Community

June 26, 2013

Sharing ideas about community engagement

By Allyson Rowley

Members of the McMaster and Hamilton communities came together on June 24 to participate in the second annual edition of "Community-Engaged Education: An Idea Exchange."

Held at the McMaster University Student Centre, the day-long event was attended by more than 100 students, faculty, staff and community partners committed to promoting service learning, experiential education and community engagement.

"We tend to see the world through our own prism," said Susan Denburg, associate vice-president, Academic, in her opening remarks. "This event demonstrates McMaster’s strong commitment to fostering collaboration and dialogue. Community engagement is a critical component to the work we do." Denburg is also strategic advisor to the president on the Forward with Integrity (FWI) initiative. She noted this event is a concrete example of the grassroots initiatives envisioned by FWI.

Lead sponsors for the event were the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost, while supporting sponsors were the Centre for Leadership in Learning, Student Affairs, and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Multiple faculties and units were represented, alongside their community partners. Participants exchanged ideas during nine roundtable discussions, as well as four concurrent sessions, which presented community collaborations from multiple perspectives: academic researchers, students, community members and organizing partners.

One session showcased "Health in the Hubs," a pioneering initiative launched more than three years ago by the School of Nursing in collaboration with Hamilton neighbourhoods. Various collaborators — from a faculty administrator to a graduate student to a community development worker — described the careful process by which they developed credibility and trust within the communities. The program has now been endorsed by FWI and is expanding across campus to multiple units. Steven Rolfe, assistant clinical professor in the School of Nursing, likened the evolving process to that of an entrepreneur. "Nobody asked us to do this," he said. "This was driven by opportunity."

The event concluded with a panel discussion on service learning, moderated by McMaster president Patrick Deane. He was joined by three colleagues from sister universities: Lisa Chambers, director of the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto; Linda Hawkins, co-founder and director of the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship at the University of Guelph; and Mary-Beth Raddon, associate professor of sociology and faculty associate for service learning at Brock University’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation.

The speakers agreed that students nowadays have a strong desire for service learning and are looking to universities to provide a wide range of programs. "There’s a strong student demand for community engagement," said Raddon. "These opportunities are essential in attracting and retaining high-quality students — and in making universities more relevant."

In tandem with the event, a special 24-page publication (Community Engagement at McMaster University: A Snapshot) was distributed by the Office of the President.