Viewpoint by Ted Jackson — Making a difference that matters: Moving on community engagement

Enthusiastic, energetic and capable — that’s how Ottawa environmentalist John Dance described a crew of Carleton student-volunteers who planted nearly 200 trees along the Rideau River Nature Trail as a Carleton Serves project in September.

His colleague, sustainability advocate Rebecca Aird, praised another student team that built a sandbox beside a children’s garden so that parents can bring their youngest children to the site. Another group volunteered at the farmers’ market on Main Street.

“With so many cultural influences driving the notion that bigger is better and that fame, money and power are the things to aspire to, it is incredibly inspiring to spend time with young adults who really ‘get’ the community thing,” says Aird.

Not only did they get the community thing, the student volunteers actually made viable improvements to the local environment.

It’s just one of the many ways that Carleton students, staff and faculty are making a difference that matters.

Norah Vollmer, in the Provost’s Office, is a volunteer on the school council at her son’s school and on the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils. She has helped design a project that will look at strategies to encourage more parents to get involved in their child’s education as well as participate in governance and policy decisions of the school. If successful, the project would produce an online resource kit and could be implemented across the province.

Making a difference drives Jarratt Best, the award-winning student director of Rise and Flow, a Carleton summer camp for pre-and early teens from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Supported by Telus and the Community Foundation, Rise and Flow helps build the campers’ confidence and skills in music, dance and sports. It also demystifies the university environment for them — which could mean that in eight to 10 years, some of these kids may be Carleton students.

And then there’s the contingent of Architecture and Industrial Design students — and their instructors Marco Frascari, Stephen Fai, Sheryl Boyle and Thomas Garvey — who decided to get involved with the Carleton-Batawa project. As a result, they developed creative designs last summer aimed at the revitalization of the former shoe factory, housing stock, the ski hill and community lands in the rural Eastern Ontario town. As project director Katherine Graham has signaled, Batawa’s long-term prospects depend on sustainable livelihoods and economic activity — and Carleton will be there every step of the way.

Incubating successful technology businesses in the Ottawa region is the mission of Carleton’s Lead to Win program — the brainchild of Engineering and Business Prof. Tony Bailetti. Through mentoring, training and networking, LTW is nurturing the growth of 49 startup enterprises. Part of Carleton’s Talent First Network and funded by the Government of Ontario, LTW is strengthened by access to Coral CEA, an ecosystem that helps commercialize IT applications and is itself supported by IBM, Nortel, Carleton and the IT Association of Canada.

These initiatives, and hundreds more across campus, are generating short-term results and long-term benefits for the community.

Meanwhile, the university is taking steps to strengthen its “machinery” of community engagement. As part of the implementation of the university’s strategic plan Defining Dreams, working groups of deans are studying how to expand co-op and field placements across the city, and how to increase and deepen the university’s partnerships with local institutions.

Peter Andree (political science) and Karen Schwartz (social work) are working with Carol Miles and the Educational Development Centre to strengthen faculty skills and tools in community-engaged teaching. Jan Patterson, Joe Lipsett and the Student Experience Office continue to expand the Carleton Serves program. Ryan Flannagan in the Office of Student Affairs has led a university-wide effort to make it possible, as part of Carleton Complete, for students to request a formal record of their co-curricular achievements, including volunteering. Bessa Whitmore and other members of the Community-Based Research Network of Ottawa are working with Luc Lalonde in the Technology Transfer Office to develop a Wiki that matches community-defined projects with university courses, research centres and volunteers.

Carleton has also taken a leadership role among other universities. In recent months, the Faculty of Public Affairs has co-sponsored pan-Canadian symposiums on community-based research and on community service learning, in the process identifying best practices and strengthening nationwide networking in these fields.

Community engagement at Carleton is moving forward. There is still, of course, much to be done. As we proceed, it is important that we focus not only on how engagement enhances the student experience and their success. We also must measure how we are making a difference in the community.

Asking our partners what matters to them is essential to their success, and to ours.

Ted Jackson is Carleton’s Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Affairs), Faculty of Public Affairs and Chair of the Initiative for Community-University Engagement.

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