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UofGH makes Canada Comeback Challenge final
A team of 10 University of Guelph-Humber students representing three different programs has advanced to the final round of the inaugural Canada Comeback Challenge, a national post-secondary competition launched to create up to 10,000 new work-integrated learning opportunities for students during the pandemic.
Launched in October with financial support from the federal government, the Canada Comeback Challenge tasks teams with creating solutions to real business problems submitted by employers with one goal: bolstering Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
Out of more than 200 competing schools across the country, the University of Guelph-Humber’s team was one of only 10 to advance to the final round of competition.
“The team this year is determined to perform well and continue to build on the success we have established on a national and international stage in recent years,” said Acting Program Head of Business Justin Medak, who has for years devoted hours to prepping and training UofGH’s case competition teams.
“We are leveraging strengths and knowledge from the Business, Justice Studies and Early Childhood Studies programs. Each participant has a unique skill set that they bring to the team. They are supportive of each other’s ideas and work very well together.”
Crafting a solution to a tricky problem
At the onset of the challenge, each University could choose an organization and its specific challenge, with a list of approximately 80 options covering the public, private and non-for-profit sectors.
UofGH’s team chose the CNIB Foundation (formerly the Canadian National Institute for the Blind), a non-profit advocating for the blind. Their challenge? In the age of COVID-19, the University of Guelph-Humber’s team is being tasked with discovering new and innovative ways to either minimize the need for touching surfaces in public spaces, or to find a way to make it safer for people impacted by some form of visual impairment.
In the second round, UofGH’s team worked directly with the CNIB’s Director of Research and Chief Inclusion & Accessibility Officer Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai as they worked with a $4,000 budget (provided by the Canadian government) to complete round two deliverables, which included a six-page project proposal, a design thinking model, and a three-minute pitch video that provides a compelling case for the proposed solution.
After his first one-hour brainstorming session with the students, Dr. Sukhai was eager to continue collaborating.
“It’s a great team of students,” Dr. Sukhai said. “They’ve got a commitment to the concept and the process. Our first meeting was a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them and refining and honing what they’re interested in.”
Now that UofGH’s team has advanced to the third and final round of the competition, it is tasked with a short pitch deck, a 3-minute video, and a 10-page project proposal. The team's submission will be sent out for public voting on March 22, with one winner being named for each sector (not-for-profit, private and public).
Regardless of the outcome of the competition, Dr. Sukhai hopes that by considering the needs of a part of the population that isn’t always well-represented or widely understood, students will come away with a lasting appreciation for the importance of considering the different lived experiences of others, especially those who are a part of potentially marginalized communities.
“This is a great opportunity for the students to be exposed to a community and a set of issues they might not necessarily have been exposed to previously,” Dr. Sukhai said.
“It’s time we think about everybody’s invisible lived experiences.”
Indeed, UofGH students participating in the competition do attest to the ways in which this Canada Comeback Challenge has not only tested and expanded their critical-thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills, but also their perspective on the world and the challenges faced by others.
“After hours of research and speaking with a member of the CNIB, this issue affects more individuals than I had initially thought. Researching and listening to how it affects them daily just inspires me to continue to strive and do well to combat this growing issue,” said Fiona Mahadeo, a second-year Justice Studies student.
“Whether it is big or small, any contribution towards tackling this issue is a step in the right direction. All of these hopes that I have, pushes me to continue working ten times harder to do something for individuals who are in need.”
“Working on a project for the CNIB has really broadened my thinking and has really educated me on where society needs to close the gaps,” agreed Mairi Dinnin, a first-year Business student. “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of my journey.”
A supportive UofGH community
Although the Canada Comeback Challenge is far from over, the 10 competitors representing UofGH have already found that they’ve grown in a number of ways.
“So far, this experience has been amazing,” said third-year Early Childhood Studies student Safoorah Forde. “It has allowed me to work collaboratively with my peers from various disciplines to build on my strengths and areas of growth while looking at innovative solutions for Canadians and specifically those with visual impairment impacted by the pandemic.”
“My experience so far has been amazing,” echoed Dinnin. “I see myself taking away so many impactful skills, from being able to execute a pitch to writing an in-depth report and much more. These are skills that will stick with me forever.”
And it’s worth noting that thus far, the University of Guelph-Humber’s efforts in the Canada Comeback Challenge have been aided by cross-program, community-wide support.
Not only is the team composed of students from three of UofGH’s seven programs, but in addition, two Media Studies students are helping to build a website and film and edit the team’s video submission, finance/accounting instructor Andrea Chance is assisting with the students’ financials, and Business alumnus Daniel Bielak is teaching the team about design thinking and mentoring them on their submissions.
Another crucial part of UofGH’s effort this year is Hailey Zysman, a University of Guelph-Humber alumna who competed in and won UofGH’s first international business case competition as a student in 2011.
Now, she practices as a lawyer and teaches Business Law in UofGH’s Business program. In deciding to get involved with mentoring the competitors, Zysman thought back to her own experience as a UofGH student.
“I want to give students the tools they need to give them a competitive edge to success,” Zysman said. “When I was a student, I was fortunate to have the support of the team coach, and also professors such as David Birkett who provided additional tools to me during their free time.
“I am happy to give that back to the team as their coach, and I’m pleased that professors such as Andrea Chance continue to dedicate their free time to helping team members excel.”
The students taking part are also appreciative for both the support and for the opportunity to get to know students and alumni from other programs and year levels.
“I’ve been able to work alongside new students who are part of different programs at Guelph-Humber, and it has been great getting to know them and learning alongside them,” Mahadeo said.
“I was so unsure about joining this competition as I was not a Business student nor did I have any prior knowledge of anything Business-related. This unsure chance I took resulted in being one of the best competitions I have been part of, as there were so many benefits that I gained from participating. I look forward to seeing what else the Canada Comeback Challenge has in store for me.”
These are the 10 students representing the University of Guelph-Humber in the second round of the Canada Comeback Challenge:
- Ashley (Thao) Cao – third year, Business
- Emma Danaher – fourth year, Justice Studies
- Alexis Del Papa – fourth year, Business
- Mairi Dinnin – first year, Business
- Victoria Duarte – fourth year, Justice Studies
- Safoorah Forde – third year, Early Childhood Studies
- Jessica Gomes – fourth year, Business
- Fiona Mahadeo – second year, Justice Studies
- Nishanth Puvanendran – third year, Business
- Ana Sasic – second year, Business