A good education may begin in the classroom, but it doesn’t end there.

I often say to students: whatever you do after graduating, whether you’re applying to a job or to grad school, everyone you’re competing against will also have a degree. People will want to see what else you’ve done – what other signs of skill, initiative and motivation you bring to the table.

One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is to do what we call a Practicum in your third or fourth year. A Practicum is a placement in a program-related organization, company or institution, for the equivalent of one day a week over a semester, for which the student is “paid” with a course credit rather than money. It counts towards your degree like any other course, but offers unique benefits. Students learn what it’s actually like to work in the field, gain precious experience in the “real-world” application of their studies, and emerge with contacts (and references) outside the university. Our students have had many wonderful Practicum experiences at organizations such as Parks Canada, the National Historic Sites Alliance and The Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada.

One of our most successful recent Practicum collaborations has been with the Ottawa architectural firm Pye & Richards – Temprano & Young Architects. PR-TY traces its origins back to the esteemed Werner E. Noffke, one of the most important architects of early 20th century Ottawa. When PR-TY decided it was time to feature that proud lineage more prominently on their website, they brought two HTA Practicum students on board to do research in both public and private archives.

Both placements morphed into summer jobs, but that was just the icing on the cake. I’ll let the two students speak for themselves:

Shannon Taylor/Photo: PR-TY

Shannon Taylor (you can read her PR-TY bio here) finished her HTA degree last summer, and is now working toward an M.Arch. degree at Dalhousie University:

They [PR-TY] gave me a new and unique opportunity to delve into research on heritage projects connected to well-known local architects which turned into a long-term relationship with the PR-TY practice. My last day with them was honestly a little heartbreaking as they not only gave me a summer job but an amazing environment to thrive in.

Sarah Robinson/Photo: PR-TY

Sarah Robinson (read her PR-TY bio here), who is finishing her HTA degree this term – and still working at PR-TY! – has this to say about the practicum and also about the importance of seizing every extracurricular opportunity you can:

Taking advantage of the practicum equally develops skills that can be applied within and outside of the academic realm, builds strong connections and provides future opportunities. HTA allows you to be creative with the limited time you have in university. Joining clubs and sports teams build long lasting friendships, social skills and teamwork skills. Overseas studies lets you experience beyond the books and see culture, history, heritage, and society in the flesh.

That’s great advice from the most authoritative of sources: your fellow students. If you come to Carleton, work hard and stick with it, you’ll get your degree. But it’s the other stuff – the extras – that can really make this a transformative experience. And give you a leg up on whatever you decide to do next.

Peter Coffman