Thompson Rivers University

ESTR’s Market goes virtual

  Posted on: December 18, 2020

ESTR’s Market was a must-stop, must-shop space on campus. The bustling space was always filled with locally made clothing, crafts, food, treats and best of all, friendly, hardworking students in the Education and Skills Training program who ran the show.

However, the pandemic, the shift to virtual delivery and working from home means that right now, we use the past tense when describing shopping at the market.

Students with diverse abilities gain access to career opportunities through specific training and learning in classes, labs and work placements in the ESTR program. By the end of fall semester, students would typically be getting practical experience in the Bookstore, Facilities, Print Services and other spaces around campus.

An extremely popular piece is combining the ESTR skills streams (trades, retail and kitchen) and working in ESTR’s Market. To continue to provide students with crucial hands-on learning, the ESTR team had to find a solution to the same hurdle most other retail shops faced.

But how do you run an in-person retail shop, virtually?

After questions around face-to-face classes and a safety plan to address concerns, they were able to re-open virtually for three weeks to the TRU community as a pop-up market (complete with curbside pick-up!).

“We were able to re-invent ourselves and our students were so keen to continue the market. Real, hands-on experience is why they enrol in the program,” says ESTR instructor Leanne Mihalicz. “It’s their store, their project and it’s always really great to watch them take ownership over the market.”

Students had to learn all the new technology virtual classes require and create an online e-commerce site in a short amount of time.

In the process, Mihalicz learned a lot about her students. She found out that one student has a passion for photography, and owns her own equipment. That student helped with product photography. Another student excelled at Instagram and created posts for the ESTR’s Market account. Others were great at organizing, and another knew how to make beautiful bows to put the finishing touch on gift baskets.

Josephine Etienne and Kelly Kindred are second-year students in the ESTR Retail and Hospitality program and both are grateful to have had the chance to learn in person and work with their classmates.

Leanne Mihalicz, Josephine Etienne and Kelly Kindred discussing ESTR’s Market on a virtual call (clockwise from top left).

This semester, Etienne has especially enjoyed learning how to enter products into the system and process transactions. And notably, making bows for the gift boxes—which she learned from Elder Doreen last year.

Kindred says everything has been fun, but she’s liked working with others, serving customers and organizing items most of all.

In shifting to online ordering, and practicing all the skills that requires, ESTR students are preparing for real world careers.  

Despite scaling back from a full market to a pop-up, Mihalicz says the response has been great and the team hopes to run it again in the new year. With plenty of uncertainty about what things will look like going ahead, Mihalicz can say one thing for sure: it’s crucial for her students to continue getting these valuable experiential learning experiences.

You can connect with ESTR’s Market on Instagram or get more information on the ESTR program at