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Education Grounded in Community Engagement

By June 6, 2020July 23rd, 2020Faculty Blog

St. Stephen’s University has always focused on helping students understand their place in the world, and develop skills to help change the world for the better.  Committed to values of justice, beauty and compassion, we encourage our students to engage with the world around them: with an understanding of the past, compassion for all people, and an appreciation for beauty, we want our students to cultivate and create justice, compassion, and beauty, wherever they go and in whatever they do after graduation. 

Historically, our focus has been the liberal arts, and six terms of academic study have been complemented by two terms abroad, in which students have travelled with faculty and staff, explored cultures and places, met new people, and developed new understandings and competencies.

Now, we are adding a new and important dimension to our life together as a university: a more deliberate engagement with and appreciation of our surrounding community.  Our own lived community is profoundly grounded in our physical environment: the heart of our unique campus is Park Hall, built in 1867 for the family of a shipbuilder.  The original staircase still stands, hewn from black walnut and built by New Brunswick hands.  The wing which is now a student residence was built for immigrant workers at the Ganong Bros. chocolate factory, people who—like many of us—came to NB and made it home.

Rooted

 

The rhythm of our academic life together can be charted by the seasons, so influenced by our location on the St Croix River, an estuary of the powerful Bay of Fundy tides. As we look back over our 45 year history, we grow deeper roots in our region, and realize it is time to engage more deeply here in our community.  We are proud that so many of our graduates have chosen to claim southern NB as home for their families and careers, and celebrate the many connections we have within the social fabric of St. Stephen and the surrounding areas. 

 It is time to be more intentional about who we are and where we live: we are proud to launch a program in community engagement.  From a new first-year course, to internships and experiential education opportunities, to expanded course offerings in community engagement in 2021, we will take more notice of what is unique in NB, and develop an academic program that will equip students to study the people, opportunities and challenges here in southern New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada, with the hopes that students can put new and applicable ideas to work here, and in their own regions, with better understandings of the historical patterns, stories, social demographics, resources, and environments that make our communities what they are.

 “Engagement is Our Natural State”

 

The current pandemic has thrown so many truths into sharp relief: disparities between rich and poor are heightened; desperate shortfalls in social services and healthcare are revealed; our human needs for connectedness, purpose and hope are more evident than ever. Engagement is our natural state, as people come together—virtually, and in so many creative ways—to interact with and support one another. 

We want our students—passionate, curious, empathetic—to learn from the past and the present, and look to the future: we want them to grapple with big ideas, learn to ask the important questions, gain practical skills, discover healthy practices, cultivate hope, and identify what needs to be changed in the world.  We think the best way to do this is by expanding our definition of “academic study” to include community engagement. 

Academics with Action

 

We can’t fix the world’s problems simply through book learning. But thoughtful academic study can be paired with engaging our communities: through partnerships with community organizations, through volunteer opportunities, through work on community projects, through applying research to solve community problems, through connecting with community leaders, through mentorships with activists, and through listening to local people talk about their needs and desires, our students can discover new opportunities, and find new ways to use their education to make our communities healthier, more inclusive, and stronger.  We want our students to be citizens of the world and citizens of the neighbourhood, and to bring their passion, their energy, their curiosity, and their skills to help us all face the future, together.

 

 

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