Collaborative degrees

Mohawk College and McMaster University have a history of offering integrated degrees that will pave the way for partnerships of the future.

Mohawk College has a longstanding and pioneering collaborative relationship with McMaster University that has created strong diploma-degree programs.

Mohawk has three degree clusters in technology, nursing and radiation sciences that combine for nine bachelor programs that graduate about 2,500-2,700 students a year.

All are collaborative degrees with McMaster University.

“These are important programs for us and they are very innovative from a collaboration perspective,” says Paul Armstrong, Chief Operating Officer at Mohawk College.

“McMaster is such a great partner and we are so respectful of the strengths we both bring to the table. We are able to layer on applied learning to the theoretical foundations in ways that are efficient and benefit student learning.”

The Mohawk-McMaster Bachelor of Science in Nursing was the first in the partnership.

“When the entry to practise requirement for nurses changed to the baccalaureate level, the province realized how important it was for colleges and universities to work together. The model that was developed was successful and paved the way in other programs,” says Armstrong.

A collaborative degree in Medical Radiation Sciences degrees soon followed.

“We are a world-class college and McMaster is a world-class university. There is no need for us to compete, we need to work together.”

Full integration

The Mohawk-McMaster model of collaboration is much more seamless than what is found in many examples of college-university diploma-degree partnerships, says Armstrong.

“Often students study two years in college and then go to university for two years, but they are two separate programs. The Mohawk-McMaster programs are completely integrated throughout all four years. That takes more work and more planning and more discussions but it is a better experience for students.”

The integration means theory and applied learning happens hand in hand.

The commitment to the partnership comes right from the president’s offices at each institution, says Armstrong.

“Mohawk College President Ron McKerlie and McMaster University President David Farrar meet regularly about opportunities and how we can work better together. That is clearly evident in our relationship.”

Mohawk and McMaster also offer diploma to degree pathways. One example is the Indigenous Studies program that sees students study two years at Mohawk College before heading to either McMaster or Wilfrid Laurier University to finish a degree in another two years.

Another such program is the Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) program that allows Mohawk’s Engineering Technology graduates to enter McMaster’s honours degree program in year three.

Alex Cook took full advantage of that opportunity.

His postsecondary path began with a free math upgrading course at Mohawk College. His instructors encouraged him to consider the three-year Engineering Technology program.

He finished that program five years ago and worked for a couple of years before returning to complete the B.Tech program, choosing the software engineering technology stream, one of four offered.

“The B.Tech is structured such that you can work full time and study part time. It’s self-paced and online,” says Cook, who expects to graduate this summer. He is applying to master’s programs in computer science and software engineering.

Cook now teaches in computer science at Mohawk College and is considering a career in post-secondary education.

“I just kept taking the opportunities that were presented to me that the Mohawk College community has built. Everyone I’ve ever met at Mohawk has been nothing but a tremendous help to me,” he says.

“My pathway to a masters is fairly unconventional but it’s wonderful that these things are available. The strong bond between Mohawk and McMaster has opened doors for me.”

Another important aspect of the collaboration is that all B.Tech students come to Mohawk’s Fennell campus for lab instruction.

The B.Tech program is well thought of in industry, says Jeff McIsaac, Interim Dean, Engineering Technology & Aviation.

“It commands a lot of respect in the marketplace. Our close ties to McMaster and the pathways we offer are unique differentiators for us across the college sector.”

 New opportunities

New degree partnerships are continuing, says Armstrong, including a collaboration between Mohawk’s School of Health and Community Services and the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster that includes Early Childhood Education and Applied Behavioural Analysis.

“We are always looking for where the integration of applied learning makes sense to what McMaster is trying to achieve.”

Collaboration goes beyond degrees, too.

Mohawk is offering its general credit offerings as options to students in humanities and social sciences at McMaster. They earn a certificate, which can enhance employment opportunities.

“We have a few areas of focus, including applied behavioural analysis, volunteer management, general business. McMaster is thinking of the overall educational experience of its students and how Mohawk can play a role. That is unique in Ontario and Canada.”

Mohawk College has now created a standalone degree in Digital Health and a Bachelor of Business Administration – Trades in partnership with George Brown and Algonquin colleges. A new Bachelor of Analytics and Data Management will launch in September.

Mohawk’s degree development strategy includes both more collaboration with McMaster and more standalone offerings, says Armstrong.

“There are many areas that require higher credentials but still benefit from an applied skills and competency focus,” says Armstrong. Mohawk’s strengths align in data sciences, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and sustainability, particularly in the building and built environment.

“We are exploring the best ways to deliver the credentials that the industry needs, whether that’s with McMaster, other colleges or on our own.”

The pathways that join microcredentials to advanced degrees and everything in between allow learners to go where their interests and jobs take them. Armstrong points to the example of a graduate of the Personal Support Worker program who bridged to earn Registered Practical Nurse credentials, and then a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. That led to two master’s degrees and now doctorate studies and a job leading a research group at a health care agency.

“We have to ensure we look at the whole spectrum of needs and pathways that students need to take them wherever they want to go,” he says.

“We are very proud of how we have built this relationship. The respect and mutual understanding are deep between Mohawk and McMaster. It is built on shared decision-making and strong, well-defined governance structures that allow it to carry forward as new people come to the table.”

Medical Radiation Sciences   

Mohawk College Students working with CT-SCANNER

Medical Radiation Sciences (MRSc) allows students to earn both an advanced diploma and a Bachelor of Science degree in a four-year program.

It includes a common first year of foundational sciences. Students then choose a specialization – radiography, ultrasonography, or radiation therapy. The program’s first intake was in 2004.

“We were the first degree program in sonography and only a handful exists today,” says Laura Thomas, who is the program’s coordinator at Mohawk College.

“Across Canada, our program is seen as a leading program and it has built an incredible reputation. Our students see the value of the hands-on approach of Mohawk but also appreciate graduating with a degree. They also get to learn in a fabulous facility in the Institute for Applied Health Sciences.”

The Institute for Applied Health Sciences (IAHS), located at McMaster, includes four X-ray units, a new MRI and CT scanner, seven ultrasound machines and three ultrasound simulators. The costs of the facility and its equipment are shared 50/50.

It also features simulation suites with state-of-the-art manikins for students to practise various medical situations. Students also practise role-play scenarios.

“It is the best program there is out there,” says Jessie Ma, who graduated from Medical Radiation Sciences – Ultrasonography in 2015. “Radiologists in hospitals really appreciate graduates of the Mohawk-McMaster program. It gives students a very solid foundation and they are ready to do the job.”

Ma went on to earn a Masters of Radiation Biology at McMaster and now teaches in the Medical Radiation Sciences program.

The constant combination of theory and practise reinforced the knowledge and skills applied in clinical placements, says Ma.

“This program definitely set me up for success and to earn my certification and work in the field.”

Since the Mohawk-McMaster partnership was forged, it’s been about bringing the best of both institutions together and learning from each other, says Thomas.

“We are always talking about different ways of doing things based on feedback from our industry partners, faculty and students,” she says.

“We’ve proven the success of the model and now we’re building on that.”

Earning a diploma and degree at the same time is a distinct advantage. It offers a much broader education than a two- or three-year program and offers an opportunity for research, says Mic Farquharson, the McMaster coordinator of the Medical Radiation Sciences program.

“Our students have been published and gone to conferences. Some have gone on to graduate work.”

Beginning in September 2023, the program will have an honours designation, which is a further advantage to students, says Farquharson.

“Our graduates are really sought after by employers because they know our students really know their stuff. They know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it because they understand the fundamental science.”

About one-third of the curriculum is delivered by Mohawk College instructors and another third is overseen by McMaster. The final third is three terms of clinical placements, which are organized by Mohawk.

The program is intensive and highly sought after, says Farquharson.

“There is a mutual respect between the two institutions about the different things we do. That shines through in our program.”

Derek Ribeiro graduated from the Radiation Therapy program in 2013 and now is a full-time faculty member after nine years of working in a radiation therapy clinic.

He served as a dosimetrist, the therapist who develops a radiation plan in conjunction with an oncologist, and now teaches that to Radiation Therapy students, along with radiography and general anatomy.

“This program really offers the best of both worlds. On the practical side, students use the software and equipment that they will find in clinical settings and practise all the skills they will need. They go into work settings prepared and ready to deal with patients. But having the degree means they can carry on with academics or teach. Doors remain open.”

Medical Radiation Sciences fits the bill for Zachary Nott because it combines his interest in health care with his love of physics. He is in his third year of the radiography stream and chose the Mohawk-McMaster program because it combines a diploma and a degree.

“We have small class sizes and what we learn in lectures is applied right away in labs. I love that about this program.”

Clinical placements, including a full-year placement to conclude the program, teach so much, says Nott.

“I’m shocked and surprised by how much the program prepares you for the clinical setting. Right from the first year we are learning how to communicate with patients with language barriers or to deal with conflicts or difficulties. I’ve grown so much as a person and future health care professional. It really does blow my mind.” Mohawk College logo