When Kyle Hawyes enrolled at Coast Mountain College, he never pictured himself designing a board game that would be sold on Amazon and used in classrooms across the country.
As a first-year business administration student, Hawyes’ studious perspective towards school was quickly challenged when he was assigned a special kind of project in his business ethics course. Through an experiential learning platform called Riipen, which connects schools to businesses to offer students real life experiences, he was exposed to a real-life problem.
His class was matched with the Unique Get Together Society, a non-profit based in B.C. dedicated to empowering Indigenous and underserved communities, to come up with marketing strategies to help the organization educate the public about discrimination and other social inequalities.
“It was a very open-ended project that we got, our teacher gave us the reins to do whatever we wanted so we could use the best of our abilities,” Hawyes explains.
“It’s a very difficult topic to talk about and it can be a very touchy subject... I know I like to learn things through games, and I thought other people would benefit learning about such a hard topic through a fun memory game.”
Hawyes says many of his peers approached the assignment by creating PowerPoint presentations and designing infographics but he knew this was his opportunity to bring his work to another level. Tackling the project on his own, he was eager to make his board game stand out.
“I spent probably around 20 hours just creating different prototypes for this game... I then started designing the cards and box on InDesign, which was really cool to bring my graphic skills into this class,” he says.
His business ethics course instructor, Dave Mckeever, is a great believer in bringing the real world into the classroom and says Riipen is a perfect fit for his classes. He refers to these project as “non-disposable assignments” because their course work outlives the semester.
“I find students are quite motivated and excited because it has a purpose. It's not just me posing a question for them to write about, it’s asking them to create something valuable that somebody can use,” Mckeever says.
“With the Unique Get Together Society, their goal is to dismantle discrimination so we had to address racism, ableism, sexism and so on with these projects... and by working with the CEO directly, who shared many heartbreaking stories, it really hit students emotionally to realize how big this problem is.”
Debra Abraham, the CEO and founder of Unique Get Together Society, says Riipen has enriched her organization to flourish to the success it is today. When the pandemic hit, she didn’t have the funds or employees to keep it running and stumbled upon the learning platform where she could work with classrooms to help get her message out.
“Riipen has been absolutely incredible, we’ve embraced it because it gives students a voice in terms of how they see the future in society... they’re learning how problematic the systematic ways of our community are and in what ways we can change that,” says Abraham.
“We have seen students who were quiet and shy at the first staff meeting grow into outstanding leaders in just a short time, the transformations are phenomenal.”
Throughout the past year, her organization has worked with several schools across the country, including Coast Mountain College, and has gone on to hire some of those students as well. One professor is now even planning to take a sabbatical to work with them for a year.
Abraham says they were beyond impressed with Hawyes’ board game and how effective it was. After the course was done, she put together a team of people to bring his project to life. They are now working to distribute the game into classrooms through the Canadian Heritage grant and make it available for purchase online.
“I don't think Kyle had any experience in terms of activism and what that means but he just blew us away with his passion and his compassion. He felt he could do something that everyone could get involved with and ran with it.”
After working with Abraham, Hawyes says he’s become more conscious of discrimination in different areas of his life and sees it even more visibly from a business standpoint. He adds it was her enthusiasm for her work that really pushed him to do his best.
“A lot of it stemmed from what Deborah stands for, she makes such a huge impact on people's lives. It was such an honour to work with her and learn from someone making a positive difference in the field,” Hawyes says.
“I think so many of our eyes have been opened by this hands-on experience... it's really boosted my passion for learning and to make this world a better place.”