CSL Past Projects

Students from ENV1101 course posing in front of their poster

Each year, the Centre provides volunteering opportunities through its Community Service Learning (CSL) program in the National Capital Region. Students opting for a CSL placement have the opportunity to test their skills, develop their abilities and make the link between theory and practice, all while contributing to their community. These volunteer hours are recorded in their Co-Curricular Record (CCR).



Opening the door to health geography

Group of students and professor posing for a picture

There is a growing understanding of the relationships between built environments and health and of the need to develop community-planning strategies that benefit health. Professor Eric Crighton, a health geographer, has offered Community Service Learning in his courses more than half a dozen times. For his Livable Communities, Healthy Cities course (GEG4127), students had an opportunity to get involved in the community and be inspired by researching public health issues from geographical perspective.

When asked about the importance of Community Service Learning and experiential learning, Crighton says that, at the core, it provides students with an opportunity to see how research can be useful and feed into community change. Additionally, it provides students with practical experience, allowing them to explore career paths that they might not have thought about, while also doing good in the community.

Crighton’s class was divided into two groups, which were each assigned a project. The first project was with the Healthy Transportation Coalition. Students examined barriers to accessing public transportation in Ottawa neighbourhoods and ways to improve access. They also conducted a door-to-door survey with local residents, using a questionnaire that they designed.

Students sitting at a table doing research in class

The second project was with the Somerset West Community Health Centre. Students examined challenges to maintaining the supply of low-cost housing in rapidly gentrifying downtown neighbourhoods. Building on previous research on tenants’ perspectives, they conducted in-depth interviews with housing outreach workers, bylaw officers, policy makers and landlords.

For both projects, students presented their results and recommendations to their community partners as a final assignment.

With the projects now wrapping up, Crighton hopes that students have come to understand the relationships between built environments and health, and that the research they conducted has very practical applications. It was not just research for research’s sake, but research that will have a positive impact on the Ottawa community at large.

Canadian youth connecting nationally

Group of students sitting around a boardroom table

One of the objectives of Professor Jennifer Wallner’s Sectoral Issues in Public Policy course (PAP 3350) is for students to gain a solid understanding of the institutions, processes and instruments of Canadian public policy.

“I decided to integrate community service learning into my course to give students a first-hand opportunity to see how policies and strategies are developed in action.” Professor Wallner collaborated with Laurie Chan, whose lab at the University of Ottawa runs the Health Effects Monitoring Program. ‘Working with Laurie Chan’s team also gave students the unique opportunity of engaging in policy development through a non-governmental organization,” says Professer Wallner. “From reviewing student feedback, this project was a phenomenal success!”

Group presentation

The main goal of the Health Effects Monitoring Program is to understand the negative effects of arsenic exposure among residents in Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife. After the lab completed an analysis of the initial data, it began doing outreach activities and communicating the initial findings through local radio, newspapers and even on Facebook, with a focus on reaching the whole population. The project manager at the lab, Renata Rosol, determined the next step in the outreach plan would be aimed at youth. This is where Professor Wallner’s students came in. They began by doing some research and then helped create a regional youth outreach strategy, including providing recommendations on the most effective social media and communication tools.

Group photo of the PAP3350 CSL students

The students’ involvement in the Community Service Learning (CSL) Program and with Laurie Chan’s lab created the perfect opportunity for them to learn about different scientific institutions and understand the process for disseminating scientific discoveries and research findings to the communities affected.

In the first weeks of September, 10 students from the PAP 3350 class met with the project manager, Renata Rosol, to start ironing out the details of a youth outreach strategy. The strategy quickly shaped into three main pillars: conducting outreach on Facebook, engaging with the local schools and sharing captivating visuals to target youth community members.

The goal by the end of the term is to develop a youth outreach strategy aimed at people aged 11 to 25 in Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife and create a plan for key activities to best reach the youth.

Part of the beauty of this project is that, through it, Canadian youth are breaking down geographical boundaries to create an understanding of the negative effects of arsenic exposure among residents in Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife. Students in the PAP 3350 CSL group hope their efforts will not only inform youth about the Health Effects Monitoring Program but also encourage them to drive the conversation and be the agents of change in their communities!

Connecting the community through art

Student volunteer standing in front of the OAG sign

This fall, the Introduction to Community Engagement course (AHL2300) was offered for the first time, in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts. The course has a mandatory placement component — students must complete 30 hours of service. 

By mid-October, Lou Dawoudiah, a third-year arts student, was asking if there was a maximum number of hours she could do at her placement, because she loved it so much.

The placement, with the Ottawa Art Gallery, focuses on a special intergenerational events program. She has been working to help organize and run events in partnership with different community stakeholders, such as youth, seniors, students and people with various physical challenges.

Lou says one of her favourite things about the placement is how much she has been able to learn and integrate into the gallery staff. “The team is as open to my suggestions as I am open to their knowledge,” she says.

Student touching art

When choosing her courses for the fall, Lou says that the community involvement aspect of this course sparked her interest. “To me, community engagement means how to reach people organically.” More specifically, she is very excited to work with the arts community. She says she wants to “demystify the arts,” to break the stereotype that art can only be appreciated by those who can afford it.

To date, her favourite event has been one in collaboration with the Canadian Council of the Blind involving art created specifically to touch and feel. “Accessibility is really important to me,” says Lou. “At the art gallery, I have had the opportunity to practise and learn about it in real time.”

Overall, Lou says that she is very thankful for the opportunity to have such a meaningful placement through a course. She says she loves the hands-on learning approach, applying her studies in real life and making connections in the field. Her advice to students thinking about taking on a course with a CSL component is to do it, because “students can offer really interesting insight and knowledge, so even if you think you have nothing to give, you do.”

By: Ellie Sabourin

A perfect match

Students from the Thirteen program posing for a photo

Parkdale Food Centre does things a little bit differently. A recipient of the Canadian Volunteer Award for Social Innovator in Ontario, this local organization is building healthier neighbourhoods with more connected neighbours through good food, innovative community partnerships and a desire to challenge inequality.

One of the ways it does this is through an initiative called Thirteen: A Social Enterprise. “Thirteen is important because it brings together youth from low income families within our community, and provides training and capacity building to enable them to prosper in life,” says project lead Meagan McVeigh.

Thirteen offered a unique opportunity for a community placement through a new uOttawa course called Introduction to Community Engagement (AHL2300). Part of the new Faculty of Arts Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Social Innovation option, the course includes a mandatory Community Service Learning (CSL) placement for all students.

“I decided to partner with the Centre because I thought it would be beneficial for us. We value new insights and experiences. I thought we could learn something from a new contribution and a university student would represent a good role model for our youth,” says McVeigh. And so, Thirteen offered an exciting opportunity for a youth facilitator for activities and events.

McVeigh has been working with first year Bachelor of Arts student Diana Cailier, who quickly picked the placement from the list of options for her class. McVeigh describes the experience so far as “amazing” and notes that Cailier is “open minded, patient and caring.”

For her part, Cailier shares the same positive sentiments. She has learned about the impact of Thirteen on the lives of our community’s youth, and has had an opportunity to create bonds and learn about different cultures. McVeigh notes that even though the term is not over, the kids in the Thirteen program have benefited from Cailier’s involvement. It’s interesting for them to see a university student collaborating and giving back. Having such a great role model for engagement and professionalism has had a positive impact on them.

Volunteering is integral to Parkdale Food Centre’s overall success and many dedicated volunteers have given of their time and energy to Thirteen to help it grow. Student volunteers can provide a different perspective and can bring additional knowledge and skills to an organization. When asked if organizations should take on student volunteers, McVeigh responds with an enthusiastic “Yes!” She notes that it does not involve the extra work one might think and the benefits are more than expected. We look forward to collaborating with Parkdale Food Centre on its unique programs for years to come.

Commitment, honesty and equality

Student smiling, holding a cell phone

For Leanne Lo, a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Arts program in psychology, Community Service Learning (CSL) has given her the opportunity to apply the psychology theory learned in class in the community that she lives in while also helping her better understand her course material.

Leanne participated in her first extracurricular volunteer placement last fall as a program assistant with the Yet Keen Seniors’ Day Centre at the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC). She completed the hours on her own time out of a desire to give back. Having had a great experience working with SWCHC, Leanne decided to do a CSL placement this term, as part of her community psychology course (PSY4131), with the Centre as part of her Community Psychology class. Her role is to help elderly participants to become familiar with technology, which can be challenging since many seniors aren’t very familiar with this everyday tool of modern life. The program is unique because it assists Chinese seniors, and thanks to Leanne’s Mandarin language skills, she is a great asset to the program. With her ambition and desire to help those in need, Leanne has been able to exceed expectations of her and accomplish her tasks with patience, flexibility and a positive mindset.

The most memorable moment for Leanne so far has been assisting an elderly woman with dementia. She noticed that the client was normally seated alone and did not always interact with others. Leanne found herself trying different approaches in order to engage the client in the activities. Using principles learned in class, Leanne was able to create an amazing experience for this client and gain her trust. These connections with members of the community, and opportunities to build useful skills, are some of the benefits of completing a CSL placement.

Based on her experience, Leanne highly recommends a CSL placement. “uOttawa is very supportive and will guide you. It benefits your inner self,” says Leanne. “Not only does it benefit your inner self but it can provide hands-on experience in your discipline and the possibility to engage in the community as well. It allows an opportunity for growth, while giving back. CSL is a great complement to the traditional academic experience!”

By: Bezo Diarra

Dignity can make a difference

portrait of a volunteer standing next to his supervisor, both smiling

Usama Tahir and his placement supervisor, Heidi Duhaime

Imagine bright lights, alarms beeping in the background and a constant flurry of activity as you call on every ounce of energy in your body, every fibre of your being, to forget the excruciating pain that’s always there, always reminding you of its presence. This is an everyday reality for many chronically ill and palliative patients in health care institutions such as Bruyère Continuing Care’s Saint-Vincent Hospital, according to Usama Tahir, a University of Ottawa medical student.

Tahir explains, “Where suffering can occupy a significant portion of one’s day, it is easy to lose touch with the world outside the confines of a hospital room. This is evident from studies that have indicated that two-thirds of terminally ill patients receiving care reported feeling that dignity — one’s sense of self-respect and worth — was something easily taken away from them by others in a hospital environment.”

In his first year of medicine, Tahir completed a 30-hour Community Service Learning (CSL) placement in Saint-Vincent’s “dignity therapy” (DT) program. “Dignity therapy was developed by Dr. Harvey Chochinov, a psychiatrist from Winnipeg who specializes in palliative care,” says Tracy Luciani, arts and wellness specialist in therapeutic support services (TSS) at Bruyère, who coordinates and mentors CSL students in DT. “Many of our chronically ill and palliative patients have lost their sense of purpose and meaning. Our TSS volunteers spend time with patients taking them to appointments or out to the garden for fresh air or sitting or chatting over a cup of coffee.”

Student taking notes during a volunteer placement

Luciani adds, “We decided in winter 2017 to launch DT as a CSL placement option for medical students because it can offer students early on in their studies opportunities to meet and spend time with patients, learning about their rich lives and seeing patients as more than their diagnosis, ultimately, to humanize patients, so that when medical students become doctors they can carry this approach to caring for their patients.”

Based on the belief that dignity can make the difference between one wishing to live or die, the DT program provides a platform for the hospital’s patients to recount memorable life experiences, relive important accomplishments and record messages for their loved ones. The 40 to 60-minute recorded interviews are then transcribed into a legacy document for them to keep and share with their loved ones.

Exterior photo of St. Vincent Hospital

Tahir feels that there has been a positive outcome from his CSL experience for both his own learning as well as for the individual that he worked with and this person’s family.He explains:“I had the privilege of working with an incredibly inspiring terminally ill patient. Over the span of several weeks, I was a witness to many moving stories and beautiful life experiences. I began by asking this patient open-ended questions. I digitally recorded the hour-long interview that immortalizes this patient’s life history with messages for loved ones and family. I am now in the process of transcribing it into a legacy document.

“My time here has instilled a deeper appreciation for the need to look beyond just the medical condition of patients. The practice of knowing the patient, rather than the disease, fosters principles of kindness, respect and humanity within health care providers. Moreover, I have come to a realization that DT is indeed, and should always be, at the heart of palliative care. Palliative care isn’t just managing pain and symptoms of a terminally ill patient — it is as much the prevention of the fragmentation of one’s sense of being.”

DT will be offered again at Saint-Vincent in winter 2019 for CSL students and will be coordinated by clinical chaplain Roshene Lawson.

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