New course takes students out of the classroom, into the city

By Polina Pelinovskaia, February 10, 2017
photo by Liana Glass     The inaugural group of students currently taking Exploring Hamilton Inquiry visited Fred Eisenberger at City Hall on January 27.

How do you encourage undergrads to get out and explore the city that they live in?

If you’re John Maclachlan and Jean Wilson, you design a brand-new course aimed at doing just that.

The unique new class, 3EH3 – Exploring Hamilton Inquiry, helps students learn about Hamilton by asking them to explore the city and connect with local politicians and decision-makers.

To find out more, we sat down with Maclachlan – a native of Hamilton and a three-time McMaster grad – who said the idea for the innovative class came from a discussion about how infrequently students venture further east than James Street.

 

Tell us about Exploring Hamilton

Last summer, Dr. Jean Wilson and myself discussed how we could create a class that explored aspects of the city that students aren’t always exposed to. As we know, many students live in Hamilton or they come to McMaster for four years and they rarely venture very far outside the university grounds. Maybe they’ll go to Westdale, maybe make it all the way to downtown, but not often past that.

The idea of this course is to give people ideas of the challenges and opportunities that are occurring in Hamilton now. Whether it be something as simple as housing values and pricing people out of this market, to some of the environmental issues occurring down on the harbour. We’re going to try to cover the whole gambit, get people exposed to larger aspects of the city, whether it be up on the escarpment over through to the east end and get a real idea of how this city functions.

One of the class assignments is called “Bus Ride.” What’s it all about? 

Quite literally you’re going to take a bus ride. Students will begin their ride at McMaster and take either the Delaware or the King Street bus to get themselves to Eastgate Square. Prior to that, we’ll have a discussion, bring out maps and talk about their preconceived notions of the city. Where does the city change in terms of people, landscape, perception of socio-economic status and can you notice the changes when you actually take the ride?

So you want to do some stereotype-busting?

That’s one of the aspects. People have this notion that the city falls apart at a certain point when heading east, and that’s really not the case. The neighbourhoods become mixed - more residential, commercial and industrial.

The course includes a visit from McMaster President Patrick Deane, a discussion with Mayor Fred Eisenberger, attending a city budget meeting and meeting with representatives from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Horton’s field. Why do you think it’s valuable for undergraduates to explore different venues in Hamilton and meet with local decision-makers?

I think it’s difficult to understand how the general community of Hamilton sees the Mayor’s office or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.  If you’re not from Hamilton, I don’t think you have a real understanding of how important the Tiger-Cats are to the community. That stadium means a lot to those that live around it - they may not agree with all the decisions from the Mayor’s office of how that stadium was funded or the communication of why it’s there, but the Tiger-Cats themselves matter to many members of the community.

To try and see these smaller components that ultimately link together, I’m hoping that students see that any decision made by the Mayor’s office is going to have a consequence in the city with spin-off, unintended consequences which are beyond the initial discussion. The more you know about the community, the better you may be able to foresee the little unintended outcomes that occur from major decisions. That’s part of the reason we want to bring them to all these different places.

What do you hope students get out of the class?

I want them to have a better understanding of the city. If they leave the class and their preconceived notions are validated in their mind, I’m fine with it. But at the very least there’s validation.

My real hope is that they see the city for what it is - as a city. It’s not just McMaster campus, it’s not just Westdale. The city is extremely large and diverse. The geography of Hamilton makes it unique in that it faces different economic challenges of being two-tiered: having an upper escarpment and then the lower city. I hope that students begin to understand how a city’s decision-making is impacted by its geographic layout. I would also love for students to finish the course and think that Hamilton is a more interesting city than they had thought previously.

Exploring Hamilton Inquiry is one of the 15 upper-level inquiry courses offered to Arts & Science students. All inquiry courses aim to increase community engagement and experiential learning in the department.

For more information on the course offerings to Arts and Science, visit: https://artsci.mcmaster.ca/