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Enhancing graduate employability through community engagement projects: A case study of leadership in the performing arts
conference contributionposted on 03.05.2018, 00:00 by Judith Brown
Graduate employability continues to be an important focus for tertiary curriculum developers and academics, and, in Australia, universities employ various means to measure the employment of their graduates and use this as a marketing tool for recruitment (Kalfa, 2015). Within the creative and performing arts sector there is much debate about the types of skills that should be included in a curriculum to give graduates the best-possible outcomes in terms of employability (Bennett, 2011; Bridgstock, Goldsmith, Rodgers, & Hearn, 2015; Brown, 2007). Curriculum designers and academics are also building evidence to support the notion that a curriculum that privileges authentic learning and assessment experiences can result in the acquisition of a broad range of skills for the learner that can provide lifelong benefits (de la Harpe & Mason, 2014; Leglar & Collay, 2002). This paper will examine one learning and teaching project at an Australian university that goes beyond the established curriculum, that is deeply embedded within the local communities surrounding the university, and that also provides opportunities to identify and mentor emerging performing arts leaders whose student leadership experiences have a profound effect on their graduate employment. Developed as a result of a community need, this performing arts project brings together tertiary students, university faculty, government partners and community leaders. As a long-running community engagement project with a track record spanning seventeen years, it has a clear community focus yet it also expands and enhances the tertiary performing arts curriculum providing the emerging leaders with educational opportunities that blur the distinction between student and professional, and provide valuable graduate employment outcomes. Several project leaders, who have since graduated from the university, were asked to reflect on their experiences as emerging leaders within the project, the mentorship that was provided during the project, and how these leadership skills have translated into their graduate careers in the performing arts and related fields. The data was analysed for common themes that would answer the research question: how does the experience of student leadership within a tertiary performing arts project prepare students for a career after graduation? The results of this analysis showed that the learning acquired as student leaders in this project allows the emerging leaders to move seamlessly into the realm of the professional, providing them with added confidence in their leadership skills and opening their minds to further career opportunities not previously considered.