Elective Initiative directed at Smith School of Business

Alumni project hopes to enforce personal interest credit in commerce

Journal file photo

It’s called the Elective Initiative, explained Queen’s alumni Max Townsend and Yuting Pan, and it’s intended to prepare students in the Smith School of Business for the real world.

The pair both graduated this spring, beginning careers in New York shortly thereafter. In July, they co-wrote a commentary piece for the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business talking about the benefits of humanities and other disciplines to a commerce education.

From there, the initiative was born. It draws from the same ideas from their first year at Queen’s, when both Townsend and Pan felt an elective was irreplaceable within their Commerce experience.

“In first year, electives were really the only form of autonomy we had over our education,” Pan said. “You could discover wholly different perspectives.”

The goal of the initiative is to give Commerce students the chance to branch out and become immersed in disciplines outside the business field, while also providing a sense of security and confidence through the utilization of the Personal Interest Credit.

Last spring, the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) introduced a Personal Interest Credit (PIC) for ArtSci students. The PIC encourages students to try courses otherwise unaffiliated with their primary plans.

However, Commerce students haven’t previously been given such an opportunity. Though Townsend and Pan formulated the initiative, Commerce Society (ComSoc) President Bhavik Vyas wrote to The Journal that it was also a key platform point for the current ComSoc executive.

“Myself and Academics Commissioner Jeremy Brock have seamlessly integrated it into our goal plan, and changed the priorities of the original initiative a bit to better align with realistic and time-oriented goals,” he wrote.

“It was more of an awareness piece to get the Commerce UCC (undergrad curriculum committee) to put serious thought into it, which happened to coincide perfectly with a big ticket item (aka a very important item) for my team and I.”

ComSoc currently hopes to implement the PIC for the 2017-18 academic year. “The PIC is a higher priority than the 1st year elective. The likelihood as of now is quite high because of the overwhelming support from alumni,  [the Business Career Centre], and current students,” Vyas added.

ASUS’ pioneer effort into the PIC is helping the ComSoc through the nuances of the process, Vyas said.

“The logistics are not clear as of now but we would love 6 PI credits - this allows us to broaden our academic interests in richer full year courses (e.g. Psych 101) and 2 half-year courses, rather than just scratching the surface through a course like (CISC 101).”

On the initiative’s site, an endorsement list is available and has received more than 100 signatures inclusive of alumni and current students, ranging from Comm ‘13 graduates to first-years.

“We’ve had individuals much smarter than either of us write extremely passionate and candid endorsements,” Pan and Townsend said.

Endorser Connor Bevans, Comm ‘17, believes the Personal Interest Credit would be invaluable to his degree. "[It] empowers students to take challenging courses outside of their comfort zone, while liberating them from a grade-centric system which penalizes academic risk-taking,” he said.

As for those with differing or indifferent opinions towards the initiative, Pan and Townsend believe they may have experienced personally negative electives in the past.

However, the initiative doesn’t seek to create obstacles for students, according to it's founders. "Making that opportunity available and accessible is what the initiative is all about."

Looking to the future of the Smith school, Pan and Townsend are optimistic.

“Changes that are cultural at their core take time, especially when they challenge the status quo and propose a pretty stark alternative," they said. However, they encourage Commerce students, regardless of their year in the program, to read their initiative and endorse a cause they feel enriches their education. 

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