Grad works to engage Generation Y

Photo by Dale Northey

An SFU Continuing Studies graduate thinks Canadians are ready for a new kind of politics—and she's going to be part of it.

Tara Mahoney, 31, sees particular potential in a group sometimes criticized for being disengaged: Generation Y. Her interest in the younger demographic began while reading about a generational theory that sees a hero in Generation Y. Every four generations, it says, a "hero" archetype is born in response to increasing social decay. The last hero generation lived through the Depression, fought in World War II, and put a man on the moon.

Generation Y, Mahoney believes, is capable of just as much. A few years ago, her interest turned into a documentary that explored the potential of Generation Y, and later into Gen Why Media, an organization dedicated to using engagement projects to effect social change.

Shortly after co-founding Gen Why Media, Mahoney realized she needed to know more about civic engagement to truly excel in her work.

"I wanted to be grounded in sound theoretical and practice-based skills and understanding," she says. This desire led her to SFU Continuing Studies' Dialogue and Civic Engagement Certificate, which taught Mahoney to plan and implement civic engagement processes that tackle complex social issues.

When she finished the program, she was inspired to dig deeper, so she enrolled in SFU's PhD in Communication, in which she's exploring how political participation is changing and what it might look like in the future.

Her engagement skills and research are helping her advance the goals of Gen Why Media, as well as a project called Civic Renewal Lab, which began as part of her Continuing Studies coursework. She envisioned a mobile civic participation space that could move around the city and help different groups of people participate together in public life.

Mahoney hopes that these kinds of initiatives will help a new kind of politics emerge.

"People want politics that involve community, that reflect their values, that are interesting, that are fun, and that have tangible outcomes," she says. Mahoney doesn't believe Generation Y is disengaged; they simply want a new kind of political system—one that will inspire them.

"There are all these unprecedented factors that are at play with Generation Y," she says. "It's the largest generation in history. It's the most educated. It's the most diverse. It's the first generation ever to have a real-time global consciousness thanks to the Internet…If we are a 'hero generation,' what kinds of 'impossible feats' can we accomplish?"

By Amy Robertson