Making the most out of the things that matter

Continuing to engage the Calgary community, Mount Royal University’s Ideas that Matter Panel is going beyond the books.

Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of General Education (Gen. Ed), Karim Dharamsi, PhD, is thrilled see the initiative he started three years ago expand into the platform it is today.

Ideas that matter moving beyond books
Ideas that matter is building on engaging the community with books and now film.

On March 30, Ideas that Matter hosted its 6th book panel at Pages in Calgary’s Kensington.

This discussion was based on the book, High Ideals and Noble Intentions, written by Mount Royal Senior Research Associate for the Institute for Non-Profit Studies, Peter Elson.

But that’s not the only thing that had the University out in the community.

Incorporating film into the Ideas that Matter mix, Associate Professor, Mario Trono moderated a flim series discussion on Feb. 26 that had audience members interpreting the meaning of the film The Future is Now.

“The premise of the different ideas that matter initiatives is to extend an invitation to those in the community outside of the University who are animated by concerns sometimes understood as belonging only to academics,” explains Dharamsi.

Turning the page to the big screen

There may be a pre-conceived notion that book and film panels would be similar in discussion, but both events were engaging in different ways.

Heather Nelson, PhD, lecturer in the Department of General Education played a pivotal role in the success of the book panel and film series discussions which both created “an incredibly vibrant discussion.”

The Future is Now follows journalist Liane Balaban and her interaction with Paul Ahmarani.

Ahmarani is a responsible citizen, but disengaged from greater society and believes once he’s dead nothing more matters. Balaban conducts an experiment to see if she can turn his pessimistic view around by sending him on a journey of enlightenment to prove that the future does matter.

“Each discussion was quite different because people who attended the book panel, not all of them read the book, but at the film series event everyone had watched the film, explains Nelson.

“Everyone was able to have some insight on what was discussed for the film series event. If someone didn’t understand a certain part of the film, many people were able to bring their insights and expertise and add their opinions to that question.”

Participating in these events goes full circle for Nelson.

“Students ultimately learn from our engagement within the community,” says Nelson. “We can listen to what others our saying outside of the classroom and bring that back into the lessons we teach.”

The scientific connection

Earlier this year, The Calgary Science School (CSS) approached Mount Royal’s Gen.Ed department to play a role in bringing scientific thought and engagement with faculty into their school programme.

“While this isn’t really an Ideas that Matter initiative, our work with the Calgary Science School extends our community outreach aspirations,” says Dharamsi. “We hope to make science topics that concern academic scientists part of a public conversation.”

And as Ideas that Matter continues to expand, Dharamsi encourages those who want to play a part in faculty engagement to bring their ideas forward.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Sciences and the Department of General Education, Celeste MacConnachie, PhD, is one faculty member whose interest helped spearhead the initiative to get CSS students on campus and hands-on with science.

The first part of the event saw 100 students coming to Mount Royal to learn through different projects ranging from hands-on experiments to philosophical discussions.

“Students took one overall idea and were tasked with examining it through each of the four clusters — Numeracy & Scientific Literacy, Values, Beliefs and Identity, Community and Society, and Communication,” explains MacConnachie.

During the second part of the experience, Mount Royal faculty attended the Calgary Science School and participated with students in their follow-up activities and discussions.

“It was fascinating to watch these students from start to finish because they really learned how to identify with their topic, do the research and translate that into a conclusion,” explains MacConnachie.

Getting out there

For Dharamsi, MacConnachie and Nelson, putting time and energy into these events isn’t a daunting task.

“Being engaged and insightful of different topics is just part of a fulfilling life,” says MacConnachie.

“Initiatives like this ask academics to get out into the community,” Dharamsi says. “The University can often be a safe place for academics.

“Getting out into the community to discuss ideas that matter with members of the community we serve often shows that people have some very perceptive, educated questions and excellent arguments.”

Angela Sengaus, April 19, 2012