Student Success

Service Learning adds value for students and our community

Students present their projects to residents during their final visit to Northwood’s Halifax Campus.

Students present their projects to residents during their final visit to Northwood’s Halifax Campus.

There was excitement buzzing in the lounge on the on the top floor of Northwood’s seniors home as residents awaited a presentation from Terry Goldsmith’s CSCI 3428 Software Engineering class.

The students took part in a Service Learning project, which combines course curriculum with community-based experiences. Their task over the fall term was to create inclusive software for residents of the long-term care facility in Halifax.

After speaking with residents and occupational therapists to discover their unique wants and needs, the students worked in groups to come up with concepts such as voice-activated software, messaging apps, and an online calendar for use in the facility. They then made modifications based on feedback from their clients.

“As a professor, and a continuing care assistant, I witnessed something truly amazing when this bright and energetic group of residents worked with my class of 30 software engineering students,” said Goldsmith.

“I saw software engineers taking on the role of continuing care assistant, and residents taking on the role of software engineer. They could learn together, because of the opportunity service learning provided,” he said.

Feedback from residents included suggestions to use voice-activated commands, face recognition capability, and requests for colours that work best for people with vision issues – black and yellow is a popular combination, explained Margaret Szabo, Director of Business Development at Northwood.

“Memos are also a useful feature, easing anxiety for people who have memory issues,” she said, adding that being able to complete any tasks in two clicks or less is also ideal.

“It’s amazing how quickly the students learn to take feedback, reflect, and change; there’s a big difference from when we started in September to the final presentations in November,” said Sarah Bray, Service Learning Placement Coordinator, Student Affairs & Services at Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s students help Northwood resident Trudie Helmke.

Saint Mary’s students help Northwood resident Trudie Helmke.

Northwood resident Trudie Helmke was particularly impressed by the team that built a voice-controlled virtual assistant that they named Ellen.

When asked if she would use one of the apps if it were made available, Helmke said she would.

“I’ve been telling others about Ellen who would love to use it because they don’t want to keep spending money on [other similar products]… I’ve been spreading the word,” she said.

The benefits of service learning, the networking, and the connections with clients can last long after the courses end.

“It becomes real, you have to get out of the classroom and out of your comfort zone,” said Bray.

“These are skills that will serve these students in other classes and in future careers, while encouraging them to reflect on personal values, assumptions, and issues of social responsibility,” she said.

To learn more:

Service Learning opportunities for students
Service Learning Courses
Information for Faculty


Saint Mary’s venture capital students invest in haircut house calls


House calls for haircuts proved to be to be a cut above the competition and too good an investment to pass up for Saint Mary’s University’s Venture Grade Fund. They are investing $15,000 in Cribcut, an online booking service that connects consumers with top hair stylists that bring the salon to them.

“Cribcut has a novel business model that we are proud to support,” said Saint Mary’s student and Venture Grade Associate Emma Scott. “We are confident in David’s lean startup methodology and experience as a serial entrepreneur who’s exited three past ventures and one in Silicon Valley. Cribcut is positioned to be a major disruptor in the beauty industry.

Cribcut was co-founded by serial entrepreneur David Howe, who has built and deployed a software-enabled marketplace for hairstylists. Cribcut's solution helps stylists become travelling hairdressers - providing clients with haircuts, colors, and styles at their homes and offices. Cribcut's software solution helps stylists with bookings, travel optimization, payments and ratings. Cribcut also facilitates new client introductions for stylists. Bookings can be made through their online booking app with on-demand appointments available.

 "We're happy to welcome Venture Grade as one of our investors,” said David Howe, the Chief Executive Officer with Cribcut. “We're confident that this investment will help us continue growth and product development and set us up for further funding over the coming months. We look forward to a mutually beneficial partnership with Venture Grade and welcome them with open arms to our growing team."

Should the company experience a successful exit, meaning if they are purchased for a large sum, the investors, including Venture Grade, will receive a payout scaled to the purchase. Any returns made on Venture Grade’s investments are returned to Venture Grade, the student fund.

The Saint Mary’s University Venture Grade Fund is a student-raised and run venture capital fund and the first student-raised venture capital investment fund in Canada in which the students raise the capital.

The fund was started by students of Dr. Ellen Farrell at the Sobey School of Business in fall 2016, with a connection to Silicon Valley’s C100 group, Boston’s Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England, and initial support from Innovacorp. It has expanded to include members at other Atlantic universities including Acadia University, Dalhousie University, and Memorial University.

Saint Mary's home to YMCA Peace Medal winner and champion for peace

Representatives from Saint Mary’s University recently participated in a conference on peace in Northern Ireland. The conference, “Twenty Years of Peace: Progress and Possibilities in Northern Ireland,” took place at Yale University on November 29 and 30.

The symposium brought together academics, community leaders, politicians and architects of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which in 1998 marked a formal end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

“Our Northern Ireland Peace Education Program has existed for 14 of the past 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement,” notes Bridget Brownlow, SMU’s Conflict Resolution Advisor and President of Peaceful Schools International.  

She and Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s, attended as invited discussants at the symposium on Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Summerby-Murray’s academic research and teaching interests include cultural and historical geography in Northern Ireland; and he has been a strong champion for SMU’s collaboration with Peaceful Schools International, as well as experiential learning and global engagement.

Brownlow, who recently received the 2018 Peace Medal from the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth in November, was also part of a public panel session. Her session at the Yale event , “The Future(s) of Northern Ireland,” was chaired by Dr. Richard N. Hasse, an American diplomat long involved in efforts toward Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Participants included Simon Coveney, Tánaiste (deputy head) of the government of Ireland; Karen Bradley, British MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; General John de Chastelain, a member of the International Advisory Board for Peaceful Schools International; and others.

“My role was to speak to the unique and progressive nature of our peace education programming, whereby we are sharing the same peace education resources locally as we are with children in Northern Ireland,” says Brownlow.

“We have 14 years of very positive relationships with educators and more than 20 primary schools in Belfast, and those relationships are as strong as ever. It’s not unusual to hear people there say ‘the world has forgotten about us’. It’s always very reassuring that they know we at Saint Mary’s University and Peaceful Schools International have not forgotten about the people living in a post-conflict Northern Ireland.”

Saint Mary’s is also keen to continue a working relationship with researchers at Yale in relation to peace education. Brownlow and Dr. Bonnie Weir, a political science professor at Yale, are looking at ways for the two universities to collaborate.

Last month, with support from SMU and SMUSA, Peaceful Schools International launched three new storybooks written and illustrated by three Halifax junior high students. The resource books will be distributed to elementary schools in Nova Scotia and during the next SMU visit to Northern Ireland in February.

The books have generated a great deal of interest – more detail can be found in these recent media reports: