For her final project in the Semester in Dialogue, Deanna wrote a proposal to implement a community zero waste challenge in her neighbourhood. Deanna credits the dialogue program with giving her the knowledge and mentorship to map out whom to contact in order to move her idea from a concept into actualization. The program also provided space to let Deanna’s idea grow from something ordinary into something interesting and innovative.
Following the semester, Metro Vancouver provided Deanna with support to run the Strathcona Community Zero Waste Challenge pilot project. They have since taken this model and expanded into New Westminster and hope to spread it into other municipalities. Deanna’s intention was to create a system that allowed people to take action on the issue of waste, and 24 people collectively moved from 60 lbs of waste a week to 15 lbs. Deanna explains, “the subject of this project was waste but the learning I have taken away from this experience was community organizing, empowerment, and accountability”.
During the summer of 2010, a new kind of orchard appeared on the streets of Vancouver. Four cars, stationed at various locations throughout the city, had their engines removed, with fruit trees planted in their place. This collaborative art project, Stick shift, was created by Julien Thomas. The purpose of the project was to imagine possibilities for the post-oil cityscape.
Julien credits his Dialogue experience as playing a huge part in preparing him to carry out this project. “In dialogue I was given the confidence and skills to investigate issues, track down key decision-makers, determine a personally meaningful response, and deliver it. I was given a network of contacts from around the city, for example Emily Carr University students, city councilors, freelance designers, and other influential, innovative, and inspirational people”.
For Megan Branson, the Semester in Dialogue presented a call to action. “I think that after the course I was so used to doing, not simply theorizing but doing and making connections with community groups and planning and seeing the fruits of those endeavors and that’s kind of intoxicating so I wanted to keep making something”. This desire to create change led Megan to open a flower shop in the Downtown Eastside. The shop allows Megan to explore her passion for flowers and greening urban environments while creating employment opportunities in a marginalized neighbourhood.
Chelsea participated in the Semester in Dialogue program in the final semester of her undergraduate degree. Although she was studying health sciences and the social determinants of health, she says, “I don't think I completely understood what that looked like until I took the Semester in Dialogue”. According to Chelsea, this experience in the Semester helped her realize that “food is a major social determinant of health”. Chelsea was inspired by this realization and is now working in the community, developing programs and initiatives that help people access food. Currently, she is the volunteer co-ordinator for the Vancouver Farmers Market.
Outcomes and Reflections
The impact of the Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue on both students and the community has been striking. We see substantial improvement in students’ motivation to engage with public issues, as well as increasing commitment to leadership roles and civic responsibility following participation in the course. Tangible outcomes emerge during and after each course that have had significant community impact, including:
- Students frequently publish their op-ed assignments in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, and Toronto Star.
- Some students organized and facilitated a public dialogue at which Alexandre Trudeau presented his documentary Embedded in Baghdad, and others planned and conducted a conference on “Spirituality and the Environment,” each attended by over 150 participants.
- Students also regularly facilitate breakout sessions during public events, such as the Vancouver Police Forums on Community Relations, and Imagine BC.
- Subsequent employment often emerges for students. Dialogue alumni have found work with organizations including: SmartGrowth BC, Get Your Vote On, Context Research, Vancouver’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the Citizen’s Assembly for Electoral Reform, Western Living magazine and the Vancouver Courier.
- Students in The Urban Experience submitted a winning proposal for Vancouver’s “21 Ideas for the 21st Century” competition. Their Second City project took on the task of re-imagining Vancouver’s alleyways, incorporating policy and design components. Their designs were incorporated into a book and posters, featured in numerous radio and print media, and are being implemented by Vancouver’s Planning Department in collaboration with the students
These, and innumerable other, outcomes demonstrate the Semester’s profound impact on both the students and their communities.
Our melding of academia with the society around us, science with the social sciences and humanities, and professors with community leaders provides a unique environment for learning. Dialogue has proven effective in forging strong links between coursework and community, creating a blend of attitudes, expertise, and intellectual dexterity that is particularly suited to resolving the myriad of complex problems facing contemporary society.
The Undergraduate Semester in Dialogue focuses on strategically enhancing Simon Fraser University's mission to educate students to be productive, creative, well balanced, reflective, and engaged members of society, with the flexibility to adapt readily to change and the skills to contribute meaningfully towards public policy.
There is no more important task than encouraging students to invest in the world around them by providing them with the tools to be effective ambassadors for progress.