This post was written by recent graduate, Jenn Wilson.
I recently completed my BA in Disability Studies, but in addition to completing the BA, I also received a Minor in Organizational Leadership, something that I hope other students might consider after reading this blog entry. The core disability studies courses that I took as part of the BA taught me so much. They also helped to shape or re-shape a lot of how I thought about and approached different disability topics. The program and the department operate a great deal in the realm of disability activism, which is a critical component of the disability movement. Having said that, in addition to activism, there are several other avenues that one can pursue to contribute positively to the disability movement, avenues that use positive influence and leadership in roles within government and organizations that can create substantive change in the short and long term for people with disabilities and our society.
When I entered the Disability Studies Program I had been working in developmental services for several years, working my way up from front line support to supervisory positions and in that time, I began to frame my understanding of the functioning of organizations and the people that make up these organizations. I was working in environments that lead me to realize just how important it is to have strong leadership skills. All too often, managers are not good leaders. Managing people and leading people are two very different things and through your studies in the Organizational Leadership Minor, you’ll realize, not only how different they are, but what leads to success or failure in each role. As I entered the Disability Studies Program, I knew that it would be important to make the most of the educational opportunity that I was being given, and taking an assortment of professionally related electives didn’t seem like a very focused approach. I began researching options for minors and came across the Minor in Organizational Leadership. Here, I thought, was a minor that would prepare me for progressively more influential leadership roles, and provide me with the opportunity to learn from other students who were interested in leadership within their respective fields.
Pursuing the Minor in Organizational Leadership was the best decision that I could have made. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy and take delight in every course that I took, but I also developed skills in organizational leadership. I took courses in areas such as organizational behavior, interpersonal dynamics, change management, cross-cultural management, and leadership, and toiled away at my course work with students from the Chang School of Business. I met a range of students studying Human Resources, Business, Marketing, and I even came across a Fashion student once. The courses that I took all had what I call a “research into action” focus, that is that the courses had strong theoretical and evidence-based research foundations, but also plopped students in real life scenarios to apply the concepts learned. Take Interpersonal Dynamics, for example, which is a superb course offered by Genevieve Farrell. In this course, Genevieve has students operate in teams for the duration of the course. These teams go through thick and thin together, developing a special level of trust, and a bond, that I’ve only ever experienced otherwise at summer camp. She has students put all of their cards on the table, completing in depth personality assessments from several perspectives; from our own point of view, from that of our team (ie. A first impression), that of our family, and of our coworkers. Students are required to have people from each area of their life complete the personality assessment and then they interview them on their findings…and let me tell you, there is a lot to learn about yourself in this course! From there, we learned how to apply concepts of interpersonal dynamics to our lives (both at home, in school, and at work). Several of the courses that I took involved simulation activities, real world projects (ie. I completed a recruitment project for the Canadian Cancer Society), and role-playing, all of which support capacity building across the leadership landscape. It was neat meeting students from other sectors in the for profit world, and while the courses are largely dominated by these students, the course material can be easily applied to non-profit and public sectors. (Quick tip: check in with the instructor of each course and let them know what sector you work in, I found all of them very helpful in gearing my assignments, papers, and projects to the world that I worked in).
Simply put, this minor prepares you to take on professional challenges, set goals, and realize them. It builds your capacity to become a leader within your organization, enhancing some of the softer skills that are an important component of having the ability to align people with a vision, and lead them towards creating change. I personally feel that the combination of the disability focused courses that one takes in the Disability Studies program combined with those of the Minor in Organizational Leadership are extremely complimentary, and make the most of your educational experience.
So how does one pursue this minor? Go to http://www.ryerson.ca/calendar/2012-2013/pg2520.html for a complete list of required courses. Pursuing this minor requires using/substituting all of your professionally related electives. You can’t substitute upper and lower level electives, so you need to be organized, and stay organized in order to ensure that you’re completing all of the necessary requirements. You also need to touch base with the good folks in the disability studies department to let them know that you will be substituting your professional related electives (these are the letter-based ones). When you graduate, you simply click “apply for a minor” and fill out the form, and voila, presto, the 2nd best decision you ever made…the 1st one was completing the BA in Disability Studies. 😉