Students expand knowledge, civic engagement through Vivacity

'Cross-pollination at its best'

Photo of twenty-one Mount Royal students who took part in Vivacity.

Twenty-one students from Mount Royal took part in this year's edition of Vivacity. The worked in four interdisciplinary teams in the Civic Innovation course that was held at the Central Library.

Exploring, engaging and learning about the city we live in is at the heart of Vivacity, a unique opportunity for post-secondary students to study civic innovation and Calgary’s built environment.

This was the third year for Vivacity, which engages interdisciplinary teams of students. This year, 21 Mount Royal students from eight disciplines took part in Vivacity, which is offered through a Civic Innovation course, says Assistant Professor of social innovation Catherine Pearl, PhD.

“There are no silos. The course is open to any student not only at Mount Royal, but any post-secondary student. Having students from different faculty is really powerful. It’s cross-pollination at its best,” Pearl says. “It provides a chance for students to really learn from one another. A sociology student who’s talking with a marketing student and a computer science student are having a very different conversation than if they were from the same program.”

Each year has a different challenge. This year, students faced two questions: "How might Calgary’s creative and cultural industries help build community and a sense of belonging?"; and, "How might we create awareness about the size, scope and contribution of Calgary's creative and cultural industries?"

Students were divided into four groups and tasked with examining a slice of Calgary’s cultural landscape: literary arts, film and music, performance arts, and visual arts. Based on the completion of a skill inventory sheet, groups were established to leverage skills and cross-pollinate each of the four teams.

The opportunity to expand beyond the boundaries of his faculty is what drew Curtis Wong to the course. The Calgarian is entering his fourth year of studies in the Bachelor of Arts — Anthropology program in the fall.

“This was also a chance to experience more on-the-ground, applied learning. The course was up my alley based on my interest in working within a local space and local government, as well,” says Wong, who was placed in the music/film cluster along with students studying information design and business.

Photo of students sketching a prototype of their citizen experiment.

After developing prototypes of their citizen experiments, the student groups presented them to a 10-person panel for feedback. 

‘A unique and valuable experience’

The course was held weekly at the downtown Central Library. Having students gather outside of campus was another tool to break people out of their comfort zone and interact on neutral ground. The program included collaboration with Calgary Arts Development (CAD), Calgary Economic Development (CED) and the City of Calgary as well.

CAD provided artists as mentors who worked with student teams, as did City Hall, CED and the Calgary Public Library. The mentors and coaches — including Mount Royal staff — joined each week to support student learning as they collaborated on the citizen experiments. Alumni of the course also spent time with each of the teams and included Kolten Nelson, Xander Jensen, Amanda Morton, Mackenzie Johnson and Sarah Ali.

“The biggest opportunity for me was the networking and the exposure we received in class. Each week was jam-packed with people coming in for talks and group work,” Wong says. “It was such a unique and valuable experience. It was a lot of work, but we really got into the application of knowledge.”

His group looked at how people feel about live music in Calgary. After much brainstorming and revision, the group designed its “citizen experiment.” They wanted participants to rate factors such as inclusivity and exclusivity and affordability as they related to live music experiences they’d taken part in. The goal was to have people then look at others’ ratings and experiences, which would lead to conversation and understanding. (Read more about it in this blog post on the Vivacity website.)

Roshni McCartney — going into her third year of study in the Bachelor of Business Administration program — was also in the music/film cluster.

“So many people only think about the big concert venues, like the Jubilee or Arts Commons, but there are so many smaller, coffee shop-type venues,” McCartney says. “We wanted to open people’s eyes to what Calgary has. We also wanted to look at the gaps: is a venue too small? Is it too far out to attract an audience?”

Photo of mentors and coaches meeting with students at the Central Library.

Mentors and coaches joined the students during their weekly class, held at the Central Library.

Outside lens reflective of workplace expectations

Vivacity started as a 24-Hour Challenge event for post-secondary students in 2013. It’s grown into a three-credit interdisciplinary course providing opportunities for students to learn about their city and become engaged in it. The course builds on four key areas: 

  • innovative curriculum
  • community engagement
  • changemaking and prototyping
  • multi stakeholder cross-pollination

It’s a demanding course, Pearl says, that operates differently than what students are used to. Halfway through, students had to present their prototype to a 10-member panel. It was then up to the students to determine what to do with that feedback. For some, the input led to a few tweaks, while others were encouraged to pivot their entire project. (The performing arts cluster, for instance, documented their prototyping journey on a blog post on the Vivacity website.) Having that outside lens is reflective of what students will experience in the workplace, Pearl says.

Despite being unable to present her group’s project in the final showcase where attendees would test drive the prototypes, McCartney remains a huge fan of the course. While she jokes that she will talk to her friends for hours about what she learned through Vivacity, she thinks Pearl’s course should be required for all students at Mount Royal.

“The work challenged my perceptions of Calgary. It really opens your eyes to our city and the different ways you can impact living here,” McCartney says. “I also learned a lot of skills that will be transferable to my university career. Human-centred design is a fascinating topic. I want to learn more about it and how to apply it.”

May 6, 2020 — Ruth Myles

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