It’s been three years since Simon Fraser University evolved from thinking of the world to dynamically engaging with it by becoming “student-centered, research-driven and community-engaged.” Since then, SFU has created partnerships with universities around the world through exchange programs, and worked locally with grassroots movements such as Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives, among many others.
But how does the university engage with the community? I started to understand this by volunteering at events for CityStudio Vancouver and SFU Public Square. Curious? Here’s what I found out:
Community engagement begins with you!
You are interested in your community. Beyond interactions between people, community engagement means conversation, collaboration, education, empowerment and most importantly, participation. No matter how busy we are juggling our time in school, at work and with friends, even the smallest conversations can spark domino effects in the long run.
Looking back, my first experience with SFU Public Square was volunteering with the Young Innovator’s Crawl. We invited vibrant innovators (of all ages!) into the CityStudio space. In a nutshell, I met people from all walks of life; including grandparents who had lessons to share with future generations, families who built cargo bikes together, and as a bonus, I even got to meet Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and SFU President Andrew Petter. (It was as cool as you would guess!) I left knowing—and caring—more about my city and the issues that matter to us.
However, I wouldn’t have gained all of these experiences without taking the first step or saying the first hello. Community engagement seems like a big deal, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be a grand production to be effective—it starts with you.
What’s in it for you and the community?
Volunteering goes beyond the art of giving back. In the age of precarious jobs and demanding course work, it may seem daunting to just “donate” your time.
Think of volunteering as an investment, both for you and the community. Lending a couple of hours a week can be a hands-on, experiential learning experience and a launch pad for opportunities. You are able to gain practical experience in tackling real projects. In doing so, you are connected to a vast network of diverse individuals who have similar passions and interests as you do. Here at SFU Public Square, I have been given the opportunity to work on drafting communication plans (putting my degree to use!) while building solid relationships with a great team that cares about dialogue, innovation and social change.
Being engaged benefits everyone. It builds on a web of connections that only work to strengthen our society. I like to think about it as building a community that cares. This is an idea I learned from Dr. Seuss:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Whether you are interested in social enterprise, environment or education, you are already a step ahead by being informed. Volunteering and community engagement can act as a conduit for participation, collaboration, and eventually spark a positive change within you and your community.
Through my interactions in the community, volunteering has not only given me invaluable experience in my field and connected me with a vast network of entrepreneurs and change-makers, it has also heightened my curiosity about other issues in our community. For me, when it comes to volunteering and becoming engaged in my community there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Cherie Wee is a SFU Public Square Volunteer. She is pursuing a Communications major at Simon Fraser University with a minor in Dialogue. She also works as a co-op student with the Western Region Communications Team of the Department of Canadian Heritage.