Engage Western helps put ‘wheels in motion’

By Paul Mayne
November 21, 2013

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Engage WesternPaul Mayne, Western News
Western professor Cheryl Forchuk, associate director of Nursing Research at the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, was part of a panel discussion at Engage Western sharing perspectives and stories about the ways academic institutions partner with their community. 

With the opportunity to highlight the important ties made between an educational institution and its local community, last week’s Engage Western event was also an opportunity to advocate ways to strengthen these partnerships.

Engage Western brought together representatives from Western, Fanshawe College, the London community, as well as government of all levels, to share perspectives and stories about the ways academic institutions partner with their communities. 

The event, part of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s Open Doors, Open Knowledge national campaign, was echoed at universities across the country this month.

Martin Taylor, a special advisor for Community Based Research Canada, said universities and communities are coming together in order to make a difference across the country.

“There are institutions that have the responsibility to encourage, promote this kind of activity,” said Taylor during a panel discussion that kicked-off the day-long session. “Universities need to play a role not only locally, but globally. Those who feel that universities are simply lobbing the ideas over the fence and hoping someone will pick them up are mistaken.”

He added, however, universities need to be asking the right questions if change is to be initiated.

“It’s easy for us, as universities, to feel we don’t need to be structured in what we ask. If we don’t ask the right questions, the answers we come up with will not necessarily be the right target we’re looking at,” Taylor said. “We also need to engage the right players. These ingredients are what is needed to make a difference.”

Western professor Cheryl Forchuk, associate director of Nursing Research at the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, said her research on support for psychiatric consumers/survivors depends heavily on the engagement of the community.

“I could not do the work I do without the partnerships that have been made in the community,” she said.

In her role as community collaboration program manager with London’s Pillar Nonprofit Network, Maureen Spencer Golovchenko said being able to collaborate with key players on campus, such as Forchuk and others, shows what is possible when collaborations make a collective impact.

“It’s really important the community, and the world, know that autocratic leadership, top-down leadership or dictoral leadership is not the way to affect true community change,” she said. “We must speak to the people who live and breathe what life is all about in the community and create that interaction. And I’m hopeful more and more people in leadership roles – be it in academia, government or business – understand every sector has a role to play. With that collaborative leadership, and that togetherness, change happens.”

Spencer Golovchenko added the goal of Pillar is to contribute to a healthier, more vibrant community.

“We have wonderful and dedicated people working every day in the community,” she said. “What we want to do is combine our resources with the brilliant people up on campus, to listen to them, work with them and, wow, we can make a change in our community. No one sector can solve all the complex issues; there is a role for everybody.

“We need all the wheels in motion.”

And those wheels need to include students, said Rick Ezekiel, experiential learning team coordinator at Western’s Student Success Centre.

“The partnerships and relationships we engage in are always reciprocal in nature,” he said. “To the community, the students and the university itself, it’s an opportunity for us to open the door to the community for our students because these student can be the drivers of change.”

Engage Western, presented by Western’s Student Success Centre and Public Humanities @ Western, wrapped up the day with Stories of Health at Western, a public storytelling initiative and community-engaged research project.

Anne-Marie Fischer, community service learning coordinator with the Student Success Centre, said the diverse perspectives on community-university engagement set a strong foundation for further dialogue and initiatives on community/university engagement.

“We hope that Engage Western serves to increase the dialogue about the great potential that exists when universities partner with communities,” said Fischer, adding there are possible ideas proposed for future events to help build connections between communities and the faculty, staff, students and researchers at Western.

Fischer said the Campus Community Connections Working Group, which meets regularly to promote community/university engagement, hopes to build on this past week’s gathering to build a strong infrastructure at Western to promote mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships.


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