After successfully launching their first ever online, virtual pop-up market this past Christmas, TRU’s Education and Skills (ESTR) program is back with ESTR’s Spring Pop-Up Market.
Providing students, staff and the Kamloops community with local, handmade and sustainable artisan products—including clothing, crafts and jewellery as well as meals, snacks and sweets—the spring iteration of ESTR’s virtual Pop-Up Market runs March 8 to April 1. Complete with curbside pick-up, customers can peruse the online Market at their leisure from the safety of their own home and select a day and time to pick up their treasures on-campus.
ESTR Instructor Leanne Mihalicz explains that it was important to hold the online spring market and thus continue offering ESTR students—students with diverse abilities—the experiential, hands-on training expected of ESTR’s kitchen, retail and trades career streams.
“Over the years, ESTR’s Market has provided an opportunity for students to learn and develop employability skills, in an authentic manner involving real life experiential learning,” Mihalicz says. “Integrating this authentic experience into the program, helps provide students with a purpose and meaningful opportunities to learn and connect with others. So, it’s been important to think of ways that we can still offer students these experiences (throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response).”
While necessitated by the physical and safety restrictions posed by COVID-19, Mihalicz explains that reinventing and reimagining ESTR’s Market as an online, e-commerce store has created an incredible learning experience for ESTR students.
“Students learned the new technologies, safety protocols and terminology required to develop an online business,” Mihalicz says. “They’ve learned how to design and organize a website, take good photos, experiment with new and interesting marketing techniques and how to track, organize and process customer orders. The technology skills students developed have truly been enormous.”
ESTR student Kendyl Perry says for her “it was not hard developing the pop-up market but it was stressful getting everything ready on time.”
For other students, the time constraints of getting the online market ready for a specific launch date were positive as it forced them to be “more focused because we knew we didn’t have much time.”
These lessons of time management and meeting deadlines exemplify the personal growth and life skills ESTR students have gained through the virtual ESTR’s Market experience. Skills Mihalicz says are even more important than the practical learning associated to building and running an e-commerce business itself.
“The abilities and resiliency of the students has been the most profound and exciting result,” Mihalicz says. “They have learned each other’s strengths and how to work as part of a team, contributing in their own unique ways and supporting one another. This is the best part, seeing how students are working cohesively and really developing as a team.”
ESTR students reiterate Mihalicz’s feelings explaining that while they “have faced some challenges working together, overall we have improved our teamwork skills and how we communicate with one another.”
While online delivery and e-commerce development were never planned aspects of the ESTR curriculum, they have been silver linings to the COVID-19 response and ones which may have a lasting impact on students and the program itself.
“We have learned aspects of operating a small business and now there are students in the program who may want to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the future,” Mihalicz says. “Hopefully these students have been encouraged through the experience with hosting ESTR’s online pop-up markets.”
“Truly, the skills they’ve learned will only benefit them in the future, whether this is with employment, operating a business or other things in life.”
Mihalicz believes some of the shifts in life and in learning related to the pandemic will have a lasting impact and remain in place post-pandemic.
While ESTR’s Spring Pop-Up Market is the last online market for the winter semester, Mihalicz believes going forward, the ESTR program may well include future online markets.