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Geography BA Jenn McRae is passionate about finding ways for students to engage more actively with their learning.

In pursuit of passion

October 7, 2010

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Jenn McRae’s teaching aspirations died a quick death when she returned to her old high school a year after graduating and discovered, during a half-day volunteer stint, that the students weren’t interested in learning.

Yet ironically, McRae encountered the same apathy in herself during her first few years at SFU.

So it’s a bit surprising that she has come almost full-circle. She graduates this month with a BA in geography and a new full-time position as a researcher in the v-p academic’s office where she is analysing the state of experiential learning in two faculties, with a view to improving student engagement.

McRae says her own educational epiphany struck when she happened to take a human geography class.

"I found my academic soul mate," she says. "I loved it … the lens it looks at society through is really fascinating."

But it wasn’t until she took the Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue, an intensive, hands-on experiential program that involves students in and with the local community, that McRae truly realized the potential for engaging in her own education.

"It really catalyzed my passion for seeing the university as what it could be, instead of what it is," she says. "It became really difficult to sit in the lecture hall after that, to be passively receiving and regurgitating information. When you experience your education it becomes relevant, and you get to act on what you’re passionate about."

After that, she ensured that her course projects and assignments fulfilled a purpose. For example, she completed a project on affordable housing options at UniverCity for the SFU Community Trust and later co-wrote a paper examining how the university could better contribute to a sustainable society.

It all led to her current job, where she’s examining options for getting SFU students out of the classroom and into the community, whether that means working on projects using real data or researching real problems that need to be resolved.

"Anything," she says, "that allows students to get credit for pursuing their passion."

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