Forming engaged leaders through experiential opportunities

Fellowship program helps undergrads develop new skills through research and action projects

A unique leadership-development program has helped McGill students Nada Al Mgharbel and Mariam Sabbah develop critical new skills. It has also prompted them to consider career paths different from the ones they’d previously envisioned.

Al Mgharbel and Sabbah are among the 46 undergraduates participating this year in a two-semester, six-credit program known as the Integrated Management Student Fellowship (IMSF).

The program, led by the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management (MDIIM), consists of three parts: a faculty project, in which students work closely with Desautels professors to conduct research or build community partnerships; an “impact initiative,” in which students work in small groups to design and implement a real-world sustainability project; and a course that ties together the two projects.

The impact initiatives are diverse, tackling social issues that are personally important to each student. Al Mgharbel’s impact initiative seeks to promote change on social issues through art and to uplift and empower youth activists using graphic history books, comics, animation, conferences, roundtables, and activist presentations.

Engaging in problem solving

In a totally different vein, Sabbah’s impact initiative is centred around food waste, and how to better educate young people on composting and recycling effectively. After community consultations and meetings with stakeholders including the City of Montreal, restaurants, and grocery chains, she and her team are working to launch an educational platform to be used in a classroom setting. They plan to pilot the project in local schools such as St. George’s School of Montreal.

“The goal of the IMSF is to create the space and opportunity for Fellows from across multiple disciplines to deeply engage in problem solving,” explains Professor Sabine Dhir, MDIIM’s Managing Director. “By working directly with professors on innovative research projects and by tackling large community and social issues, my hope is that Fellows begin to understand how complex problems require holistic, creative, and truly interdisciplinary solutions.”

The experiential nature of the IMSF facilitates this, she adds. “Fellows are constantly required to engage with individuals and communities outside the classroom in meaningful ways. I strongly believe our future leaders need to consider not only how they want to contribute to the world, but more importantly, who they want to be in the world. The IMSF empowers these students to do just that.”

A formative experience

Al Mgharbel, a third-year student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Management and Behavioral Science, says the IMSF program has been a formative experience for her—particularly her impact initiative, which has allowed her to network with students and researchers outside of McGill.

Al Mgharbel’s impact initiative falls under the Graphix Project, a collaboration between McGill and Yale University, which is currently developing a graphic history book addressing current human rights crises. The book, aimed at 17- to 23-year-olds, will serve as the centrepiece of an innovative global human-rights education program. Al Mgharbel and her peers are working with researchers and students at both universities to explore ways of integrating the project into various initiatives within the Faculty of Education at McGill.

“[A lot of it is about] the motivational aspect, getting youth and young people to dive into the topic of human rights,” she explains. “I think a big part of it was the fact that it would be translatable into so many different languages, because it is art, and a picture is really worth 1,000 words. [It’s about] making it accessible worldwide [...and] integrating art into formal and informal educational settings.”

The only student in the current cohort who is not pursuing a management major, Al Mgharbel feels the personalized nature of the program has helped her to connect with her mentor, Prof. Roman Galperin, and the other fellows in her cohort in a way she has never experienced before. IMSF mentors “do everything they can to help you reach your goals […] and really care about your development,” she says.

In-depth research

For Sabbah, a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in International Management with minors in Political Science and International Development Studies, the IMSF stood out as a perfect opportunity to conduct in-depth research, while also being able to create an impact in her community.

She also saw it as a unique opportunity to translate theoretical classroom learning and her personal interest in the UN Sustainable Development Goals “into an actionable project, which is something that you don’t often get at the undergraduate level.”

Her faculty project, under the supervision of neuropsychiatrist Dr. Simon Ducharme and Stéphanie Lassonde, Director of Partnerships at the Douglas Research Centre, aims to research, develop, and implement best practices, structures, and tools to help foster a culture of academic innovation at the Centre.

“[Stéphanie] had me starting research that was completely unfamiliar to me,” she says. “She takes the work that you're doing, and she can help take it to a whole other level […]. You develop a lot of new skills and competencies really quickly.”

New directions

“The work with the Sustainable Development Goals and what we're learning in class has pushed me in a policy direction,” Sabbah says. “I didn't necessarily envision that for my future when I first joined, but that's really become a priority for me.”

Al Mgharbel echoes this, saying her work on the Graphix project has led her to consider human rights law in addition to corporate law, which she initially wanted to pursue.

“I would recommend this [program] to everyone,” she adds. “This skill set that we’re getting through the course, the fellowship, and the impact initiative is definitely something that is going to be translatable to any situation.”

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