Mount Royal hosts national conference on community-based educationCACSL Conference 2016: Impact for Sustainability

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi provided a nearly 25-minute address to the CACSL Conference 2016 group. In his remarks, Nenshi talked about instilling civic engagement in students and lessons in community building arising from the historic flood of 2013. ~ Photo by Bryan Weismiller

University builds on stellar reputation for supporting service-learning

Leaders in community-based learning joined together at Mount Royal University in late May for a seminal conference on experiential education.

The three-day symposium drew more than 150 academics from across Canada and representatives from Volunteer Canada to campus. Participants shared research and teaching practices related to Community Service Learning (CSL), as well as community engagement.

CSL is an educational approach that blends academic study with meaningful volunteer work, and a strong dose of personal reflection. Conference chair Victoria Calvert highlighted the mutually beneficial relationship that emerges when credit students are paired with community partners in their chosen field.

"CSL contributes to a deep bond of connectivity between the student and community and faculty and community," said Calvert, a professor at the Bissett School of Business and Mount Royal's CSL facilitator. "It impacts both the student perception of their capacity, as well as their commitment to non-profit organizations."

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Professor Victoria Calvert, Mount Royal's Community Service Learning facilitator, listens to Mayor Nenshi speak at the CACSL Conference 2016 on May 25. ~ Photo by Bryan Weismiller

Student involvement with community organizations also contributes to the sustainability of those organizations, she added.

Fittingly, sustainability was the theme of the biennial conference - officially titled "CACSL Conference 2016: Impact for Sustainability."

Calvert explained the theme has multiple touchpoints, although it fits with the long-term impact of some student-led projects. For instance, CSL learners may devise a marketing or communications plan that extends the reach of a non-profit organization. Or, in a more literal sense, Calvert pointed to Earth Science courses with CSL components that contribute to environmental sustainability.

At Mount Royal, service-learning activities are as rich as they are varied.

In the 2015/16 academic year, 25 per cent of Mount Royal students participated in CSL through 42 courses. That translates into nearly 300,000 hours of community service with 475 partner organizations.

In 2013, the University developed a CSL citation for students who complete three courses employing community engagement. Since then, the program has flourished, with more than 400 graduates being recognized this spring.

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Conference goers were invited to participate in off-site visits, including the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area, during the CACSL Conference 2016. They learned about the CSL projects that had taken place at the sprawling site, and enjoy breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains. ~ Photo courtesy of Lynn Moorman

President David Docherty acknowledged Mount Royal's rich history in Community Service Learning, dating back to the '90s when the first CSL courses were incorporated in the former Applied Business and Entrepreneurship degree, which was coincidentally founded by Calvert, who also taught the CSL courses.

"We are considered a national leader in this area," said Docherty. "CSL has grown exponentially across academic disciplines and in every faculty."
The President also saluted all of the dedicated faculty members who facilitate the experiences between students and community partners.

"These individuals are committed to both professional and academic outcomes," he said. "They make in-class learning real. And they strongly advocate for ethical problem-solving, deep reflection and collaboration."

One faculty member with a deep interest in civic engagement is the Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi.

Nenshi taught non-profit management at Mount Royal and helped design the curriculum in the former degree program, prior to taking a leave of absence when he was voted into the city's top job.

In a wide-ranging and colourful address to conference goers, the Mayor talked about the growth of his 3 Things for Calgary social movement, which implores all citizens to engage in acts of community building.

Nenshi also asked the group of educators to think deeply about how they can cultivate a lifelong habit of community service among the students they teach.

"One of the goals, if not the primary goal of community service learning, needs to be to instill a longstanding culture and ethic of civic engagement," he said.

More information on the CACSL Conference 2016: Impact for Sustainability can be found on the conference website.

May 31, 2016 - Bryan Weismiller