Campus Life

Agility program expands creative offerings for students

Since its inception in 2015, Agility has been living up to its name by expanding the ways it supports students who want to explore an innovative idea or develop their own business.

Agility, which got its start thanks to a donation from Dr. Cor Van Raay (LLD ’15), is totally funded by donors and designed to create multi-disciplinary experiential learning opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as agriculture and agribusiness, social innovation and emerging technologies.

“There are huge opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness in southern Alberta for students,” says Dave Hinger, academic director of the Teaching Centre, which houses Agility. “We try to get students involved in some of those activities and help them understand the opportunities available to them in these fields.”

In addition to the Cor Van Raay Innovation Fund and the Cor Van Raay Agility Award in Agriculture, Agility is developing an agriculture entrepreneurs-in-residence program where ag experts spend a week on campus hosting seminars, visiting classrooms and making themselves available to students, staff and faculty to talk about their studies, research and career options.

Agility recently received a grant for nearly $15,000 from Alberta Innovates Institutional Support of Entrepreneurship Education (ISEE) and used it to create the Applied Innovation program.

“Applied Innovation is an online blended-learning model where students go through different modules to pursue their idea, whether it’s a social innovation idea for a fundraiser, community project or their own entrepreneurial idea,” says Brandy Old, program coordinator with Agility.

The program, with help from Old, takes students through the steps of organizing and validating their ideas. Ultimately, students create a vision, a mantra and document their plan. Participants are eligible for micro-credentials, certificates of participation, or course credit, if the program is completed through an applied study model.

Students with an entrepreneurial bent can apply for scholarships through the Bruce McKillop Agility Leaders of Tomorrow and the RBC Agility awards. Students can learn about opportunities in family and small business through the annual RBC Family & Small Business Summit.

Agility’s focus on social innovation aligns with the new School of Liberal Education and the theme of social justice. The Food for Thought fund, started with generous support from Dr. Jennifer Mather, tackles food security for students. Individuals or groups can apply for support for programs that address a specific need on campus, provide education about healthy food choices and preparation, and increase accessibility to healthy food.

A group of students works on a problem using a white board in one of the creative spaces on campus.
“We know from research that a lot of our students struggle with food insecurity,” says Hinger. “The ability to afford healthy food is not an issue unique to Lethbridge; it’s an issue across a lot of post-secondary institutions. We’re trying to get students working on how to solve this.”

Agility has also received a $10,000 grant from TD Friends of the Environment Fund to support incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous practices into the Campus Ecology Project. Mather donated funds to establish the project as a way of celebrating the U of L’s 50th birthday in 2017. Its goal is to create a more ecologically friendly campus. As part of an independent or applied study, students work on various aspects of the project, including wildlife, plants and habitats found on campus and what might be done to better the environment.

“The funding is meant to support student assistants coming in and assuming more of a leadership role in the programming, as well as physical resources for planting,” says Old.

Another new addition, in collaboration with Co-operative Education, is the entrepreneurial co-op. The first students to pursue such a co-op, Bariyaa Ipaa and Cecilia Reid, have worked with Old on developing their business – Art with Purpose.

“We are here to support students who have ideas about being an entrepreneur and also to help students see entrepreneurship as a viable career option,” says Hinger. “We focus on the skills students need to be entrepreneurs, which are valuable whether they create a business or not. We leverage our community partners like tecconnect, Economic Development Lethbridge, Community Futures and the ATB Entrepreneur Centre. We know that employers are looking for students who have those skills.

“The fourth area we focus on is emerging technologies, which give students a place to play and explore and see how these technologies can be used,” says Hinger. “With some of the programming changes we’ve seen on campus, there may be an opportunity for us to support students using new technologies like 3D printers and robotics.”

The Fine Arts Data Physicalization Lab allows students, typically graduate and senior students, to work with research data sets in unique ways. The lab is equipped with 3D printers, a robotic arm for video capture and a vinyl cutter. The Idea Shop in Markin Hall provides a low-tech space for students to work on their ideas. On top of this, an Innovation Zone will occupy a space in the new Science and Academic Building and Hinger is calling on faculty members for their input.

“We’re going to have this state-of-the-art space where students can come to explore, be creative, solve problems and innovate. It will be a very flexible space; we want to be able to host events like a pitch competition or a student exhibition,” says Hinger. “One of the reasons we’ve been successful is because of faculty working with us. We can’t do it without faculty involvement.”