disciplines to share their knowledge and skills to tackle those problems, while helping them understand the realities of rural New Brunswick life and the opportunities that exist for them to create meaningful relationships and lives in those rural communities.”