Armand Avolio and Samantha Elford are two students in a class that's making history at St. Clair College. They are among the first 30 students enrolled in the new four-year Honours Bachelor Degree in Social Justice and Legal Studies.
It is the first honours bachelor degree program to be offered at the college.
"To be that first group of students, to be introduced into the room, is a really special feeling," Avolio said. "Just to have that journey with the teachers is special."
Avolio, 19, went away to university last year, but returned to attend St. Clair College. "It's a huge financial savings" to study in an undergraduate program that offers exactly what he's seeking in preparation for law school down the road.
"To think about something involving social justice, law, politics, you'd only think you would go to university for something like this. But to have one right in your backyard at St. Clair College, that's phenomenal."
Elford, 17, said it made financial sense for her to attend St. Clair. "I really wanted to go to a program where I would learn about law, criminal psychology, things like that. But I was not going to pay $35,000 for a four-year program at the university," she said. "So when I heard about this one, it was perfect."
After just a few days of classes, Elford said she's confident this program is for her. "It's really, really, really good," she said. "The teachers really enjoy what they teach. You can tell when their faces light up as they enter the room and start talking."
One of those teachers is Elizabeth Strutt-MacLeod, the program's coordinator, who has been spearheading this initiative for the last five years. "We have amazing people who have helped us develop the courses in the program, as well as people who are going to go on to teach...who have been for years in the trenches of the social justice sector."
Strutt-MacLeod said an advisory committee, made up of community members who work in the legal and social justice sector, helped develop the program. "They're all saying it took them 10 to 15 years to get those skills and that knowledge," that will be passed on in four years to the students in the program.
"It's a degree which would give somebody an opportunity to empower themselves and others and to be able to work in the community, do programming, everything from designing a program to putting together a grant application and a budget, to actually implementing and running programs," Strutt-MacLeod said.
"It's a great foundation to understand the fabric of your community and how things work."
More information on the program can be found here: stclaircollege.ca/programs/postsec/social_justice/