Community Issues

Lifelong learner teaches others to be engaged citizens

Dean Gingrich. Image by Dale Northey.
August 27, 2014

By Amy Robertson

Dean Gingrich has always enjoyed learning and sharing his expertise with others—even post-retirement.

After moving to Vancouver five years ago, he began to notice a need he wanted to meet: Public knowledge about oil and gas issues such as extraction, fraction and transportation was lacking.

"It's always spun one way or the other. You never get all the information," says Gingrich, who spent 30 years working in the oil industry. "I just think that [people]—especially British Columbians—need to know what all the topics mean. What are the pitfalls? What are the strengths? And then make more educated decisions."

The question was this: How could he share what he knew with the public? SFU Continuing Studies' Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ Program gave him the answer: a university course.

Having taken several of Lifelong Learning's 55+ courses himself, he realized he was more than qualified to teach one. He loved the idea of discussing the issues and the facts with his peers. He pitched the idea to SFU staff, and in the fall of 2013, he taught Buried in the Sands: Canada's Energy Policy to more than 50 people.

"It was a lot of fun," says Gingrich. "And I learned probably more than the students did."

His next foray into teaching will be a how-to course on community work for adults who want to volunteer, but aren't sure where to begin. Gingrich has been involved in community work for decades.

"The biggest problem with people who want to help out and volunteer is they stop themselves from doing it for various reasons," he says. "One common reason is that they think too narrowly about what community involvement means—it has many possible facets. You are limited only by your imagination."

He hopes to help people think through the best way they can contribute, whether it's behind the desk, helping homeless people or contributing to policy.

Gingrich believes it's vital for people to be engaged citizens. "Our local community as well as the province, the country, and the world are better off the more that we participate in it," he says. He's also passionate about the personal benefits of engagement: "People take away from it a lot more than they ever give. You feel good about yourself, you feel good about your community, and you meet lots of interesting people."