Connecting in-class concepts with real-life experience
School of Psychology professor Stuart Hammond has been integrating community service learning (CSL) in his undergraduate child psychology courses since 2015. He believes that it “give[s] students the option to get some career-relevant experience working with children’s health and education. It’s an opportunity to connect in-class concepts with real-life experiences, to see the ways theories of child development are informative and have limitations.” Finally but crucially, he thinks that “it’s important for students to have the opportunity to meet and assist others in their community.”
Last winter, as part of Hammond’s Child Development course (PSY2105), uOttawa student and aspiring behavioural therapist Breanna Barton Challenger participated in her first CSL placement, for the Special Education – Autism Unit at Viscount Alexander Public School.
Through her placement, Breanna was able to experience children’s classroom behaviour and see how situations can affect them differently. “Some children with disabilities needed a lot more one-on-one work for them to stay on task when the environment was constantly changing.”
She found that having one teacher as opposed to a new teacher each day triggered different behaviours in students. One student in particular was having difficulty transitioning between teachers, which resulted in her not completing her tasks or believing she was unable to. Over three months, Breanna helped raise the student’s confidence to the point where she was eager to complete activities she had previously refused to do.
By the end of the term, Breanna believed that her CSL placement had boosted her in-class learning. She says that that her experience allowed her to “distinguish children who lacked theory of mind, as well as those who were ahead (or) behind in the Piaget stages learned in class.”
As Breanna sees it, the CSL program can be very fulfilling for students. She says that “the feeling of helping the community evokes unique feelings of warmth and positivity (and has taught) me to be more patient, understanding and empathetic in all aspects of my life.” Breanna’s CSL experience confirmed her natural skill working with children, and she is now confident she is on the right career path. In the end, a professor’s vision and a student’s CSL experience not only made a positive impact on a community in need, but also provided a student with tools and applicable knowledge she may not have gotten otherwise.
CSL Placement on Parliament Hill Motivates Danna El-Arab's Studies
After switching to the political science program at uOttawa’s School of Political Studies, second-year student Danna El-Arab found herself in Introduction to Canadian Politics (POL 2101), a course taught by Professor André Lecours, who has integrated Community Service Learning (CSL) into the curriculum. “Having recently switched programs, CSL was the perfect opportunity to jump-start volunteer work related to my new field of study. I was able to enhance my community involvement while enriching my understanding of concepts covered in class,” said Danna.
She opted to work as an administrative assistant in the parliamentary offices of MP Jenny Kwan, who is NDP Immigration Critic. In doing so, Danna gained first-hand experience in the role every person plays in the overall success of the office. “[I] developed valuable skills that will benefit me in my academic career and in my future work endeavours. It also helped me discover interests in particular social issues,” said Danna. Her tasks included entering data and then analysing it, drafting responses to correspondence from constituents, summarizing reports provided by stakeholder organizations, and helping to prepare committee reports.
Through her efforts to assist MP Kwan’s work as NDP Immigration Critic, Danna discovered a passion for working in the area of immigration and citizenship rights and now plans on further exploring various possibilities in this field. Even though she completed her CSL placement this winter, Danna still volunteers as an administrative assistant in Kwan’s office. “I hope to continue to contribute to my community by taking on volunteer initiatives, through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, that I can enjoy and also learn from,” said Danna.
Colliding With Communication
Since fall 2014, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement has been connecting Safe Wings Ottawa, a local bird research, prevention and rescue program of the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club, to University of Ottawa students who want to raise awareness about bird window strikes, encourage bird-friendly building design and protect the region’s biodiversity.
With a heightened awareness of the issues of bird window collisions and rescues, the demand for Safe Wings’ services has been increasing. The need for an effective communications plan to relay information on available resources and volunteer rescue coordination to the public was evident. This need dovetailed nicely with Professor Valerie Noftle’s Faculty of Arts Communication Management (CMN5135) graduate seminar in winter 2018, in which 16 students were asked to develop an in-depth strategic communications plan for Safe Wings. For Noftle, integrating Community Service Learning (CSL) into her teaching gave students the “opportunity to put policy into practice ... this was the most important outcome of CSL. The students had actual measurable outcomes to show how much they had accomplished.”
The students first split into five groups that focused on building a communications strategy for Safe Wings’ Annual Bird Display at City Hall February 26. Students were able to reach out to media stakeholders, create a social media promotion strategy and help set up the annual exhibit, remaining flexible and focused on meeting Safe Wings’ needs. On the day of the event, more strategic media outreach, along with social media promotion and event set-up, was evident, leading to a significant increase in interaction on social media as well.
Students felt the CSL program added to the communications management theory they learned in class — they knew the work was going towards something important. For one student, Georgia Kyriakaki, CSL “was a very good experience, and hands-on. The fact that we did it as a class, all together, made it more fun. It was easier to adjust and know what we’re doing because you could rely on your team.”
The students continued to work on a communications strategy for Safe Wings throughout the Winter 2018 term, to raise the profile of bird safety and collisions and the organization’s mandate in general. Once finalized, the communications plan will be implemented by the organization in the coming months. The students say that their involvement in this CSL project has evolved into an impact-driven commitment to raise awareness on an issue that affects their local community.
Look for a future article on the impact the students from CMN 5135 have had on Safe Wings Ottawa!
Community Service Learning as a gateway into the scientific community
When biology professor Colin Montpetit of the Faculty of Science first heard about the Community Service Learning (CSL) program offered through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, he saw an opportunity to introduce his students to the scientific community.Last winter, he integrated CSL for the first time into his genetics course (BIO2133) to provide his students with an alternative way of reflecting on the course’s learning objectives. Professor Montpetit’s teaching philosophy is to bring active learning into the classroom: he assesses student progress towards learning goals, and taps into the diversity of his students and the course to enrich the educational experience for students and teacher alike.“The CSL program is a way for me to provide my students with an educational environment that fosters intellectual and personal development within the community and is a way to offer learning opportunities that can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom setting.” For many of his students, the CSL program provided early research and applied biology experiences, which most Department of Biology students only take part in during the fourth year of their programs.
Professor Montpetit was keen to integrate CSL into his large, 600-student course. The program exceeded his expectations and was very popular: 25 students selected placements, which included positions as a neuroscience research assistant at The Ottawa Hospital and as a bat conservation volunteer with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “This program gives any student a chance to connect with organizations that are part of the scientific community, as well as a way to build their network and advance their future career goals.” In fact, CSL allowed them to not only interact with, but also contribute directly to, the scientific community. “When speaking of the ‘community’, it isn’t necessarily just the social community, it also includes the scientific community. In the case of this course, the community included lab and research environments, as well as educational groups, such as Let’s Talk Science!”
The CSL option improved the students’ awareness of their own thought processes and their communication skills, which was apparent in their self-reflection assignments. “It was enlightening to learn about each of the students’ placements. I was able to connect with them a little more and they were able to bring in their different perspectives as individuals, which enhanced their CSL experience.” The students submitted creative blogs, with some creating special posters, videos and websites. This allowed the students to communicate their results in a different format and gave Professor Montpetit a chance to hear his students speak, in their own voice, about the various outcomes of their placements and what they had learned.
Professor Montpetit is already planning to integrate CSL into his next winter term course. “For any professor out there who is considering integrating the CSL program into their class… just do it! Contact the Centre, have a chat with them; they will answer all your questions and are very open and flexible. If you don’t know how CSL fits into your class, the Centre can help you with that. I came into the CSL program having my own thoughts and ideas, and left realizing that the program is adaptive and is a different experience for everyone.” Professors interested in exploring how to integrate the CSL program can contact us.
By: Rougui Bah
uOttawa students help local group through communications hackathon
This winter, the Conseil de développement de sports de Gatineau (CDSG), which offers sports medicine services, organizes events and provides scholarships and additional support to athletes, coaches and others involved in the sports scene in the region, contacted the Michaëlle Jean Centre. The goal? To get student assistance in developing a strategy to communicate better with various stakeholders. Thanks to the Community Service Learning program, the CDSG was put in contact with Professor Sylvie Grosjean and students in her organizational communication consultation and training course, CMN3548.
For one term, the students became communications consultants. They met CDSG members to discuss the latter’s needs and then produced a report for them. Grosjean also organized a one-day communications hackathon competition. The students’ goal was to work together to design a communications strategy to increase the organization’s visibility and the loyalty of its target groups. Birane Wane, a student in the course and a member of the winning hackathon team says, "We worked as team, making sure to include all of the Conseil’s objectives. It was a very rewarding experience for me, because I was able to put into practice the methods we saw in our consultation and training course. I encourage future students to make an effort and have this experience, because they’ll be better for it. It taught me that teamwork can be very effective if it’s well organized."
Olivier Tyteca, a CDSG development officer, loved the experience of collaborating. “Everything was well organized and everyone’s role was clear. The final result exceeded our expectations. The students were very professional in performing their work.” The CDSG team would like to go ahead with the development of a mobile app integrating the outstanding ideas suggested by the hackathon teams, and is currently looking for the IT support to do so.
For Grosjean, the hackathon is interesting because it allows students from her course to work with other students who want to look at the same question, which stimulates creativity and improves learning. “The event is an opportunity for students to put their knowledge into practice and develop the analytical skills any future communications professional needs,” she says.
Grosjean will teach CMN3548 again in the fall, allowing a different organization to benefit from her students’ help in facing another communications challenge.
Upward trend in experiential learning at School of International Development and Globalization
This past year, more uOttawa international development course students took the leap to support local organizations’ missions as part of their courses. In total, 177 students in twelve undergraduate and graduate School of International Development and Globalization courses applied their skills and knowledge through Community Service Learning (CSL) placements in the Fall, Winter and Spring-Summer terms. This 149% increase in student placements over the previous year demonstrates a continued appetite for hands-on learning. With the upcoming launch of uOGlobal at the University of Ottawa, many students are already positioning themselves to access this recognition through their participation in the CSL Program.
A wide variety of partners working on issues related to international development provided challenging volunteer engagement opportunities to DVM students that enabled them to connect in-class concepts to concrete research, program implementation or community advocacy. For example, in the past few months, students applied their skills to positions such as Canadian foreign policy volunteer reviewer with the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), gender research assistant with Oxfam Canada and event rapporteurs to the Global Centre for Pluralism. Overall, students supported the work of 63 unique organizations this year alone.
Of note during the Winter 2018 term, eight students in Philippe Régnier’s Enjeux et développement international en Asie (DVM4525) course researched and wrote a report on the status of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the archipelagic nations of Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as the existing fisheries and aquaculture-related coops. They looked at how the coops are currently experiencing and planning for climate change. The report, prepared for the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF), also identified measures that the coops can take to help their members adapt to climate change. Jean Roxas, the business development manager who oversaw the group of uOttawa students at CDF, says that “the students’ outputs are excellent. They are very useful in our work. It’s amazing how these students exercised a lot of skills required in real work environment — teamwork, attention to details, quality, user-orientation.”
As the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement ramps up its CSL preparation for the 2018–2019 academic year, it is already working with professors from the School of International Development and Globalization looking to integrate this unique experiential learning program in their courses. Organizations and professors interested in offering an opportunity to a student or a group of students or who wish to learn more about the CSL program, are invited to contact the Centre as soon as possible to participate.
In a Constantly Changing Environment, Learning To Be Adaptable Is Key
In the Fall 2017 term, Hannah Pham, Perla Habchi and four other students found themselves in Professor Daina Mazutis’s fourth-year ADM4317 Leadership, Strategy and Sustainability course at the Telfer School of Management. The course offers the option of a Community Service Learning (CSL) project. The students were unaware of this beforehand, but were motivated to enrol to apply their theoretical learning to practical scenarios and because most projects involved management practices and financial audits.
The placement their team selected was with the Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED), which supports hundreds of social enterprises in Ottawa through technical expertise, coaching, financing, learning communities, training and cross-sector partnerships. With a small team trying to develop the social enterprise scene in Ottawa, CSED needed help on a project aimed at better understanding a client’s spending and providing recommendations on how the client could transfer spending to social enterprises.
As the CSED team guided the students, the project goal changed. With a large number of data points available, CSED staff and the students worked together and decided to create and test a framework that would analyze the different data lines, to provide recommendations to the client.
The shift in project goal could have been seen negatively by the students, but with the CSED team’s guidance, they chose to learn from the experience and apply their classroom learning to the situation. Both Pham and Habchi say that adapting to the shift in focus was key in their experience. “When you have to work with data from community partners and not data that is just created for you, you cannot just ignore the backstory to the data. You need to understand the entire picture and also be flexible while dealing with their work style and direction,” says Habchi.
The CSED team was grateful to collaborate with the students and receive a framework that can now be replicated in other areas of the organization. Furthermore, the CSL students provided fresh, innovative perspectives that allowed for more diverse thinking and problem-solving, and ultimately, gave CSED a framework it can continue to use, according to Kathleen Kemp, CSED director of sector development.
With the project extending over two terms, uniquely, two of the original students were able to continue with CSED for another term as part of ADM 4904, Telfer’s Connexions I course. “As one of the CSED directors said, ‘It is nice to build a ship but it is even better to build a ship and sail it at the same time.’ Being able to see the entire project through has been one of the best experiences of my undergraduate degree,” says Pham.
Despite the project goal changing, the students were able to apply their theoretical learning to a real-life scenario and CSED received a high-quality deliverable that not only worked, but allowed it to further its social procurement goals. The students received a lesson in adaptability. As Pham says, “Having an understanding of theory is important, but the ability to adapt and be flexible is the most valuable asset in the workplace. Reacting to experiences in real time gives you a broader understanding of the community and prepares you for life after academia.”
From Theory to Praxis: Understanding Substantive Equality Through Experiential Learning
Community Service Learning (CSL) was integrated into a common law course for the very first time in the fall of 2017. Professor Angela Cameron incorporated CSL into her Gender Sexuality and the Law course (CML 3181) because she believes that “practising substantive equality on the ground against the backdrop of well-theorized gender and sexuality is an excellent way to learn what the messy, beautiful reality of equality might look like if we liberated it from the common law a little bit.” The goal was to move “from theory to praxis, from the abstract to the concrete” because “we need a new generation of lawyers who’ve mastered the complexity of substantive equality, in theory and in practice, to be able to move beyond what the common law can accomplish in 2018.”
Two of Professor Cameron’s students did a placement with Law Needs Feminism Because (LNFB), an initiative that gathers stories and narratives from law students, lawyers and legal professionals on why the practice of law requires a feminist lens to better understand how to shape the legal system and profession of tomorrow. The organization hopes to “amplify the voices of marginalized groups who have historically been excluded from the workings of law, particularly those who are racialized, indigenous, queer, trans, intersex, non-binary, and/or disabled.”
The purpose of the student placement was to assist LNFB prepare for their second national forum, which took place at the University of Ottawa in March 2018. Zaynab Al-Waadh, one of the organizers, underlined that, as part of their CSL placement, “the students helped ensure the LNFB forum content was inclusive of marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+, racialized, disabled, low-income and Indigenous communities.” According to the 2018 forum organizers, Zaynab Al-Waadh and Stephanie Tadeo, the students helped line up 17 workshops on topics related to feminist issues in the legal community, including “disrupting inequitable access to justice” and “rebuilding feminist law reform capacities in Canada” as well as a panel on Indigenous feminist perspectives in decolonization and allyship. The students also helped showcase some of the portraits from the LNFB uOttawa chapter photo campaign on why law needs feminism. According to Professor Cameron, the option for her students to “merge their passion for feminism with a practical community engagement project while deepening their academic learning creates the perfect balance for student life.”
Making a Difference In The Community
Cécile Planchon, a doctoral student in sociolinguistics and part-time professor at the University of Ottawa, volunteers at St Paul’s Eastern United church, located a stone’s throw away from campus. As a community partner, she supervises and assigns student volunteers to programs that she holds dear, specifically those involving First Nations, the elderly and Francophones. One of her goals is to create bonds between the community and the twenty or so students who volunteer with her. After three years of partnering with the Michaelle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, she has learned that a meeting with students at the beginning of their placements is key to understanding their expectations and ensuring that they remain engaged while keeping in touch.
Cécile recruits volunteers to work with the food bank of Odawa Native Friendship Centre, a program which distributes much-needed supplies to alleviate the food insecurity that affects many First Nations’ members living in Ottawa. When asked why this program, she explained that she “was very shocked to see that First Nations’ people in Canada struggle with the same problems as those in the United States.” So she decided to make a difference. The reliability of volunteers is key to successfully running the food bank; she must always ensure that a volunteer is on hand to distribute food to vulnerable individuals. According to Cecile, students who volunteer in the community learn to put things in perspective and appreciate their relatively privileged circumstances. Volunteering helps them escape their campus-centric mindset to confront the real world, while opening up new career possibilities.
Karlee Waldgel is pursuing a BA with a minor in aboriginal studies. In the winter 2018 term, she decided to include a Community Service Learning (CSL) component as part of a course entitled Contemporary Studies in Canada (CDN4101), which explores significant problems in Canada today. Karlee wanted to volunteer to improve conditions for indigenous peoples. Volunteering helped her express her personal values and allowed her to “engage emotionally in order to further a cause [she] supports.” Karlee feels that students tend to be sheltered from reality while at university. Volunteering helps broaden their horizons, counter their individualism and increase their practical knowledge. As part of her placement at the food bank, she hands out food, wraps packages, registers the food bank users in the database to document the number of people served, and updates the food inventory. The experience she has gained in this volunteer placement has taught her much about herself, introduced her to new people and brought her joy in helping others.
Samuelle Ménard is a second-year CO-OP student pursuing a BSocSc in conflict studies and human rights with a minor in women’s studies. She decided to volunteer in the community in order to pay forward what she had received. By volunteering at the food bank, she has gained experience in her area of study, expressed her values, and enhanced her sense of community. She said she “had always wanted to serve [her] neighbour,” and through her CSL placement as a component of a course on the foundations of political and social thought (classical liberalism and socialism) (DVM 2750), she was able to relate much of her classroom theory to her volunteer experience. By listening to her indigenous clients’ stories, some funny and some painful, Samuelle has gained patience, compassion, and empathy.
By: Jane Gabrielle Ngambo Tchoumene
Gaining New Perspectives on Indigenous Culture Through Community Service Learning
Anthony Larocque, a fourth year student in conflict studies and human rights with a minor in Indigenous studies, first took the plunge into community service learning (CSL) in his fall 2017 anthropology course Native Peoples of Americas. This winter, he is pursuing a second CSL placement as part of the fourth year CDN4100 Contemporary Issues in Canada course taught by Professor Tracy Coates, while continuing as a cultural and programming assistant, at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, a community-based centre providing culturally-relevant programs and services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
“As a CSL volunteer,” says Anthony, “I assist Wabano staff with various cultural revitalization programs for youth and seniors. I have been very fortunate to be immersed into Indigenous culture by making turtle medicine pouches’ kits, tobacco prayer ties and preparing sacred medicines for ceremonial use. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to partake in ‘Culture Night,’ a weekly event where community members gather to sing songs, share stories and listen to the wisdom and teachings of various elders.”
Coates, Anthony’s CSL professor, has been integrating the program in her courses since fall 2016. She says that “the CSL program is an important element of my courses, as it builds in additional experiential learning opportunities, which are an essential element of Indigenous pedagogy.”
For Anthony, the opportunity to participate in experiential learning has brought him a completely new perspective. “The roles I have been tasked with during my placement have allowed me, as a non-Indigenous person, to gain a better understanding of Indigenous culture from the people themselves.”
Anthony adds, “I believe that the roles I have played thus far at the Wabano Centre demonstrate that there are allies in the community that are committed to fostering healthy and meaningful relationships with Indigenous people. I take the time to listen to the client population to learn from their experiences and better understand their realities as Indigenous people living in the nation’s capital. Moreover, I am contributing to the core values of the Wabano Centre, to provide a safe space for Indigenous people to revitalize and to re-engage with their culture.”
Anthony recommends that other students consider taking part in community service learning when offered in their courses. “Not only are you learning and establishing links with content taught in the classrooms,” he suggests, “but CSL placements are also a time for networking and developing professional experience, which is phenomenal for building a strong and competitive CV.” He expects to remain involved with the Wabano Centre indefinitely.
Improving Health Literacy in Our Community
Community Service Learning (CSL) is a credited educational experience, conducted as part of a course, in which students participate in a structured volunteer placement designed to meet a community need. We experienced the value of the CSL program in our first year of medical school; it prompted us to become better equipped to address the needs of the community, so we wanted to further develop this opportunity to improve the University of Ottawa student experience and benefit the community at large. Following a presentation on the social determinants of health, and realizing that literacy is a major determinant of future health and living status, we partnered with local health promotion advocates Dr. Laura Muldoon and Dr. Melissa Vyvey to brainstorm ideas that would improve literacy and health awareness among young children from lower income families. Joanne Joseph had completed a community outreach elective, so our team decided to work through the “Twice upon a Time” reading program run by the Ottawa YMCA Taggart Family Shelter.
Our aim was to promote, support and direct first-year medical students in organizing health-related activities, namely reading and book distribution, for children living at the shelter. This innovative project expanded a current outreach project by incorporating health education into literacy programs for vulnerable children. By reading with the children, the medical students gained first-hand knowledge of the developmental stages of childhood, as well as the effects of the certain social determinants of health, such as refugee status and poverty.
Our challenge was funding some of the activities we had planned. Fortunately, we received a Community Engagement Scholarship from the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement Fund, which solved our initial funding issues and helped us meet our goal of improving health literacy.
The project started in January 2018 by involving six dedicated, first-year medical students. These students covered topics such as the importance of proper hand hygiene, the benefits of exercise, and how the heart works. The medical students also provided the children with hands-on demonstrations, as well as books and brochures on various health topics to reinforce the concepts and thus promote lifelong health awareness and improve literacy.
This project gives first-year medical students an opportunity to work with young children and to serve as role models who show them that reading and learning can be fun!
We hope the program will continue in future years, possibly by expanding it to run all year long.
We believe that community engagement means noticing and responding to a community need, and then meeting this need by partnering in a collaborative group, planning how to address the need, and carrying out the plan with frequent assessments.
By: Joanne Joseph, Jennifer DCruz, Mariya Kuk
How Community Service Learning Can Lead To Sustainability
Given her career in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, Dorra Jlouli was a natural to teach her first course at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management in the fall of 2017. In light of her genuine commitment to sustainable development and citizen involvement in environmentalism, she was eager to integrate community service learning into her course on leadership, strategy and sustainability (ADM4717). One of the primary goals of the course was to give students a chance to work on a group project involving sustainable development; consequently, Dorra Jlouli was quick to encourage them to select community engagement learning at the start of the semester, convinced that the projects proposed by the University of Ottawa’s Office of Sustainability would provide them with unique opportunities to learn by doing. Moreover, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement provided the ideal framework for students to learn, as well as official recognition for their contributions towards the campus’s overall goal of becoming “greener”.
In September, two teams were formed, each to address a problem at the University of Ottawa. The first was tasked with finding a way to promote sustainable transportation, while the second was charged with optimizing the recycling process for recyclables and waste. With guidance from Dorra Jlouli and the Office of Sustainable Development, the two teams designed innovative, eco-friendly solutions and applied the management, budgeting and marketing skills they had acquired throughout their studies at the Telfer School of Management.
The first team, whose members were Camille Champagne-Roberge, Louise Ifrène, Dorine Jean, Abdul Adam Sylla, Boubacar-Sadio Diallo and Rachid Sadi, looked at how to install charging stations for electric vehicles on campus. The team designed a survey to measure demand, and then reviewed parking areas to see which could accommodate charging stations, which generated positive results. According to Abdul and Louise, this valuable experience will be a real asset once they begin searching for work after graduation. They feel that community service learning gave them a stimulating opportunity to demonstrate their skills in addition to promoting altruism and to expanding their network in the community.
The second team, whose members were Chanel Muhorakeye, Sophie Adjogble, Nia Pryce, Mbwaya Carine Mulumba, Ian Piercy-Douillard and Christopher Allard, proposed ways to transform paper, plastic and organic waste to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. The team researched how such residues are reused in the private sector to select methods that could work at uOttawa. This led the team members to learn more about environmental science and to hone their critical thinking, statistics and financial management skills. Although their volunteer experience was time-consuming and ambitious, both teams felt that it revealed the importance of investing themselves in such projects. By volunteering, the students made a positive difference in their community and took risks that supported their personal development, in addition to expanding their areas of personal interest.
Dorra Jlouli feels that community engagement allows students to develop transferable skills, such as learning strategies, the ability to synthesize data, and critical thinking. It helps them consolidate the knowledge they’ve acquired in their field of studies and raises their awareness of issues and stakeholders at various levels (university, political and private sector). Students get to apply the theories they have learned in class to real-world problems that have genuine implications for the world around them. Volunteering also strengthens the students’ feelings of group solidarity and of adherence to a common cause. Moreover Dorra Jlouli feels that the experiences offered by the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement are un ique and typical of “the University of Ottawa’s responsible commitment to stakeholders, especially students.” In short, working in a volunteer placement is an excellent opportunity for students to hone their skills, apply their knowledge, and build a name for themselves in the community. As suggested by Abdul, Louise, and Sophie, it’s an experience worth trying at least once while studying at the University of Ottawa.
By: Irene Knicely-Coutts
Community Service Learning and French As a Second Language: A Dream Come True For Linguistic, Cultural and Personal Growth
Irene Knicely-Coutts, a fourth year uOttawa arts student with a major in French as a second language (FSL) and a minor in geography, began to get involved in her community when she was nine years old, as a monitor at her elementary school library. When she arrived in Ottawa in 2014, she was looking to get involved in her new city. In 2015, she became an FSL tutor at the Bilingualism Centre. Between two university terms, she volunteered at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, whose mission is to promote biodiversity, control invasive species and restore natural habitats in urban spaces. In winter 2017, Irene chose a volunteer placement assisting students with technology, social media and the internet for a new hybrid course, FLS3791, on the same topic. She was responsible for designing a new web application for the public aimed at FSL students.
Irene liked her experience so much that for the fall 2017 term, she chose to get involved as an FSL tutor in an extracurricular program at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven, while continuing to volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. As a tutor, Irene helped Grade 4 French Immersion students with their French grammar, social sciences and science homework. At the garden, she created a survey on the effectiveness of on-site and online communications strategies regarding the garden’s mission, identification of invasive species, available services and effectiveness of communications methods.
This winter, Irene is both writing articles for the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement and working as a teacher aide for a Grade 4 French Immersion class at Barrhaven Public School. Since starting university, she has chosen the community service learning option five times, along with her extracurricular volunteering.
Irene’s academic and volunteering paths have allowed her to better define her personal and professional interests. Before she became a university FSL tutor, she had thought about doing a PhD and becoming a full-time FSL professor. She discovered instead that she wished to be an elementary school French as a second language teacher. Her volunteer experience has allowed her to improve several skills, such as in communication strategies, critical thinking and leadership. As well, she has overcome obstacles linked to certain diagnosed mental health issues, while improving her soft skills — her ability to deal with strangers, communicate information concisely and manage her emotions in stressful or unpredictable situations.
In addition, learning by immersion through volunteer experiences in a true French-speaking environment is completely different from learning through grammar exercises stripped of context in a classroom. Without interaction with the francophone community, it’s impossible to acquire culturally-based knowledge, such as use of joual (a form of French slang), know-how and social skills. As well, without contact with people, it’s very hard to perfect your accent and learn to speak a second or foreign language fluently.
What the University of Ottawa and Ottawa in general offer is the chance to have this kind of real-world experience outside of classes and work. You can receive consistent feedback from native speakers and work on French pronunciation and sentence structure. In fact, this is a uniquely attractive quality of the University of Ottawa, given Ottawa’s proximity to Gatineau and its importance in Canadian politics as the capital, which must use both official languages.
Irene advises that all anglophones and francophiles who would like to improve their French and second language skills to make the most of community service learning during their studies at uOttawa. It’s an unparalleled experience that can only be offered in Canada’s capital.
By: Irene Knicely-Coutts
What Volunteering Has Given One Student
Giving back to the University community in a meaningful way was the most important factor motivating Robert Dwight Matson to start volunteering. The fourth year Faculty of Science (biochemistry) student had heard of the Foot Patrol in first year during Welcome Week. He decided to join, and has been regularly volunteering with the service. He has completed over 300 hours with the Foot Patrol, and says he’s “gained plenty” from it. He also discovered that the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement could help him get his volunteering hours recognized through the Co-curricular Record, which is issued by the Centre.
In second year, he got involved with the Science Students Association and helped organize Welcome Week for new students. “I had such an amazing time in my first week of university,” he says, “that I wanted to aid the first year students in feeling the same experience.” This has been Robert’s most memorable volunteering experience so far. It is all about sharing happy moments with others. “Despite the weather, the first-year students all seemed to enjoy the week, and I can say that I absolutely loved the experience,” he says.
In fall 2017, Robert learned about the Community Service Learning (CSL) program in his Advanced Techniques in Biosciences course. Through it, he completed a placement with the University of Ottawa’s Office of Risk Management. “The supervisor was great, and it was really nice to volunteer in something that is close to the field that I am studying in,” he says.
For Robert, “volunteering is a very rewarding experience.” It helps you learn more about University of Ottawa services, opportunities and resources. It is also an opportunity to meet people from various programs and improve your communication skills. And it goes without saying that gaining experience with community activities and helping building a better society definitely has a positive effect on one’s studies. “Although you may not at first see a benefit to volunteering in your studies, sometimes the benefits come out of nowhere,” he says.
Animal Studies: An Exploration Of Our Ethical Responsibilities Toward Animals
A new course in Animal Studies was offered for the first time at the University of Ottawa this fall. The course, which was co-taught by Professor Anne Vallely (Department of Classics and Religious Studies) and Professor Sonia Sikka (Department of Philosophy), introduces students to the wide range of historical and contemporary ways in which humans relate to other living beings, including an exploration of our ethical responsibilities toward animals.
Professor Vallely believes that the creation of this course marks an important development for the University, and she hopes it will lead to a minor in Animal Studies. However, she is also concerned that as the study of animal-related issues moves away from the margins of academic interest to become more mainstream, the field will become over-theorized, depoliticized and disconnected from real animals.
With this concern in mind, she contacted the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement to find ways for her students to engage in firsthand experiential learning by working on practical, animal-related issues. For example, some of her students worked on a project to protect Ottawa’s population of endangered little brown bats, while others worked with the uOttawa Office of Campus Sustainability in researching how to create a bird-friendly campus. “The students who are pursuing CSL placements are benefitting others – human and nonhuman alike – and gaining work-related skills in the process.” Professor Vallely added that “CSL has been an invaluable resource for our class, enabling students to bridge theory and practice in ways that would be impossible in a traditional class setting alone.”
Does your organization, service or Faculty work on an animal-related project or initiative that could benefit from the support of students? Contact the Centre and we will gladly discuss your potential needs and priorities with respect to an animal-related CSL component, or any other CSL course component of interest to the general student population.
CSL – Placement With Red deEmpresarias de Nicaragua (REN)
My name is Emilia Macera Deschênes and I study International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa. I am currently undertaking a CO-OP placement at the International Development and Research Centre and will be starting fourth-year next term. I chose this field of study largely because of my interest in world cultures and my experience in community work. Given that I am of Peruvian and Canadian descent, I have always been interested in North-South relations and have often compared lifestyles, policies and systems in both countries.
I heard about Community Service Learning (CSL) as a component in a course on international development finance taught by Professor Philippe Régnier. The Michael Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement partnered with CUSO to offer us placements as international finance researchers for a Nicaraguan NGO called Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN). This organization is a network of Nicaraguan women entrepreneurs that aims to assist its members in becoming economically self-sufficient. My team conducted research on diversifying funding sources to support the activities of this network. We wrote a report incorporating the theoretical aspects found in the course and in Canadian development-assistance policies. We also created a database on potential funding sources from the public and private sectors. We then presented our research findings, which were warmly appreciated by the CUSO team.
What I found exceptional about this placement was the possibility of working remotely without having to organize or pay for all the travel and other expenses associated with an international work term. Overall, this placement enriched my academic experience: it deepening my knowledge of the financing of international development by putting theory into practice. I find that knowledge is important but practical know-how is also beneficial, especially for the job market. Above all, this placement helped me develop my sense of initiative and leadership while helping me hone my communication skills. I also learned how to manage several expectations, including those of my team, the course and the partners, by communicating openly with all those involved in the project. As for my career prospects, this placement helped me expand my network, gain a professional reference, and receive credits while boosting my CV. Our team even received a certificate of appreciation from CUSO for conducting this research!
I would like to thank Professor Philippe Régnier for incorporating this CSL component into his course syllabus. I strongly encourage other professors to contact the MJCGCE for more information on the opportunities available to students. The effort invested in creating these partnerships and services pays significant dividends in terms of our academic and career development. I also encourage all students to get involved outside the classroom and to learn about the resources at their disposal. Don`t hesitate to talk to your professors about CSL so that together, you can create new opportunities within your programs!