Expanding Beyond the Classroom

2015-2016 Issue 2

Engagement_Chainon1As an educational institution, the School promises its students the opportunity to learn and connect. These opportunities are often present in the classroom amongst instructors and classmates, but they also lie beyond our campus walls, within the School’s external community.

These opportunities are the result of several ongoing community engagement initiatives, which the Dean of Continuing Studies, Dr. Judith Potter, enthusiastically supports. “Community engagement is reducing barriers and encouraging accessibility, and those are values that push me,” says Dr. Potter. “It also supports what the Principal is trying to do.”

Dr. Potter is referring to McGill University’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier. Fortier’s priorities include enhancing partnerships with the city of Montreal, Quebecers, and McGill’s global community. “I see the School having a significant role to play in that,” says Dr. Potter. “We are an international institution, but we are also embedded in our surroundings.”

The School has several initiatives that reflect those values. Some are brand new, such as a Writing and Community Action course, tentatively scheduled for the 2016-17 school year. Proposed by Sarah Wolfson, a lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre, the goal of the course is to teach undergraduate students strong autobiographical writing skills, and then have them lead autobiographical writing workshops off-campus. Wolfson specifically designed the course as an engaged- learning course, in which students go out into the surrounding community. She’s working with the McGill Social Equity and Diversity Education office to identify partners, which will likely include seniors’ organizations and youth groups that have limited access to creative outlets. “Engaged learning is an opportunity for a university to work with communities beyond our [campus] walls,” says Wolfson. “The effect should be a mutually beneficial experience between McGill students and the community.”

With any luck, these community engagement projects can become sustainable. That has been the case with the Graduate Certificate in Public Relations Management program and Le Chainon, a non-profit organization for women in need in Quebec. Instructor Charles Pitts leads the program’s Public Relations Event Management course, and he was eager to provide his students with a hands-on opportunity to apply their skills. In the fall of 2014, Pitts proposed that the class “find a cause to support and create a real event. And something that will make it very real is making it a fundraiser.” The class ended up hosting a wine-and-cheese event for Le Chainon, and one year later his fall of 2015 class decided to continue the tradition. “We liked the idea of making it an annual contribution,” says student Melissa Legault. The class organized all aspects of the event, and after two years the amount raised from the one-night affair jumped from $1,000 to over $5,000. “They built on the previous year’s success and Le Chainon is thrilled,” says Pitts. So are his students. “Getting a hands-on learning experience was my favourite part of the program,” says Legault. Her classmate Domenica ‘Nikki’ Gear confirmed that the event “made us realize that we are professionals.”

The program’s Communications Planning course has also partnered with local organizations. Instructor Amy Creighton’s students have done case studies for ALS Quebec, Quench magazine, and the Women’s Canadian Club of Montreal. “It’s a very good experience for the students as well as the client,” says Creighton. “The students engage with a living, breathing client with specific needs, and the clients receive excellent materials produced by some really bright students – it’s a win-win.”

Jessica Vingerhoeds-Carbino is hoping for a similar outcome. She’s enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Translation program, and she and two fellow classmates will soon complete their practicum with the Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, a non-profit community organization. “I’m happy to be working with a non-profit,” says Vingerhoeds-Carbino, who’ll receive credits for working on the Centre’s training manuals, website and workshop materials. “We’ll get experience doing both translation and revision work, and I like the idea of helping out and making a difference.”

The School’s students are not the only ones getting involved. The School’s staff, Advisory board, and the McGill Association of Continuing Education Students (MACES) are all founding and supporting community initiatives.

The School’s Language and Intercultural Communication unit has fundraised on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada for a number of years. Established by a staff member whose friend was diagnosed with leukemia, they’ve raised thousands of dollars with bake sales and by participating in the Light the Night Walk. Over the years, the partnership has expanded to include the unit’s Semester Abroad with Internship program, which has placed several international students at the Society as interns. MACES became involved two years ago, holding fundraising events that have included a poker night and a Christmas party. “All the work is done by staff and student volunteers,” says Katherine-Marie Albisi, VP Communication/External Affairs at MACES. “Taking part has been a really rewarding experience.”

In the meantime, Nabil Beitinjaneh, a member of the School’s Advisory board, is involved with Le centre culturel syrien, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those who have been displaced and impacted by the situation in Syria. In December the group organized a benefit concert attended by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, Member of Parliament Marc Miller, and Dr. Judith Potter. With all ticket sale proceeds going to charity and the Canadian government contributing matching funds, a total of $80,000 was raised.

With so many generative activities being done in association with the School, Dr. Potter is “absolutely delighted” with the School’s ongoing engagement with the external community. “As the Dean, I want to do whatever I can to encourage these values and this kind of creativity,” she says. “We are in a privileged position to have the opportunity to give back.”

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