SFU students get hands-on experience with CityStudio

December 08, 2015

By Ian Bryce

This past spring Gitan Rakhra wanted to finish her degree in sociology and anthropology by doing more than a term paper. A fellow classmate at the time had told her about the CityStudio program, a unique opportunity that brings students and City of Vancouver staff together to work on projects. CityStudio is offered through SFU’s Semester in Dialogue.

“He was telling me that it was one of the most amazing things he had ever done,” says Rakhra.

“I was feeling really lost and thought that I needed some way to contextualize my academic experience with something in the real world,” says Rakhra.

Kassandra Mihaly had previously heard of SFU’s Semester in Dialogue in her first year, but was initially apprehensive.

 “I remember thinking ‘Dialogue? I know how to talk,’” Mihaly says,

She didn’t stay skeptical for long. While completing a co-op semester with the Faculty of Communications, Arts and Technology, Mihaly spoke with several students who changed her mind. It was a decision she would not regret.

Once the CityStudio program started, Gitan and Mihaly were given a crash course in design principles, project management, presentation skills, and dialogue facilitation. 

“Learning dialogue through the CityStudio program teaches you to be an effective communicator,” says Mihaly. “It’s a hard thing to master—I don’t think I have it yet.”

Mid-way through the semester, students formed groups and were introduced to City of Vancouver staff. Together, the SFU students and city staff developed projects around areas focusing on City of Vancouver priorities such as the Greenest City Action Plan and the Healthy City Strategy.

Rakhra’s project focused on the Healthy City Strategy goal of ‘cultivating connections’ by holding a skill-share fair at the Britannia Community Centre. Participants from the community met and traded skills like bee keeping and learning how to make kombucha tea, soap, and sauerkraut.

“We wanted people to come to our event feeling like they’ve actually made a connection,” says Rakhra. “Having this hands-on element—that’s where we believed creativity and connection between community members would happen best.”

Meanwhile Mihaly’s project brought together key department staff from the city to analyze the street-level dynamics of the space just outside Science World.  Working toward the goal of ‘Environments to thrive in,’ Mihaly’s group facilitated dialogue sessions planning on how the space would change with the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

On Friday, Dec 5, CityStudio filled Vancouver City Hall with students and projects to present to staff. Rakhara and Mihaly presented the findings of their projects along with three other groups—whose ideas ranged from a pay-it-forward kindness experiment, an urban hike, and a toolkit to lower one’s ecological footprint—during CityStudio’s fifth bi-annual Hubbub.

The event was the culmination of a memorable semester for Rakhra and Mihaly. When Rakhara and Mihaly reflected on their experience at CityStudio, they only had positive feedback.

“It’s satisfying to get hands-on experience and to know that I’ve made a difference,” says Mihaly. “I get to walk away from my project and know that I could affect future public spaces and the viaducts.”

Rakhra says that CityStudio has set her up for future projects she will encounter in her career. The program provided her with tools that she had not encountered in her undergraduate course work.

Prospective students can find more information from CityStudio’s website (www.citystudiovancouver.com). Applications for the 2016 summer semester are due Friday, February 19.