SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition

Thirteen student-led teams win funding to realize community impact!

March 08, 2024

Featuring rich programs of community-engaged education, arts-based engagement, and technological innovation, this year’s winners are addressing food security, migrant history, cultural connection, intergenerational knowledge-keeping, gender-based violence, access to education, the toxic drug crisis, climate grief and hope, reconciliation, and homelessness.

Every year, SFU’s Student-Community Engagement Competition welcomes ideas from students and their community partners about how they’d like to work together on issues that matter. Teams with strong ideas are invited to prepare detailed proposals that outline their idea and partnership, its impacts, and the required budget. Successful teams then present virtually to a panel of judges in search of a $2,000 or $3,000 award.

Now in its ninth year, the competition has supported over 75 projects with more than $200,000 in funding to advance student learning and research through rigorous community engagement.

“It’s my favourite week of the year,” says Matthew Grant, Director of SFU’s Office of Community Engagement. He’s referring to the week in late February where finalist teams pitch their refined plans for community impact. It’s hard to come away from that week without feeling optimism for the future. “This year’s projects show how connected SFU students are to their local communities and how motivated they are to work with their community partners to further social justice," Matthew continues. "Many of this year’s projects seek to address inequities in access, participation, and voice, to reduce discrimination, and to promote diversity. Each project aims to make a lasting, positive difference in its communities."

Congratulations to our winners! We are so excited to share their ambitious and creative projects with you (please note – the variation of voice in each description reflects the style of writing submitted by each team):

The Boat People Art Installation

Featuring a co-created selection of artwork that includes paintings, poetry, and personal narratives, The Boat People Art Installation is a response to the lack of widespread understanding of the Vietnamese Boat People’s history. The fall of Saigon in 1975 marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Vietnamese people, leading to a diaspora whose stories of hardship and bravery remain largely untold. It is not just about revisiting the past - it’s about recognizing the strength and resilience that have shaped the lives of these individuals and their families.

Team: Khoa Vo (English and Criminology, SFU), Pok Man Tong (Urban Studies, SFU).
Community Partners: Vietnamese Sherbrooke Mennonite Church

Downtown Eastside Art Engagement Project

With this project, we plan to utilize the transformative power of artistic expression by providing accessible and inclusive arts and crafts workshops within the DTES community. Beyond the therapeutic benefits, our initiative is dedicated to restoring a sense of community that has been eroded by the challenges faced by residents. Through collaborative creative activities, we aim to strengthen social bonds, reduce feelings of isolation, and create a platform for positive interpersonal interactions.

Team Members: Taylor Boostma (Microbiology and Immunology, UBC), Pooria Taheri (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, SFU)

Community Partners: The Downtown Eastside Arts and Crafts SocietyThe Downtown Eastside Women’s CentreVancouver Coastal HealthEnterprising Women Making Art

Ears That Listen, Hands That Help

The homelessness crisis happening in our communities is a powerful lesson about the gaps in our society and who ends up falling through those gaps. It is important that everyone, regardless of their background, is educated on the realities and myths surrounding the homelessness crisis. Alongside this awareness, everyone deserves to learn how they themselves can help to make meaningful change in their communities. Working with our knowledge partners at the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, we will be teaching elementary and high school students about the homelessness crisis through a day-long crash course on how to make aid kits for the homeless population.

Team: Ida Niksirat (Health Sciences, SFU), Anahita Niksirat (Psychology, UBC), Diana Munir (English and Communications, SFU)
Community Partners: The Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, Burnaby School District

Food For Marginalized Youth

Healthy and nutritional food is critical for the development of children and youth. Unfortunately, many families face barriers in trying to access fresh fruits and vegetables. Our goal is to support marginalized youth in learning to grow their own plants and food. Over the course of a growing season, we will teach children how to plant, tend, and finally harvest the fruits of their labour. Our hope is that by helping children become more knowledgeable and engaged in the food-making process, they will develop lifelong healthy habits and an appreciation for sustainability. 

Team: Endie Tompkins (Community Capacity Building Certificate, SFU)
Community Partner: Kirin Wood

GenConnect: Connecting Punjabi Seniors & Youth

GenConnect intends to have a beneficial impact on the daily lives of isolated seniors. The purpose of our project is to create intergenerational connections between Punjabi youth and seniors in Surrey through shared cultural heritage. We focus on Punjabi seniors who live in isolation with limited opportunities for connections, leisure, or a sense of community. Through workshops, events, and trips, we focus on the importance of cultural knowledge, language, and wisdom, etc. among youth and seniors living in our Punjabi-speaking community.

Team members: Gurshaan Bhangal(FASS, SFU), Simranjit Gill (FASS, SFU), Manpreet Dhesi (UBC), Simran Garcha (UBC), Gursharan Brar (KPU), Jshandeep Jassal, Navjit Bhathal
Community Partners: Solid State Community Industries

Inside Out

Inside Out is a project that aims to promote healthy communication and relationship building through introducing social and emotional learning (SEL) practices. In collaboration with South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, the project offers interesting and interactive SEL workshops to the racially, linguistically, and culturally diverse population in South Vancouver, living on the unceded, ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Team member: Cherry Wong (Community Capacity Building Certificate, SFU)
Community Partners: South Vancouver Neighbourhood House

Mitti Vancouver

As South Asian female international students ourselves, we have first-hand experience of the pleasures and challenges associated with shifting to a new country. Mitti means soil (earth) in many South Asian languages, connecting us back to our roots and identities while emphasizing the concept of brown beauty. We organize and host instructional, conversational, and festive meetups, collaborating with different community partners to provide diverse activities. Mitti’s long-term ambitions include introducing a volunteer initiative, launching an empowerment podcast, expanding to more cities, as well as launching campaigns to educate underprivileged South Asian females, contributing to breaking cycles of poverty in their families, among others.

Team members: Twinkle Pethad (Beedie School of Business, SFU), Disha Jain (UBC)
Community Partners: Casa Copal Yoga ​​& WellnessDilli HeightsBollyfusionChai WagonKarma Indian BistroTamasha CanadaMegha (Satvik House)Samiksha NarulaAishmeet Kapoor

NaloxHome Community Panel: It Takes a Community: Exploring the Forces Behind BC’s Overdose Crisis

It takes a community to tackle public health emergencies. Our team has planned a free community panel event to raise the voices of those represented in and affected by BC's overdose crisis. Speakers representing a range of direct expertise and lived experience will anchor this important conversation, providing a unique opportunity for audience members to ask questions and hear from them. The goal of this event is to deepen our community’s collective knowledge of BC's multi-faceted overdose crisis, and to build trust that people who use drugs are not bad people. This event will be held in Coquitlam in Summer 2024. 

Team member: Chloe Goodison (Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU)
Community Partners: Tri Cities Community Overdose Action Team – a syndicate of local organizations who are committed to overdose prevention and education in the Tri-Cities (including representatives from Fraser Health, SHARE Society, ACCESS Youth Outreach, Safe + Sound First Aid, Low Entropy, and more), School District 43 

One Tap Away:  A chatbot to bridge the service gap in gender-based violence services

One Tap Away is a social innovation project that harnesses chatbot technology to enhance access to gender-based violence services, particularly for young undergraduate students. The project aims to bridge the service gap caused primarily by the discrepancy between social services’ traditional service provision modes (e.g. phone calls, emails) and young individuals’ preferences for digital contact methods (e.g. instant messages through social media).

Team members: Jae Eun Kim (Interactive Arts & Technology, SFU), Kate Luong (Interactive Arts & Technology, SFU), Ella Kim (Chemistry, UBC)
Community Partners: Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services Society

Orange BC Run

As an immigrant from Ethiopia, I know that the level of awareness about Indigenous Peoples in Canada is very low among my community. But we are great runners. In Ethiopia, running is not only a sport—it’s also intertwined with community practice and resilience. Annual mass runs or road runs are a common practice in Ethiopia, where people express their emotions, run, dance, and sing together. Running heals our pain by bringing us together. Orange BC Run combines a road run with Orange Shirt Day to bring my community and others together to play our part in the Truth and Reconciliation process. 

Team members: Moges Seblehiwot (Community Capacity Building Certificate, SFU)

Read For Our Lives

Read For Our Lives is a community study group project on the topic of global solidarity and border abolition. We aim to reduce barriers to accessing challenging texts by providing resources and time to engage playfully with our confusions, connections, curiosity. Twenty community members will meet for ten sessions bi-weekly for in-person discussion, artmaking, and to share a meal. Our hope is to bring together those with different yet connected struggles to look carefully at the spaces between us. By cultivating a culture of engaged and social reading, we hope to deepen our communities' intellectual and spiritual resources to engage in interwoven struggle towards kinder and more loving worlds.

Team members: Amrit Sangha (BA, Community Capacity Building Certificate, SFU), Coin Sluzalek (Visual Arts, Emily Carr University), Malivia Khondaker (Community Capacity Building Certificate, SFU), Sue Shon (Emily Carr University)
Community Partners: The James Black Gallery

Rooted In

The goal of Rooted In is to explore our own personal medicine through interconnectedness with nature and self-reflection through art, while being guided by the lessons of local plants.  Weekly sessions will feature a different local plant to support the exploration of resilience, interdependence, unlearning perfectionism, and radical self-love. By working with local Indigenous knowledge keepers of plant medicine and land stewardship, we will cultivate a deeper sense of belonging to land and place.

Team member: Emily Hinrichs (Community Capacity Building, SFU)
Community Partners: 
École Peace Arch PAC
Guest Speaker: Dr T’uy’tanat Cease Wyss

Solastalgia Zine

Solastalgia is a youth-led community initiative that addresses climate anxiety among youth using creative art mediums. Facing uncertain futures from the climate crisis, youth today need ways to manage their eco-emotions in productive ways. We have found that the creative arts are a powerful tool for young people to engage in the topic of climate change, see themselves as agents of change, and act. We host intergenerational events, including eco-poetry and eco-arts workshops and a local nature walk. We will be deepening our relationship with Suzuki Elders and Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre and collaborating on more events that feature art as the medium for exploring climate emotion and processing them into action.

Team members: Rachel Lin (FASS, SFU), Nicole David (SFU), Priscilla Lam, Renmart Buhay, Sayemin Naheen, Yiming Zhang
Community Partners: Suzuki EldersMoberly Arts and Cultural Centre

Start dreaming of your project ideas now.

While this year’s SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition is complete and the work is underway, it’s never too early to start thinking about what you might do if you had $3,000 to ignite transformational change. The competition will open again next fall.