With 1,500 interns in 2018 and 20 years together, the UBC-Mitacs partnership continues to drive innovation and improve lives.
From transforming business operations to improving the lives of people with spinal cord injuries, UBC students have been tackling real-world problems with industry and non-profit partners through the support of Mitacs internships for over 20 years.
Mitacs internships facilitate connections between university students and non-academic partners across Canada. Partner organizations get the immense benefit of high-quality, rigorous research support and access to ground-breaking knowledge from academia—which may be inaccessible otherwise. Highly-skilled students get to apply their research expertise beyond their academic settings, while also building important skills and connections that serve them after graduation.
UBC is Mitacs’ largest university partner. In 2018, UBC became the first Canadian university to engage in more than 1,500 Mitacs internships during a single year.
One of UBC’s earliest Mitacs interns was Tom Mojica, a master’s graduate from the Centre for Operations Excellence at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. In 2003, Tom embarked on a Mitacs internship with TELUS, building a virtual model of one of TELUS’s contact centres to analyze and improve operational efficiency.
“What I enjoyed the most about my internship was being able to apply complex methodology and technology to real-world problems,” says Mojica, “and at the end of it, we actually solved something. It was applicable and provided value to the organization.”
Tom is currently a director for the Enterprise Project Management Office at Coast Capital Savings. He credits his Mitacs internship as a key stepping stone on his successful career path.
“I was hired as a senior business analyst at TELUS right out of my degree,” he says. “The experiences I had during my internship exposed me to a level of leadership in the organization that, if I had just gone off and gotten a job, would have taken me a better part of a decade to gain access to. It really jump-started my career.”
While Mitacs internships were initially launched to provide funding in support of industrial research in mathematical sciences and information technology, they have subsequently expanded in scope and purpose.
Students from all disciplines now work not only with industry, but also with not-for-profit and government collaborators.
Take, for example, the Mitacs-funded research of Emily Giroux, who interned with not-for-profit Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Ontario. Her research on improving the quality of life for people living with spinal cord injuries was recognized with a Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation in 2018.
Emily, a former master’s student in the Applied Behaviour Change (ABC) Lab at the UBC Okanagan campus, was able to take her graduate research to a larger scale through a Mitacs internship with SCI Ontario. During her internship, she worked with community members and organizations to help define what would be SCI Ontario’s research and implementation priorities over the next three years.
“There is a large gap in the time between initial research discovery and implementation of the research into a community,” says Emily. “Involving the SCI community in determining research priorities for SCI Ontario and the Ontario SCI Alliance would accelerate this process and, thus, ensure that time and resources are not wasted.”
As a result of her research, SCI Ontario and the Ontario SCI Alliance will continue to allocate time, effort, and resources into four areas: primary care and community supports, bladder management, neuropathic pain, and pressure injuries.
As well, for her contributions, she was also recently presented with UBC Okanagan's 2019 Master’s Level Student Researcher of the Year award.
Giroux is now a research coordinator at the UBCO School of Social Work, where she continues to apply her community engagement and knowledge mobilization skills towards creating positive community impacts.
Below: Emily Giroux's award-winning research was recognized by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan and MP Stephen Fuhr at Parliament Hill
In addition to STEM and healthcare fields, Mitacs interns are now also deeply embedded in social and public policy organizations throughout the country.
One such intern was Katrina May, a current master’s student in the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. Through a Mitacs Accelerate grant, May undertook an internship with Catalyst Community Developments Society, a BC-based not-for-profit real estate developer that builds affordable mixed-income rental homes.
At Catalyst, “I was focused on investigating how to scale social impact investment in affordable housing development,” says May, “so that non-market housing and community space is consistently delivered to meet community needs.”
May’s research is already informing policy and practice around affordable housing both in BC and across Canada. Over the course of the internship, she produced a report that has become a nation-wide resource for not-for-profit organizations with land assets interested in pursuing affordable housing development, as well as for social investors, planners, academics, and governments.
The connections Katrina made over the course of her internship also became a boon to her career.
“The internship introduced me to Catalyst, as well as to many other incredible organizations working to help solve the housing affordability crisis,” she says. “My relationship with Catalyst has opened many doors for me including with investors, researchers, and other community-housing sector organizations.”
She now works as a planning consultant with Petersson Planning Consulting, where she continues to apply the knowledge and experience gained during her internship in an important civic setting.
“What I enjoyed the most about my internship was being able to apply complex methodology and technology to real-world problems, and at the end of it, we actually solved something. It was applicable and provided value to the organization.”
Katrina, Tom and Emily’s stories are just three examples of the successful partnerships that Mitacs has helped to create in collaboration with UBC. And the earliest participants are now providing opportunities for the next generation — Tom now hires university co-op students, investing in student internships at Coast Capital. He is optimistic about the value of these types of partnerships, and the value they bring for interns and partners alike.
“Internships like this are the way of the future,” he says. “So many students that do their masters aren’t going to be academics. Even if they do pursue academia, it’s so important for researchers and academics to have healthy ties to industry. You get to learn about and solve real problems. At the end of the day, we made something better. That’s the thing that really drives me.”