Real projects, real world contributions

8 December 2008

Talk to the occupational therapy students at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences and you hear that they're learning the real thing, not simply theory. They say things like, 'I feel amazed that we can actually do something that makes a difference,' and 'I remember the first lecture where we were told that if you make the most of this subject the journey will be one you will never forget, it truly has been one for me'.

So what is it that they are doing? In teams of five, these third year students get 16 weeks to identify a community need, develop a strategy to meet it, secure an industry partner and then make it happen.

Jo Ragen, Occupational Therapy Lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences, sees her role as that of a facilitator. 'I don't put parameters around what the students do. Because they design their projects they are passionate about them and do amazing things in a short amount of time.'

And what the students are doing really is amazing. Just look at some of the community projects designed and implemented by this year's students. StressLess promotes strategies for school age students who are dealing with mental health issues. Project Ilypa helps obtain sound amplification systems to assist students in remote Aboriginal communities who suffer from hearing loss. SHOOT uses a social marketing campaign to raise the awareness of the benefits of employing people with a disability.

These are just some of the 25 projects put in place by students this year. Others target everyone from kindergarten students in Papua New Guinea to mothers with learning difficulties in Campbelltown. Industry partners range from schools and Rotary groups to Mission Australia, community centres and the Starlight Children's Foundation.

Jo's motivation for developing this course came from her time working in industry. She was frustrated that so many graduates were not prepared for real life, 'They wanted to get out there and do the job yet they weren't ready. This program gives them the skills they need.'

It gives students a sense of purpose and a direction. The course also helps create pathways. Jo explained, 'Many of the projects designed by our students have been taken up by industry as long term, ongoing programs. Often our students are employed by their industry partners, either to run the programs or to work in some other capacity. In some instances our students have even turned their project into a full time business.'

In the words of another participant, 'I am so excited about where this project is going and all the fantastic people we are meeting along the way'.

University should be a place of excitement, passion and meaning. For Jo and her students it is.

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