Paola Ardiles (left), health sciences lecturer, and Shawn Smith (right), director of SFU's RADIUS, are teaching an immersive course this semester that will task students with finding potential solutions for key community health issues, while learning from and being mentored by community stakeholders.

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Student “changemakers” to tackle health issues in Surrey

September 06, 2016
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By Marianne Meadahl

The community will become the classroom for one group of Simon Fraser University students this fall. As part of their involvement in an immersive course called Health Change Lab, they’ll be tasked with finding potential solutions for key community health issues, while learning from and being mentored by community stakeholders.

Billed as a “living laboratory” the Surrey-based course was developed by SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the Beedie School of Business' RADIUS social innovation lab. Working together with the City of Surrey and Fraser Health, students will spend one day a week in Surrey, conceiving ideas and creating projects designed to impact health and wellbeing in the community.

The Change Lab concept was launched five years ago by SFU alumna Jennifer McRae while still an undergraduate student, as an experiment in the future of learning at universities.

Run for several years as an interdisciplinary experience between the Faculty of Environment and Beedie School of Business, the program has been offered at all three campuses and is now partnering with Health Sciences and adding a Health Change Lab cohort in Surrey. Students in any of the Change Labs earn seven credits towards a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

In Surrey, health innovation dovetails with SFU’s relationship with neighbouring Fraser Health, the City of Surrey and the University’s role as a co-founder of the burgeoning Innovation Boulevard, designed to further health and health technology in the region.

“This is a unique approach because students are not only learning, they hopefully will be making a difference in this community, as they will work on priority issues identified by Surrey partners,” says Paola Ardiles, a lecturer in health sciences and champion of health innovation, based at the Surrey campus.

The 30-student cohort includes students from health sciences, business, interactive arts and technology, and arts and social sciences. Students will spend the first week getting to know an array of community players and taking a “social innovation walking tour” of downtown Surrey. A retreat to shore up their roles as prospective changemakers will follow.

They’ll next identify key issues such as food security and active transportation (human-powered, such as walking), taking a wide view that focuses on root causes rather than symptoms.

Students will share their emerging venture concepts with a panel of entrepreneurs and community leaders, drawing input from mentors. They’ll do a “deep dive” into proto-typing and test their early stage ideas, giving demos and making presentations along the way.

“Our goal with the Change Labs concept is to create the most powerful experience of each participant’s undergraduate experience,” says Shawn Smith, founder of RADIUS.

The Health Change Lab, like other courses in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, focuses on building great future entrepreneurs, more than specific venture outcomes. But Smith says many Change Lab concepts have already moved on to the incubation process.

“Our plan," he adds, "is to be SFU’s main pipeline of future changemakers.”

The first-ever Health Change Lab cohort.