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Community-university engagement a top priority at UVic

Members of the 'Mapping Waste Governance' and 'Recycling Networks' projects gather for a field visit at the local landfill in Kisumu, Kenya. Credit: Crystal Tremblay.

From ecocultural experiential learning on traditional Lkwungen territory and a new choir for seniors with dementia in Victoria to participatory videos for mapping waste and recycling in Kenya—these are only three of the many examples of community-engaged initiatives taking place on campus, throughout BC and around the globe.

“Community-university engagement is a core value at UVic and one of the top six priorities of our Strategic Framework,” says Vice-President Academic and Provost Valerie Kuehne, who is chair of the newly formed Community Engagement and Partnerships Executive Committee (CEPEC), which provides direction and overall coordination with representation from academic, research and external relations portfolios.

Next step in evolution of community-university engagement

“This summer, we took the next step in the evolution of community-university engagement at UVic by transitioning from the Office of Community-University Engagement to a broader, more closely integrated, institutionally driven structure,” adds Kuehne. “This decision helps strengthen the university’s commitment to civic engagement, collective impact, community-engaged learning and community-based research. And new structures, processes, people and resources are already being put in place.”

The university is building on a solid foundation created by the efforts and initiatives of many researchers, staff, advocates, community partners and others over the years.

UVic geographer Crystal Tremblay—who conducted research on recycling cooperatives in Brazil and the economy of binners on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver while a UVic grad student—was appointed Special Advisor on Community-Engaged Scholarship in January and will provide leadership and research to support the community-engaged research portfolio.

Sharing knowledge for the benefit of society 

“What’s exciting is finding this common vision across campus in engaging community in a reciprocal way,” says Tremblay. “For instance, we are exploring the most useful ways of sharing knowledge for the benefit of society. How do we think about impact, beyond peer-reviewed articles? One component includes exploring how to provide capacity-building around the rewarding of scholarship and tenure. And how are we involving community in having input into what that might look like?”

Tremblay points to an impact assessment report she authored for UVic in 2017, which examined the breadth and impact of community-engaged research between 2009 and 2015.

“The impact report demonstrated the varied and diverse ways that knowledge has output—through working with communities in the creation of maps or a theatre production, a blog or a website.”

Vice-President Research David Castle notes that UVic’s strengths in community engagement are not only deep, but also broad-based. “It’s an extraordinary feature for community engagement initiatives to span all faculties at a university, and to have such widespread and deep impact, as they do here at UVic.”

A small selection includes:

  • The Victoria health hackathon: collaboration was a key element at the first Victoria Health Hackathon this fall. Stephanie Willerth (mechanical engineering), acting director of UVic’s Centre for Biomedical Research, organized the weekend event specifically to bring together diverse people with wide-ranging experiences and expertise for 24 heated hours, tackling one of five health-related problems.
  • Mapping Waste Governance: a community-based action research project on waste governance and social innovations led by Jutta Gutberlet (geography) with the implementation of multiple case studies on waste picker initiatives including production of participatory videos and photography—in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Kisumu (Kenya), Managua (Nicaragua), São Paulo (Brazil), Vancouver and Montreal—exploring some of the challenges and social innovations in waste governance in those communities. View three participatory videos.
  • Green transportation research: UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic) has been working with industry partners such as BC Ferries for more than a decade on hybrid propulsion, low carbon fuels and electric vehicles.
  • Voices in Motion: a UVic research study led by Debra Sheets (nursing) that is investigating how participation in an intergenerational choir with seniors, caregivers and high schools can impact quality of life for persons with dementia, caregiver well-being and reduction of stigma surrounding memory loss.
  • HighTechU: a youth skill-development academy launched by the Department of Computer Science in collaboration with industry partners, school districts and community partners to build the skills needed to succeed in higher education and the tech industry and reduce diversity gaps in the fields.
  • The Living Lab Project: a collaboration between UVic, the WSÁNEĆ and Songhees Nations, the CRD, local non-profits and local schools. The project provides Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth with real-life lessons in environmental stewardship and ecocultural restoration efforts, with a focus on water quality and biodiversity. Approximately 40 youth are currently involved.

Community-engaged learning across UVic

Two new positions, the Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Coordinators, have been created within UVic’s Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation (LTSI) to support instructors in developing more hands-on dynamic learning opportunities in the community for our students.

UVic alumna Rhianna Nagel was appointed in July as the university’s first campus-wide CEL coordinator.

“We are pleased to be offering CEL supports for faculty, students and community members  to enhance experiential learning and to continue to foster strong relationships between UVic and our broader community,” says LTSI Executive Director Laurene Sheilds.

A long history of community-university engagement

UVic continues to make a difference in local and global communities. According to a recent study, 71 per cent of community engagement occurs on Vancouver Island and 21 per cent of all engagement has an Indigenous focus. Twelve per cent of community engagement occurs internationally.

The new structures, processes and activities will be integrated into existing community-focused initiatives at UVic including those within the Research Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilization Unit, the Department of Community and Community Relations, and Co-operative Education and Career Services.

Learn more about community-university engagement at UVic.

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In this story

Keywords: community, international

Publication: The Ring


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