Spirit of activism is a life-long journey
Professor Rebecca Tiessen joined the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ottawa in the summer of 2013, and she immediately chose to offer Community Service Learning (CSL) as part of her courses. Her work calls for extensive organization and outreach to Ottawa-based NGOs working on gender equality in international development. Last fall, she offered a CSL component in her Gender, Security and Development course (DVM 6113) to examine several gender and development issues and to look at a feminist theoretical framework. Students had the opportunity to choose from a long list of organizations and find one that best fit their research interests. Tiessen then arranged a conference for students to present the results of their research to a large audience of academics and leading Canadian development organizations.
For Tiessen, the CSL program is central to a comprehensive education: learning, applying what they’ve learned and collaborating with people outside the University. “Students can recognize the importance of learning from practitioners and applying what they are learning in class, as well as the networking opportunities it affords,” she says. Theory is not always well suited to practical application. For example, she says the concepts like gender equality, feminism, masculinities and gender-based violence are well known, but that CSL is one way to ensure that the students can understand them in relation to the lived realities of those who are marginalized or experience oppression, violence and inequality. They are not abstract concepts when applied in practice.
Tiessen defines community engagement as a full interaction with communities, to better understand organizations’ needs, priorities, constraints and opportunities, locally and globally. It is also a process that is meant to continue beyond the 30 hours by course program of study, where students play an important bridging role. “Volunteerism and community engagement is a life-long journey; it builds a stronger society, it demonstrates activism and community service,” Tiessen believes. She also thinks that living by example is the key; Tiessen is active in the community as a volunteer working closely with the Women, Peace and Security Network, where she deals with student volunteers, many of whom have continued to serve the community even after their CSL placement has ended.
According to Tiessen, a good community engagement leader should be adaptable, resourceful and dedicated. She plans to continue to offer the CSL program and find ways to better integrate student experiences within the course content to give time for ongoing reflection and discussion.
For her extraordinary dedication and her instrumental role in enhancing student community service learning while supporting gender equality and women’s rights organizations in Canada, Professor Rebecca Tiessen is the recipient of this year’s CSL Award for Outstanding Achievement for a faculty member.
Hermona for the CSL Outstanding Achievement Award, April 2017
Hermona Kuluberhan is a fifth-year political science student from the Faculty of Social Sciences doing a minor in communication. In the fall of 2016, she took part in the Community Service Learning program through her Politics of Foreign Aid course (POL4107C) as a volunteer with RESULTS Canada, a global movement committed to ending world poverty by combining the voices of grassroots advocates to leverage funds for programs and improved policies that give the world’s poorest people the health, education, and opportunity they need to thrive.
During her time as a youth outreach ambassador, Hermona helped develop outreach strategies to get more people to take action on RESULTS campaigns. She also helped create promotional material and liaised with students, partners and community outlets to reach more community members. Hermona explains that much of what she did with RESULTS was rooted in advocacy. She took part in various workshops on topics like anti-oppression, brainstorming and advocacy. One of her most memorable experiences was the leadership summit. “It was a chance to meet other RESULTS advocates from across the country and take part in very interesting workshops and brainstorming activities.”
Hermona has proven herself to be exceptionally hardworking in her efforts with RESULTS Ottawa community as well as during RESULTS uOttawa group meetings. In her role, she demonstrated extraordinary communication, advocacy and leadership skills as well as initiative. Hermona thinks that “the most important ability anyone can have, regardless of what field they work in, is the ability to get their ideas across clearly, concisely and confidently.” Her participation gave her the opportunity to meet with MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, which she noted to be a great experience. “We went ready to talk about development aid and the 2017 budget and ended up talking about an initiative for a federal department of peace.”
In addition to volunteering with RESULTS, Hermona was also an editor and a writer for Her Campus at uOttawa, showing her well-rounded engagement and passion for making the world a better place. She encourages all students to find something they’re passionate about and volunteer their time. She explains that “you can learn certain skills by doing, skills that you wouldn’t acquire just sitting in the classroom.”
Hermona plans to remain engaged with RESULTS Canada, helping in any way she can. Her positive attitude and her genuine passion led her to win the CSL Outstanding Achievement Award.