Alumni Awards for Community Engagement

The Urban Studies Alumni Award for Community Engagement was established in 2014 through a generous gift from the Urban Studies Alumni Council. The award is intended to recognize and support graduate students in the Urban Studies Program who have an established record of, and future promise in, urban leadership, while maintaining an excellent academic record.

The award is given out every year, with decisions made by by the Dean of Graduate Studies on behalf of the Senate Graduate Awards Adjudication Committee, upon the nomination of the Director of the Urban Studies Program. The winner is announced each September.

Unlike other awards at SFU, part-time students are eligible to apply. Our program is designed to facilitate the participation of students who are already in the workforce and/or who have family responsibilities to manage. As alumni, we know that students often choose to study part-time when they are looking to balance home and work life with their ambition to advance their knowledge and career. Structuring the award this way allows us to recognize the important contributions both full and part-time students make to the Urban Studies Program

Your generous contribution will allow us continue to recognize the great work our students do. As the Urban Studies Program grows, we hope you'll consider becoming a regular contributor so we may recognize more of our outstanding students.

With your help, we can support more engaged and promising urban studies graduate students like the ones profiled below.

2020

DIONNE HILARY CO: TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES

From a young age, Dionne Hillary Co has always been fascinated by cities and urban spaces–having lived in them her entire life. She was drawn to Vancouver to SFU’s Urban Studies program for the diversity in faculty research and the university’s commitment to community engagement. 

Since arriving in Canada, Dionne has worked with vulnerable people in the Metro Vancouver region, despite being in a vulnerable position herself as a recent immigrant. Dionne worked as a Housing Outreach Worker at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, where she helped community members access safe, adequate and affordable housing. From here, she joined the volunteer board for Women Transforming Cities, a non-profit society advocating for women’s political participation at all levels of municipal governance... read more

AMAN CHANDI: DEDICATED COMMUNITY MEMBER

For Aman Chandi–a Surrey, British Columbia resident–community has been a long-time inspiration and interest. When asked what inspires her, Aman writes, “I am inspired by the dedication and creativity of volunteers, artists, activists and students who work tirelessly to create radically inclusive spaces in Newton, Surrey. Additionally, I am inspired by the legacy of local heroes and artist-activist, Don and Cora Li-Leger, who conceptualized several art-led and place-based solutions addressing critical urban issues like food insecurity, homelessness, addiction and social isolation”... read more

2019

AUDREY GUAY: COMMITTED TO ENGAGEMENT IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Audrey Guay joined SFU’s Urban Studies Program after years of working with community building organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “This left me with lots of questions about why the city wasn’t working for my neighbours,” Guay says. “The Urban Studies Program has allowed me to take a step back and develop a big-picture perspective of the city.” Since beginning the program, Guay has broadened the scope of her community organizing work, most recently by planning public education and engagement events that explore civil society-led affordable housing solutions, including community land trusts and housing redevelopment projects led by churches. Audrey’s work in this vein, as well her outstanding research skills, have earned her the 2019 SFU Urban Studies Alumni Award for... read more

2018

LANI BRUNN: CREATING SPACE FOR STORYTELLERS, CHANGE-MAKERS AND NEIGHBOURS

Lani Brunn is described by professor Meg Holden, who supervises her M.URB project, as an "up-and-coming urban leader on the issues of housing, social planning and engagement of vulnerable populations." She adds that in addition to achieving academic excellence, Lani's "experience is diverse, and her long record of contributions to the community shows that she consistently fosters healthy change and long-term relationships."

Currently a community planner with CitySpaces consulting firm, where her role... read more

2017

JAMES LONG: CONNECTING STUDIO TO CLASSROOM TO COMMUNITY

At first thought, you might not see an obvious connection between a career spent creating, producing and managing theatre and pursuing a master’s degree in urban studies, but for the winner of the Alumni Community Engagement Award in 2017, the link is clear.

“The idea of entering of the Urban Studies Program was really just to take the opportunity to step outside the studio, where I’ve spent 20 years making work that looks at the urban environment and human co-existence, and do that in a different way.”... read more

2016

KAREN SAWATZKY: FACULTY OF ARTS AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

Karen set out to investigate whether Airbnb, a website where homeowners can list a shared or private room, or even an entire house for short term rental, could be taking housing away from Vancouverites. Property owners can often garner much higher rates for their properties through short-term rentals than through conventional long term leases, potentially resulting in tourists taking up housing that could be used for residents of the city....Karen’s research has attracted attention from several news outlets, with features in the Vancouver SunGlobal NewsGeorgia StraightGlobe and MailMetro Newsand on the personal blog of Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs to name a few... read more

2015

STEPHANIE ALLEN: CORRECTING PAST ERRORS

Stephanie Allen, who had previously spent a number of years working in real estate development, began her master’s in urban studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012. During a class on urban inequality and justice, she began to see the correlation between real estate development and its effect on different communities, and wanted to get a better understanding of how the building of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts removed the black community that once lived there....“This has had a significant and lasting impact on the growth of Vancouver’s black community,” says Allen. “It’s a civic shame of ours, and we need to speak about it.” And speak about it she has. Using her findings, Allen spoke at the (October 21st, 2015) public hearing regarding the removal of the viaducts, providing her recommendation on how the City should be moving forward with redevelopment... read more

2014

JONATHAN COTE: NEW WESTMINSTER'S MAYOR COTE USES DEGREE TO SOLVE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS

Jonathan Cote wasn’t even dreaming of becoming a mayor when he enrolled in SFU’s master of arts program in urban studies in 2011. He was looking for solutions to New Westminster’s rental housing and transit issues.

Yet today, at age 35, he is Metro Vancouver’s youngest mayor, and his rental housing innovations are capturing the attention of mayors across the region... read more