Laurier and City of Waterloo to unveil CityStudio

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Wilfrid Laurier University will soon be unveiling the CityStudio project, a newly developed course to be offered through a partnership with the City of Waterloo. The new course, named Social Innovation in the City, is set to be offered in the beginning of January 2017 for the winter term through the department of Global Studies.

This is but a stepping stone, as the course’s leads hope to bring a resolution to Senate later this year asking for the course to be added as part of the university’s social entrepreneurship option. The course is set to be a collaboration between the school and the municipality, where students will work to find creative solutions to some of the issues being faced by Waterloo.

“We will begin to identify particular areas of concern, particular areas of need that the city would like to engage the skills and expertise of these students in,” said John Abraham, assistant professor in Laurier’s global studies department and one of the leads on the courses pilot launch.

“Trying to address them, and trying to come up with some way of fashioning an initiative around them, to create some kind of an impact.”

The CityStudio saw its Canadian debut in Vancouver in 2011, and following several years of success was showcased at a conference to which numerous universities and municipalities from across the country were invited in November 2015, including Laurier and the City of Waterloo.

Given Laurier’s strategic plan’s emphasis on experiential learning, the CityStudio project was soon pursued in Waterloo, and a partnership was established between the municipality and the university.

“We were able to work with them around their concerns – about the project not being meaningful for the city, well we were able to work into our partnership agreement that the projects would align with the pillars of their strategic plan. They were concerned about how we would manage the relationship, and that there was strong accountability, and so we have a governance chart that outlines who is responsible for different aspects of the project,” said Carrie Wright, postdoctoral research associate of Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation.

“They were concerned about it becoming a burden for their staff, and so we were able to go through the curriculum and be very detailed about which sessions where staff participation from the city would be optional.”

In an action which solidified the city’s support for the project, Waterloo city councilors voted on October 17 to approve an initiative whereby the project will have designated space in the basement of Carnegie Library, a historic building that will see the development of a modern classroom akin to Laurier’s current active learning classrooms.

The projects, which will be chosen by students but focused around city initiatives such as economic development, community relations and the environment, will not only allow the city to benefit from the passion and energy of a younger generation, but holds hope that it will bring about greater student engagement with the community outside of the campus bubble.

“It gives our students a sense of rootedness. It gets them engaged, it gets them involved, in understanding the community around them in a way that is otherwise not possible in a classroom setting,” said Abraham. “And hopefully what that translates to in the long-term is that they feel a sense of ownership in the community, around the city here, and that that ultimately enhances their desire to stay on, and to continue to engage these kinds of issues.”

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