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Posted April 30, 2012

International Development

First University of Waterloo international development students share lessons from field placements

WATERLOO - Students from the University of Waterloo’s first-ever graduating class in international development have returned from their eight-month field placements abroad. They will share what they learned at a one-day conference next week.

The 23 students volunteered in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Peru and Vietnam. They worked on projects focused on issues such as delivering safe water to low-income urban communities, building environmentally sustainable businesses, and helping subsistence farmers combat drought and deforestation.

“These students have immersed themselves in the cultures and languages of their host communities to learn and contribute in profound ways,” said André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Environment. “They are creating positive change both in themselves and in the world.”

“Waterloo’s international development program is unique,” said Professor Larry Swatuk, the program’s director. “It’s heavy on practice. It’s not light on theory, but it’s one of the few that emphasizes skills and has an eight-month field placement.”

Because the lengthy placement comes at the end of their studies, students enter the field equipped with “real skills – entrepreneurial skills, environmental management skills,” said Swatuk. “They can actually make a valuable contribution right away.”

Waterloo’s is the only international development program located within a faculty of environment. The School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) runs it in partnership with St. Paul's University College, which is affiliated with the University of Waterloo. The program draws on the expertise of its three points of origin in environment, sustainable business, and social innovation.

The field placements, most of which relate to environment, business, or both, are organized in partnership with World University Service of Canada (WUSC), one of Canada’s leading development agencies. “Waterloo students make lasting positive impacts on their host communities through their placements,” said Chris Eaton, executive director of WUSC. “They also develop their own skills immensely.”

The Shape the World conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2. Student presentations run from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to the best presentations. The free conference is aimed at development professionals, prospective students, and interested members of the community.

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