Means beyond normal means

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With a background in psychology, science education and biological sciences, my approach to education has always been multidisciplinary. This principle combined with a team of colleagues who were committed to innovation is what initially brought me to the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in 1967.

With a dual appointment in the Faculty of Science, Biological Sciences, and the Faculty of Education allowed me to work across faculties. It was an exciting time. Many of us were inspired by Expo 1967 in Montreal and brought that energy into our work. We were also fortunate to have highly supportive leadership from deans and department heads, people like Don Nelson, Archie Mackinnon and John Ellis in both the Faculty of Education and Sciences. 

From the beginning, the Faculty of Education’s programs went against the traditional model of education. The Faculty’s scope was beyond the K–12 school system, and areas of study included Athletics, Dance, Theatre and Kinesiology. Consequently, faculty meetings were always lively and full of debate.

Milt McClaren

As the first Dean of Continuing Studies, I was charged with a mandate from the SFU Senate to extend SFU’s programs and accessibility “by means other than the normal means, at places other than normal places and at times other than the normal times.” That mandate led to the development of evening classes and the summer session and semester as well as the implementation of off-campus degree programs at several locations in the BC Interior. My graduate students and colleagues in the sciences were even actively exploring connections via telecommunications between SFU and several BC high schools.

The creation in 1971 of the Summer Institute for Environmental Education at McQueen Lake near Kamloops was a direct outcome of the Senate’s mandate and was a collaboration between SFU and School District 24 from its inception. The Summer Institute began by offering an intensive month long field school intended to develop the capacity of teachers to implement programs of Environmental Education in the K–12 school system. The semester-based Field Schools offered by the SFU Archaeology Department also inspired the Summer Institute in Environmental Education.

McQueen Lake Environmental School

From the outset, the Summer Institute’s program explored the human-environment relationship through multiple lenses including natural and built settings—rural, urban, and wilderness. The curriculum included biological and earth sciences, architecture and urban planning, and history, including the roles of local indigenous peoples and social issues such as poverty and homelessness. Of course, a program of this scope required a multidisciplinary team, and we were fortunate indeed to have the support not only of several different SFU faculties and departments, but also the involvement of experienced K–12 teachers, urban planners and architects, artists and representatives from resource industries and various community agencies.

To this day the McQueen Lake Environmental Studies Centre continues to operate actively with students from Kamloops School District, Thompson Rivers University, and other educational institutions. Hundreds of thousands of students in the K–12 and college system have experienced a range of field-based programs at the Centre. The McQueen Lake Centre has also been an inspiration for the development of other field-based centres in different regions of BC and in Canada. Since its inception, the Summer Institute has been offered at sites on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, the Sunshine Coast and Kelowna. 

Note taking at McQueen Lake

The Institute was recently renamed the Environmental Learning Summer Academy and operates an annual four week field school in Haida Gwaii. This new location provides a First Nations setting where pre- and in-service teachers can continue to have opportunities to experience environmental processes and issues directly.

The continued vitality of the SFU environmental education program and the summer field schools embodies the University’s commitment to engagement with its communities through multiple channels and approaches. It is a direct continuation of the 1970s mandate: means beyond normal means, places other than normal places and times other than normal times.

Milt McClaren
Professor, Emeriti

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