How a pilot program for English students led to 20 years of co-op opportunities

2020 marks 20 years since the UBC Arts Co-op Program was started by Julie Walchli, Executive Director, Work Integrated Education and Career Initiatives, with Drs. Tony Dawson and Kieran Kealy as initial applicants for a pilot Co-op Program for English majors between 1997-99. She reflects on the many people involved behind the scenes to pioneer the program, support from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) and the pilot co-op program in English that preceded it.


“TLEF funding was instrumental in launching the Arts-wide Co-op Program in 2000 and the pilot Co-op Program in English that preceded it in 1997. The Program has provided transformative workplace learning experiences for thousands of Arts students which impacted their degree experiences and career journeys, experiences which wouldn’t have happened without the TLEF investment,” shared Julie Walchli.



In the beginning, a desire to learn outside the classroom

It all started with Drs. Tony Dawson and Kieran Kealy from the English department, who believed in the value of Arts students learning outside the classroom. Together, they secured a Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) grant to pilot a co-op option to 40 English majors. At the same time, Martha Piper, then UBC’s president and vice-chancellor, called for increasing experiential learning options for students across the campus, particularly in Arts, in the Trek 2020 UBC strategic plan. It was within this context that Neil Guppy, Arts Associate Dean, Students, had the vision to start a faculty-wide co-op program, and was its earliest champion, along with the then Dean, Shirley Newman. TLEF funding was used to provide three years of grants to seed the program’s start in 2000. Twenty years later, through its early champions and thanks to additional funding from the TLEF over the years, UBC Arts Co-op Program has become a significant resource for Arts students wanting to develop their skills outside the classroom.

An established program with proven results

Since its inception, the UBC Arts Co-op Program played a key role in helping students getting ahead of their future through:

  • 6,706 Work terms
  • $61.7M Student earnings
  • 591 Work terms abroad
  • 43 Countries where students have worked

With the support from a number of faculty members, the program has now grown to include students across all undergraduate disciplines in Arts, the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs, graduate programs in UBC iSchool, PhD programs in English, History, Germanic Studies, Philosophy, and Gender, Race, and Social Justice.

Celebrating 20 years of success

To celebrate this milestone, the Arts Co-op Program launched an interactive website that highlights success stories from its staff and alumni.

Discover the Arts Co-op 20th Anniversary website