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iPRAKTIKUM offers U of T graduate students in German a chance to explore careers outside academia

Shirin Oghatian, who is pursuing a master’s degree in German theory, text and literature, teaches a Grade 9 German class at UTS (photo by Diana Tyszko)

University of Toronto's department of German languages and literatures has started iPRAKTIKUM, an internationalization and experiential learning project that provides graduate students with opportunities to explore careers outside of academia.
 
This fall, iPRAKTIKUM offered paid internships to four graduate students to work at University of Toronto Schools (UTS) under the supervision of Nicola Townend, who runs the German program at UTS.
 
One of those students is Stefana Gargova, who earned her PhD this fall and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “Having a PhD doesn’t mean your only option is working in academia," she said. "You can apply all of your skills to many other fields.”
 
That is one of the aims of the project. “We have been talking for a long time about what we can do for students to increase their professional opportunities and have been considering internships like this for a while,” said Stefan Soldovieri, an associate professor of German in the Faculty of Arts & Science who leads iPRAKTIKUM along with Helena Juenger, the department’s senior secretary and graduate assistant.
 
Natasha Jamal at U of T’s Centre for Community Partnerships is also playing a key role in mentoring the interns. “It’s been a truly collaborative effort,” said Juenger.
 
“Many of our graduate students already have experience as teaching assistants, so they will be an asset to a secondary school and can enrich the experience for high school students,” said Soldovieri.
 
iPRAKTIKUM has funding from Milestones & Pathways in the Faculty of Arts & Science, an initiative designed to support professional development for graduate students, as well as from the Advancement in Teaching and Learning in Arts & Science (ATLAS) program.
 
Gargova’s main interest is curriculum development, so she will spend her internship developing two new units for the German classes: One will focus on LGBTQ issues and the other on Indigenous peoples.
 
“Germany has a history of representing Indigenous people in a very specific way,” Gargova said. “It will be interesting to look at the clichés.”
 
Townend is overseeing the work of the interns and is delighted with Gargova’s plans.
 
“These are both areas identified in the high school curriculum that have a real dearth of teaching materials set up for classroom use,” she said. “There aren’t many resources, so these units will be useful here and elsewhere.”
 
For Shirin Oghatian, the internship experience is entirely different. Oghatian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran two years ago, is pursuing a master’s degree in German literature, culture and theory. At UTS, she is teaching the Grade 9 German class.
 
“I’ve had teaching assistant opportunities, but this is a totally different experience,” she said. “Teens acquire language differently than older students, based on the way younger brains work. Prior to this, they were beyond my comfort zone, but this makes me think about new opportunities. I had just been focused on teaching at colleges, so this has opened a whole new avenue.”
 
 Soldovieri and Juenger said the graduate students are required to attend a check-in session midway through the internship to ensure their individual learning goals are being met, as well as a debriefing at the end of the semester. Current interns are also expected to help the department of Germanic languages and literatures prepare the next cohort of iPRAKTIKUM interns.
 
They envision expanding the program to other high schools and to other industries where German language skills can be asset. As iPRAKTIKUM grows, the hope is that future interns will also be placed with organizations in German-speaking countries.