Eastern Schools

Sara Taaffe in front of the iconic Buddhist temple complex, Paro Taktsang, in Bhutan, July 2014. supplied

Sara Taaffe in front of the iconic Buddhist temple complex, Paro Taktsang, in Bhutan, July 2014. supplied

UNB focuses on education geared towards the millennial generation
Giving students the tools to do well
by ‘doing good’ 

When Sara Taaffe decided to leave her hometown of Calgary to attend university in Fredericton, she was excited about embarking on a unique educational experience.
Her destination was Renaissance College at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) for an accelerated three-year program to earn a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Leadership.

We are keenly interested in producing graduates who are thoughtful about what’s happening in the world and committed to making positive change.
— H.E.A. (Eddy) Campbell is president and vice-chancellor at the University of New Brunswick

Now age 22 and employed by Fredericton startup HotSpot Merchant Solutions, Ms. Taaffe recalls being enthusiastic about the prospect of an international internship and about the program’s emphasis on “discussion-based and experiential learning.”      

At the same time, it was a big step to travel across the country to study, but she figured she could always return home if it didn’t work out. But that certainly was not the case. “Once I started classes, I immediately connected to the UNB community and its educational approaches and values,” says Ms. Taaffe.

“We hear today about the ‘millennial dream’ – the idea of finding your passion and feeling that your work has purpose, with intrinsic rewards beyond the economic ones,” she says. “Renaissance College really enabled me to develop and pursue that dream.”   

The University of New Brunswick prides itself on being “today’s millennial university.” From its distinctive degree programs, high faculty-to-student ratio and culture of mentorship, to its many centres of innovation and entrepreneurship and partnerships with local and regional businesses, UNB is focused on the values and aspirations of the millennial generation.

“When I talk to young people, they talk about wanting careers that are not only personally fulfilling, but also meaningful – to make a difference in their communities and other people’s lives,” says H.E.A. (Eddy) Campbell, president and vice-chancellor at UNB. “It’s the idea of doing well by ‘doing good.’’’

Entrepreneurship has been part of UNB’s educational fabric for almost 30 years, Dr. Campbell points out, beginning with the 1988 establishment of the Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Engineering. Over the years, the university has also expanded more into social entrepreneurship.

“In 2014, we were named Canada’s most entrepreneurial university by Startup Canada,” he says.

“And in terms of social innovation, many students and alumni have translated their values into commercial startups. One Renaissance College graduate created a company called Wear Your Label, which sells clothing and jewellery focused on destigmatizing mental health issues, and which has attracted global attention.”   

The university is also expanding partnerships to benefit students and the New Brunswick economy. The province’s four universities have created a task force on experiential education, with the goal of expanding student internships and co-op placements with New Brunswick employers.

“Through all our programs and initiatives, we are keenly interested in producing graduates who not only have the skills employers need, but who are also active and engaged citizens – people who are thoughtful about what’s happening in the world and committed to making positive change,” says Dr. Campbell.

Sara Taaffe certainly found her UNB experience to be transformative. That international internship she had anticipated took her to the South Asian country of Bhutan, where she and three other UNB students helped develop a student leadership program at the Royal University of Bhutan.

“Being able to travel and immerse myself in a new culture – so much learning happened; it gave me another lens through which to view the world,” she says.

Deciding on a minor in business administration, Ms. Taaffe expanded her knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship through a number of special programs, including the Student Ambassador Program at UNB’s Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which included trips to Boston and India. She was also a leader in the Activator Program at UNB’s International

Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, where she co-developed a real-world company.
Ms. Taaffe also won “Our Top Talent” for New Brunswick, a pitch competition where graduating students pitched themselves to potential employers – an event that led to her current job.

“Entrepreneurship is so much more than I thought – it’s about problem-solving, and it has social and environmental components,” she says. “I had a chance to learn about being an agent of change through entrepreneurship.”