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Encouraging web-savvy student entrepreneurs

Cynthia Breen found that her University of Guelph-Humber students had an entrepreneurial streak, so she decided to help them build their business in the classroom.

Breen, an instructor in the Media Studies program, is a web design expert who teaches in the digital communications stream. A University of Guelph-Humber graduate herself, she felt she understood what her students were looking for, and that they would appreciate any opportunity to build real-world experience.

“I always appreciated that Guelph-Humber had teachers who were actually in the field, who offered an opportunity to contribute to things that are actually happening on real projects, rather than just textbooks, and that’s reflected in my teaching experience,” Breen said.

“For students who are in their last semester of sitting in that classroom, I want to find as much of an opportunity as possible to work as an in-between for them.”

Breen, who received a master’s degree in communication management from McMaster University after graduating from UofGH, invited businesses that needed new or upgraded websites into her classroom.

She then allowed the students to compete against one another to create a compelling pitch for those clients, speaking to the work they had done and “defending the choices they made.”

Eventually, the clients – which included a life-coaching business and an event-management company – chose their favourite entries. In fact, three of the clients were so impressed by the entries that they actually adopted the winning designs as their real-life homepages, giving the students who crafted the sites ongoing work as web designers. Breen, meanwhile, was there to help the students draft contracts and determine their rates.

“A lot of the students at Guelph-Humber want to start their own business,” she said. “They’re very entrepreneurial. This was a great opportunity to see them start to build their client base.”

The important part for Breen is that the students feel supported as they begin to navigate their professional lives.

“We always kept open communication in talking about the challenges and making sure they felt prepared,” she said. “I think that helped them get over any nerves.”

Learn more about Media Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber.