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Voices of CSL in Canada

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In these short interview segments (under three minutes), experienced CSL participants comment on how CSL is changing how they learn, teach and build community/campus relationships:

Voices from Nipissing University's Biidaaban CSL Progam

Image of speaker Laurie McLaren and Lorna Corzine, Nipissing CSL Program

Image of speaker Pat Marshall, Nipissing and Parry Sound Children's Aid Society

Image of speaker Dr. Margaret Sroga, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Nipissing University


Voices from Lakehead University's CSL Program

Image of speaker Dr. Frederick Gilbert, Lakehead University President

Image of speaker Dr. Connie Nelson, Lakehead University, Food Security Research Network

Image of speaker Marg Stadey, Regional Food Distribution Network, Thunder Bay

Image of speaker JoAnne Henderson, Lakehead University, Food Security Research Network



Voices from University of British Columbia's CSL Program:

Image of speaker Nancy Cameron, Director, YWCA Crabtree Corners

Image of speaker Rebecca Best, UBC Student

Image of speaker Dr. Margo Fryer, Director, UBC Learning Exchange


Personal Reflection

...short essays submitted by Canadian students and others reflecting upon their CSL experiences

Some reflections on CACSL and its mission and prospects
By Edward Jackson, Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Affairs), Faculty of Public Affairs, Carleton University, Ex Officio Member of the CACSL Steering Committee, and Carleton’s Liaison Person with CACSL.

The following reflections were made by Dr. Jackson during CACSL’s Strategic Planning retreat.

Let me make five points for your consideration about your Alliance’s mission and prospects. 

Because of continuing competitive pressures in the university sector to attract and retain students, service learning is continuing its trajectory in moving closer to the centre of the core business of universities. 

Yes, much practice in the university sector on service learning still is about branding and brochures and a few innovative pockets of programming.  But competition (which is revenue driven) is pushing universities to get serious about all forms of community engagement, from CSL to coop education to community based research, and more.  These are increasingly seen as tools to enhance student experience, retention and success as well as recruitment.  And the business case, if you will, for universities using serious dollars to fund the infrastructure to support large-scale CSL will be increasingly more effectively made in the years ahead.  And, pushed by the double-cohort in Ontario and other factors, CSL will become more important in graduate as well as undergraduate programs.

Building the capacity of a pan-Canadian sector takes a minimum of a decade-and lots of resources. 

In fact, the first decade of any sector building effort can be seen, really, as Phase I.  Even in our small, 30M person country, ten years only takes us so far.  We should be building multiple generations of leaders for the CSL effort to span the next 25 years.  I hope that doesn’t make you feel tired!  And there are many ways to build a sector:  action-research, networking, professional development—these are all key strategies.  To those, I’d add grant-making for organizational capacity building, mentoring and technical advice, policy innovation and advocacy, and, most fundamentally, institutional change at both the sector-wide and local levels.  I would hope that the McConnell Foundation and other actors understand the scope of the task here; in fact, they do-but they are also sometimes impatient for change.

In Canadian universities, the obstacles to change are at the corporate and systems levels, and these must be addressed directly and vigorously.

While your Alliance has played an important leadership role in defining, assessing and promoting the programming dimensions of community service learning, and that has been the right place to start, the next set of obstacles to deepening and spreading this approach are, essentially, systemic.  Some of you have been leaders in putting in place structures to support CSL.  However, we must go deeper into the DNA of the institution.  In particular, the incentives structure for faculty members to engage with community in teaching and research—as determined by tenure and promotion criteria and practices—must be aligned with community engagement.  We must remain steadfast supporters of academic quality, rigour and independence.  But young faculty members, especially, must be encouraged to engage with external partners while they strive for tenure and promotion—not much later in their career, when they’ve attained these objectives.  The social problems communities face can’t wait for professors to get to the middle of their careers! 

Taking effective action on such a fundamental issue will require creative strategy and resilient implementation.  At the pan-Canadian level, university presidents, AUCC, SSHRC, the Canadian Association for Cooperative Education, and other organizations should be engaged as potential allies in this effort.  CACSL could (and in my view should) set up an advisory council of senior academic executives to address this and other key issues.  Union representatives should be engaged, as well, in finding ways forward that respect the principles and process of collective bargaining.

For community organizations, the core challenge is core funding; it is, for them, all about access to and control of funds, and opportunity costs.

Universities seeking to sustain their engagement with community organizations must understand that it is, generally speaking, all about the money.  First, community organizations (let’s call them civil society organizations, or CSOs) struggle mightily every day to generate revenues to advance their missions.  But they operate in a world of hyper-competition, fragmented and short-term opportunities and a sometimes bizarre level of concern by funders with accountability.  Community organizations would appreciate, in their dealings with universities (and other actors), to be able to have access to sufficient funds so that it does not cost them money (or time) to engage with students and faculty.  They also should have control over the administration of funds dedicated to university partnerships.  We need to experiment with models to achieve these objectives.  My view is that, if we can address the money issue, our partnerships with communities will be more equal, innovative and productive, as well as sustained.

CACSL needs a multi-year, phased strategic plan to address these and other factors going forward. 

Strategic plans must have a long-term vision of the evolution of the organization as an instrument of sector building.  This plan should include a phased approach, to enable the organization to build sufficient capacity as the sector-building journey proceeds.  Not everything can or should be done at once.  But change must be animated, in the spheres of the university and the community, at several levels which should reinforce each other: individuals, local organizations/institutions, sector organizations, and the policy environment.  In my view, CACSL can and should plan a trajectory where it moves “upward” from the micro to the meso and macro levels over the next decade.  What organizational form it takes, and what its mix of revenues is, should evolve as it accompanies and, with its allies, animates this process of change. 


Community reflections on a CSL partnership
By Jane Hennig, Executive Director of the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener-Waterloo and Area

Experiential Learning through interaction between students and individual voluntary sector organizations has been an informal arrangement for many years in Waterloo Region.  The individual partnerships were and continue to be positive.  The Volunteer Action Centre was, in the past, involved only minimally in our role as a resource for voluntary sector organizations and a volunteer recruitment centre from which students could access volunteer positions. 

When the concept of Community Service-Learning (CSL) became more formal and began growing in popularity, our centre was approached to assist as a conduit between the post-secondary institutions and the voluntary sector. Wilfrid Laurier University received McConnell Foundation funding to open the Laurie Centre of Community Service Learning.  The University of Waterloo has a variety of departments developing forms of CSL and Conestoga College has a variety of courses that include service in their curriculum. 

The Volunteer Action Centre works very closely with the voluntary sector organizations of Kitchener Waterloo and Area and often partners with the United Way of Cambridge and North Dumfries on region-wide projects.  Through a recent study conducted by the Waterloo Wellington Training and Adjustment Board (2007) we know that 53% of charities in Waterloo Region are completely volunteer driven, 13% have only part-time and of those with full time staff 41% have 4 staff or fewer.  We also know that we have 3 major post-secondary institutions in our region, all with a growing interest in CSL.  What a great opportunity to enhance community capacity!  And, what a very real challenge to ensure that we develop this in a way that will be a sustainable asset!  We need to do this right so that CSL can be a community resource that can be relied upon and that it will not drain the voluntary sector resources in the process.

On March 18th the Volunteer Action Centre hosted a Community Forum in partnership with Conestoga College, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.  The Forum brought together representatives from these three institutions with staff and volunteers from a variety of voluntary sector organizations throughout our Region.  The purpose was to begin a dialogue and development of a common understanding for CSL for our community. Even more beneficial was the opportunity for all of the stakeholders to talk together about what is happening and how it might unfold in next steps. This was the first step of an ongoing process to make sure we do this right, for the students, for the professors, for the post-secondary institutions and for the voluntary sector organizations in our community. 

Community Service Learning presents a wonderful opportunity.  I look forward to seeing it grow and find a sustainable place in communities across Canada where post-secondary institutions connect are engaged.

Service Learning at STFX
By Marla Gaudet, Service Learning Program Manager

StFX University is a small, primarily undergraduate university in rural Nova Scotia.  It offers degrees in Arts, Science and professional programs.  Service Learning opportunities are available in many disciplines and in all years of study.  While professors, administrators and community partners can all vouch to the importance of the program for student learning and development, it is really the student voice that says it best.  Below are some quotes from our students over the years:

“I feel almost guilty realizing that although the point of service was to benefit others… I truly believe that I received the greatest amount of benefit.”

“It helped me see that what I learn in class can be connected to the outside world.”

“This experience certainly encouraged me to do more volunteer work within my community.”

“This experience really helped me learn who I am and what type of person I want to be.”

“Learning how to work with people from a variety of different stages of life is very important to my education.”

“It made me want to belong to the community I live in.  I want volunteering to be something I continue, even once I leave StFX”

“This (experience) opened my eyes to see how people live in different situations.”

“Helping others made me feel good about myself and I learned from it.”

“It was a great hands-on learning experience.  I was able to take my knowledge from my course and apply it to my task.”

“Service Learning gave me the ability to be in a position of leadership. I was able to use skills learned through my education.”

“I believe that I can take my experiences and apply them to many different situations in the future.”

“I highly recommend the Service Learning Program.  I think that whatever degree someone is taking, and regardless of their future plans, students are going to be working within communities and service learning helps students to learn how to interact in their own communities and other communities.”

Learning Beyond the Classroom: One Student’s Perspective
By Aliisa Paivalainen

It was in my 300 level sociology of globalization course last fall semester that I was introduced to the CSL program at the University of Alberta.  I chose to do my placement with a new organization called the Ainembabazi Children’s Project (ACP).  I chose this organization because its main focus is the development of AIDS orphans in Uganda, an area that is of great interest to me.  Since this class, I have continued to work with ACP and plan to travel to Uganda to work on one of our projects in the upcoming year.  This can be greatly attributed to the CSL program here at the U of A.

Being an out-of-province undergraduate it was very difficult to find ways to integrate myself into the Edmonton community, and even more difficult to find organizations that really interested me. CSL really helped me get a step in the right direction.

One of the best attributes of the CSL program was its ability to help me critically analyze the Ainembabazi organization within the course material. It also allowed me to understand the organization’s role within the larger framework of global society.  The more I analyzed and critically evaluated my organization, the more I became aware of the obstacles it faced as well as the great work that they were accomplishing.  I really enjoyed learning about the foundation and structure of their organizations which helped me appreciate any success in this field.  This was something that would probably not have been accomplished had I been just a ‘regular volunteer’ with the organization.

The best thing that CSL did was to constantly push me to get more involved in this organization and try to fully understand the way it functioned. It was this reinforcement that ultimately shaped my work for this organization. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed my CSL course and am grateful that it enabled me to get involved in an organization with long term goals and in an area that truly interests me.

Johanna Jackle, a student at St Thomas More College, Saskatoon , reflects on his CSL experience at AIDS Saskatoon
Sociology 110.6 M
Journal Entry, February 1, 2007

“When I decided to do my community service-learning with AIDS Saskatoon, I had no idea what kind of work I would be doing, no idea of the people with whom I would be working, and I had not anticipated the impact ultimately that these experiences would have upon my personal life.  I walked into this situation blindly, really, not knowing anything about marginalized people or their daily life experience.  The most powerful realization that I have had is the importance of, and what it means to be part of, a community.  With all the differences that individuals possess, it is easy to feel deflated and alone, and even more so for the people whose situations delineate them to being a marginal part of society.  Having a place to belong, a place to feel comfortable and to be treated kindly and respectfully is a phenomenal feeling.  Having a place to go where the core value is acceptance, and where you can receive support and companionship is essential in human life.  I’ve come to see and experience this at AIDS Saskatoon through community service-learning. 

The greatest impact this experience has had on me is that through my experiences at the agency, I’ve been absolutely inspired to make sure that my education is directed to the support of community in some way.  I’ve learned the importance of being accepting, non-judgmental and expressing a “blind love” to each individual, no matter what their place or role in this world.  I’ve learned that social change is not solely achieved on one level, but is multidimensional and requires attention to each level, and I feel compelled to direct my attention to the community.”

PICOMs, a Bridge to Communities
by Rémi Doré, Picom Coordinator
Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

Since January 2006, the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières offers a six credit course in community intervention to second and third year students at the baccalaureate level. This complementary course allows them to live an interdisciplinary community involvement experience where they design, implement and evaluate an intervention project with community partners in the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions. Under the guidance of a faculty member and supported by a mentor assigned by the community, each of the three to five member student teams will implement an initiative that meets the needs identified by the community.

As coordinator for the community intervention projects (Picom), I feel privileged to be able to meet and support these persons who dedicate themselves to helping others. Each of the projects (eighteen in 2006) has created a space to help students develop their relational, cultural, communicational and personal skills, which can only be accomplished if they are placed in a real world situation. To my astonishment, a growing number of students involved in such projects maintain their engagement even after these have officially ended. Also, they realize the importance of an interdisciplinary intervention for their own lives, present and future, despite the fact that the experience is quite demanding.

The academic community is opening its mind to community service-learning, though there still remain many obstacles to overcome. Community intervention projects invite students and faculty to learn differently. Personal engagement in community service brings about certain changes or transition which can be very time consuming. However, I am convinced that the present experiences of faculty and students will create the necessary opening for the academic community to become more aware of how important it is to partner with local communities, thus allowing students and the latter to break new ground in improving the quality of life of fellow citizens.

In September 2007, we hope to launch between fifteen and twenty new projects allowing students to live a real learning experience in diverse human situations.

Ending the Cycle with Community Service Learning
By Arthur Churchyard
Undergraduate student, University of Guelph

Out of school, out of work, out of prospects. For many Canadian street youth, this harsh mantra is a daily reality. But a community-service learning initiative in Guelph, Ontario is halting the cycle by supporting disenfranchised youth who have chosen an alternative way to earn high school credits. The program is called “Give Yourself Credit” (GYC).

Last winter I had the chance to learn alongside GYC youth as a volunteer tutor and presenter. The opportunity came through a first-year University of Guelph seminar community service learning (CSL) course called “The Art of Communicating Science”. Several other university students also came to GYC from a third-year CSL course in the University of Guelph Arts and Science program.

GYC is a clear example of why community-service learning works. It impacted each of the university students because it brought us face to face with real world problems. We were challenged to learn from experiences in serving others and work creatively within a flexible course structure. Our first lesson was that an effective communicator must be interested in the topic at hand and uses a wide variety of visual, aural, and tactile media. There were many other insights gained, such as the value of teaching as a team and the importance of relating educational topics to the personal lives of teens.

The community impact was obvious: many youth gained credits towards their high school diploma, and several eventually jumped back into local high schools. Even the media and University Communications took notice of the work going on at GYC.

What made this project so interesting? I think it was the element of people helping each other while learning together. GYC provided University students with a place to learn about effective communication, and the University students in turn shared their time and knowledge. This element is interesting in itself, but add to it the incredible hardship faced by these youth, and a story of positive change emerges.

Take, for example, the first topic we presented to GYC youth: Drugs and the Brain. Substance abuse is a problem for several youth in the program, but our intention was to present the information from a fun and factual standpoint. We avoided preaching by using science videos, games and Internet activities to communicate neuroscience and narcotics information. By the end of the presentation, youth knew exactly what drugs like ‘Ecstasy’ do to the brain.

Another much-anticipated presentation on Forensic Science gave GYC youth hands-on experience with microscopes borrowed from University labs and a chance to solve a mystery based on evidence from a simulated crime scene. Through all these presentations, the youth gained a great deal of knowledge towards a General Learning credit.

Out of the 21 youth we worked with at GYC last year, 14 earned credits and two have returned to high school. In the face of moving in and out of correctional centres and drug rehabilitation, and dealing with family crises, violence, and hunger, this is certainly a positive change to be proud of. The University recognized this, and featured the project in an article in its biweekly newspaper, ‘At Guelph’ as well as in a special focus on its webpage. GYC also gained coverage in several local newspapers, in which GYC youth highlight their positive experience with the university students.

Community-service learning is different than other types of learning because it has such a lasting impact on students and the community. If you want proof, just drop in to the GYC space in downtown Guelph sometime this year. You’ll see me, or another one of the many University of Guelph students who continue to volunteer at GYC. Most of the returning volunteers are no longer gaining University credits, though. Last year’s CSL experience has motivated us to stay involved in our community, continuing to gain insight into our own aptitudes and using them where they make a difference.