The Lewtas Experiential Learning Office will enhance educational opportunities at Desautels

Alumnus Don Lewtas expands learning opportunities at Desautels with new gift

Management is both a science and an art. There is a lot that you can learn in a classroom, but there are certain things that you can only learn by doing.

Theory is important. Learning is important. But doing is also very important,” says Dr. Liette Lapointe, an Associate Professor of Information Systems and the Vice-Dean of Programs at the Desautels Faculty of Management.

“This generation of students craves that type of life experience, and the new Lewtas Experiential Learning Office will help us give it to them.”

Coordination will serve students, professors, and future employers

This new office will coordinate experiential learning initiatives that are already underway, serve as a contact point for both companies and faculty, and support instructors to develop new initiatives. All of this is being made possible by a generous donation from Donald Lewtas, BCom’75.

“The experiential aspect of education is really critical in my view,” says Mr. Lewtas, a Desautels graduate who spent more than three decades with the private equity firm Onex Corporation, and rose to the position of Chief Financial Officer.

“I would like to see every Desautels student have the opportunity for experiential learning”.

There are currently a wide range of experiential learning opportunities at Desautels. Students can learn to launch a business through an eight-week Lean Startup program offered by the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, or gain consulting experience through McGill Not-For-Profit Consulting. They can learn more about international business through study trips to Brazil and Israel, and some instructors bring businesspeople into the classroom to give students a chance to tackle real-world challenges.

Now the Lewtas Experiential Learning Office will enhance coordination of these efforts, and be a resource for instructors.

“Some instructors may not be doing this because they don't know where to start. Or because they did not go into industry before joining the faculty, and do not have business contacts,” says Dr. Leigh Korey, an Academic Associate with Teaching and Learning Services who provides teaching support to Desautels faculty and will be full-time staff at the new Office.

“They might not know who to reach out to, or where to send students on community projects. We want to make sure that instructors who want to do this type of activity are supported. We also collaborated with Desautels Career Management, which does a lot of outreach. They work to make sure students have opportunities to gain work experience, not only after they graduate, but throughout their studies.”

Deepening ties with the business community benefits both Desautels students and the companies that participate.

“It really is a win-win. Students get experience working on a real-life issue, and a company can get fresh perspectives on that issue,” says Lapointe.

“It also helps employers get the cream of the cream, and identify students who are eager to learn. We do a lot of projects in data analytics, and it is a new field, so no one has 30 years of experience. It is an opportunity for companies to work with people that have in-demand new skills – and bring a lot of energy. We know that many companies have problems finding talent, and experiential education can help them identify people who could work for them.”

Expanding hands-on learning opportunities to all Desautels students

This new office would not be possible without Mr. Lewtas’ donation, and he hopes it will help grow experiential learning opportunities at Desautels. It was not a formal part of the curriculum when he was a student, but he credits on the job learning with preparing him to succeed. Mr. Lewtas started his career in audit and advisory services at KPMG.

“An auditor brings expertise to every assignment, but they also learn from their engagements with particular companies and industries. You see what a particular company is doing well, or what they are not doing so well. You also see the unique challenges and opportunities of certain industries. It is very much a two-way street,” he says.

“Over time, I hope that the Lewtas Experiential Learning Office will become integrated into every program that Desautels offers. That will enable each student to experience their area of study while at university.”

And the benefits are not only about knowledge or competencies. Experiential learning can also help students make good choices about their career.

It can show you if the path that you are on is right for you,” he says.

“Or maybe you will see something you had not thought about before, and experience what may become the right path for you. Through experience, you really begin to learn where your talents and interests lie .”

Article written by Ty Burke
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