Partnerships

Peace education continues through new children's books

Peaceful Schools International (PSI) is collaborating again with three young author/illustrators to create new series of children’s books that teach conflict resolution…this time with a Saint Mary’s twist.

Last fall, with support from the Faculty of Education and in conjunction with the university and SMUSA, PSI launched Animal SchoolThe Enchantress from Canada and The Fairy Ring, created by Grade 8 students Amelia Penney-Crocker, Ruby Jangaard and Marin DeWolfe.

This unique project gained national and regional media attention and plenty of positive feedback…sparking the idea to continue the work.

 “So far, our research indicates that these are the only books of their kind…written by children, for children, on peace education,” says Bridget Brownlow, SMU’s Conflict Resolution Advisor and President of Peaceful Schools International. “There is a clear absence of these types of books, so we wanted to continue this project again this year.”

The new stories will be set on Saint Mary’s campus – an idea Brownlow attributes to PSI board member,  Dr. Rohini Bannerjee., Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Classics, who suggested a campus wide initiative involving peace education and conflict resolution.

“The new series focuses exclusively on characters and situations that are directly associated with and take place on the Saint Mary's campus - all centred around how to peacefully resolve conflicts through the eyes of children,” says Brownlow.

On Saturday, June 22, 20 children from local partner elementary schools came to campus for a special brainstorming session with the young authors and editors. The diverse group of students along with their parents/guardians were welcomed to campus by President Summerby-Murray and SMUSA President Mary Navas.

The stories will feature a new set of characters called the 'Saint Mary’s Snippets' who live on campus and assist our university community with different ways to peacefully resolve conflicts. The children toured the campus and then brainstormed scenarios and ideas, giving the young authors plenty of fodder to help create the books over the summer months.

The project is one that touches many parts of the Saint Mary’s community.

“Support from the Faculty of Education has been tremendous,” says Brownlow. “We are really indebted to the Faculty of Education, especially Dr. Anthony O’Malley,  Dr. Esther Enns and Johnny Shaw for helping make these books a reality.”

Some of the children of faculty and staff attended the brainstorming session, and the books will be translated into a variety of languages-- including Irish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, German, Japanese -- by Saint Mary’s students, faculty and staff.

Related stories:

https://news.smu.ca/news/2018/10/25/peaceful-schools-international-launches-new-books-to-help-children-navigate-conflict?rq=Peaceful%20school

Saint Mary's signs MOU with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre

SMU Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell; Saint Mary’s President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre; Elder Debbie Eisan; and Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs & Services.

SMU Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell; Saint Mary’s President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre; Elder Debbie Eisan; and Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs & Services.

Saint Mary’s has taken another step forward on the path towards reconciliation.

This month Dr. Rob Summerby-Murray and Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre (MNFC) signed an important MOU that strengthens connection and collaboration between the two organizations.

The Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre helps provide social-based programming for Urban Aboriginal People and serves a focal point for the urban Aboriginal community to gather. The new MOU creates a partnership that will see Saint Mary’s consult the Friendship Centre on the development of appropriate protocols for on-campus activities and enhancing support for Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Another key part of the agreement is that the MNFC will provide an Elder on Campus four hours per week, a role now being filled by Elder Debbie Eisan.

Elder Debbie Eisan was on hand for the signing and told the group that Indigenous students at local highschools are increasingly aware of the work happening at Saint Mary’s and appreciate knowing that Indigenous Student Advisor Raymond Sewell is available to them.

“We are really excited about how the MOU articulates the mutual desire to strengthen connections between Saint Mary’s University and the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre,” says Tom Brophy, Senior Director, Student Affairs and Services. “It opens the door for the MNFC to provide support and advice to Saint Mary’s as we move to continue to improve the experience of the Indigenous students and Indigenous culture on campus broadly.”

“I am delighted that we have taken this important step together,” said Dr. Summerby-Murray. “Saint Mary’s is looking forward to the many opportunities to collaborate on Indigenous-related programming, Indigenous-focused projects, research and of course enhancing learning opportunities for Indigenous students.”

An official celebration of the MOU signing is being planned for fall 2019.

Young historians shine at Provincial Heritage Fair

The future of history is in great hands, if the Nova Scotia Provincial Heritage Fair is any indication.

Eighty students from across the province showcased their excellent and informative history projects on June 6 and 7, in the McNally Theatre Auditorium at Saint Mary’s University. Ranging from Grades 4 to 9, the students researched everything from local theatre and Louisbourg to maple syrup and “Canadian stereotypes, eh?”

With a new award this year for military heritage, some projects reflected Nova Scotian involvement in the Second World War, particularly poignant as the fair coincided with 75th anniversary commemorations for D-Day. Other new awards recognized student research in African heritage topics, environmental history, equity and justice, immigration studies, the history of science and technology, and more.

Cultural heritage also had a strong showing, with detailed projects about Viola Desmond, the ‘60s Scoop, an Inuit family tree, the Underground Railroad, Portuguese and Dutch immigration to Canada, Celtic fiddles and Acadian culture.

Many students found inspiration in their own families, including a Grade 6 girl from Bridgewater researched Portia White, “whose brother Lorne was my great grandfather”. A Grade 6 boy from Albert Bridge, Cape Breton, chronicled the history of Sydney Steel, where his grandfather and great grandfather both worked. “It was definitely a tough job,” he said.

The projects were winners at regional fairs across the province before coming to SMU. The Provincial Fair judges are all professionals active in the fields of culture, history and heritage – professors from the SMU Faculty of Arts, archivists, librarians, museum curators, museum interpreters and more.

The student delegates and their chaperones stayed overnight on campus in residence. They also took part in workshops at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, creating their own folk art inspired by Maud Lewis, who was the theme for this year’s event. Africville will be the focus for next year’s Nova Scotia Heritage Day and the Provincial Fair.

Follow the Nova Scotia Provincial Heritage Fair on its website, on Facebook at @novascotiaheritagefairs, and on Instagram at nsprovincialheritagefair.

Dr. Ellen Farrell releases research findings on Atlantic entrepreneurial ecosystem

Dr. Ellen Farrell

Dr. Ellen Farrell

Global relationships key to healthy startup community says new research

A major research project from Saint Mary’s University suggests Atlantic Canadian startup businesses need to look further afield for innovation, information and funding.

A three-year, $210,000 research project exploring the startup community in Atlantic Canada has delivered its final report. The research shows that while the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is highly interconnected, companies can achieve greater benefit by reaching out globally for information on technology and product solutions. By relying more on “weak ties” or relationships outside of the Atlantic region or Canada, the Atlantic entrepreneurial ecosystem can improve innovation and results. The research also suggests firms explore venture capital availability outside of the Atlantic region.

“Our study looked at the “knowledge-seeking behaviours” of startups. We found that the Atlantic region is highly connected. One great opportunity lies in encouraging startups to extend their global reach for product and technology information, taking advantage of “weak ties” such as acquaintances, because this can help develop new innovations,” said Dr. Ellen Farrell. “As it is, the world is beating a path to our door to purchase our Atlantic Canadian equity,” she says, citing examples like the purchase of Atlantic businesses Radian 6 and Go Instant by Salesforce, and Quintiles IMS’s recent acquisition of STI Technologies.

The report points to more work to be done by mature firms to support growing businesses. A call to action in the report offers a long list of suggestions for ways these firms can support startups, including testing prototypes, lending talent or equipment, and providing an entry introduction into an industry network of contacts.

“Saint Mary’s University is dedicated to fostering both the foundational and community-engaged research efforts of our professors. This project of Dr. Farrell and her team is an excellent example of research that supports our community and directly impacts the health of our region’s economy,” says Saint Mary’s University Associate Vice-President Research, Dr. Adam Sarty.

“This applied research has already helped inform start-up founders, policy makers and other members of the ecosystem it describes. Dr. Farrell’s work complements her teaching in entrepreneurship, and is key in building a culture of innovation with an entrepreneurial approach to both business development and general problem solving.”

A team led by Dr. Ellen Farrell, a management professor at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University, conducted the research, which was based on a study Dr. Farrell undertook in 2014. The team was comprised of eleven researchers plus graduate and undergraduate students from six universities across the region. Federal funding to support the project came from ACOA’s Atlantic Policy Research Initiative.

Saint Mary’s expands cross-border education ties with China

Students in business programs at Guangzhou College, South China University of Technology (GCU) will have added opportunities to transfer to Saint Mary’s after two years and complete their degree at the Sobey School of Business.

A senior delegation from GCU was on campus this week to sign an enhanced Transfer Credit Agreement, paving the way for closer ties with one of China’s most renowned independent colleges. Executive Vice-President Zhixin Zeng, Vice-President Ying Lin, Dean of the International Business School and Director of the International Office Liguang Wu and International Office Program Coordinator Huijing Huang held a series of meetings with their counterparts at Saint Mary’s on Monday, April 15.

Mr. Zeng suggested that GCU’s visit to campus reflected the growing ties between the two universities, while Mr. Lin commented that the new Transfer Credit Agreement opened the door to exciting new possibilities for international cooperation between the two institutions.

Celebrating a Longstanding Partnership

In the years since the signing of an initial MOU in 2011, designed to foster academic and educational cooperation between Guangzhou College and Saint Mary’s, around 60 students have come to campus – some to complete their third and fourth years of their degree as part of the 2+2 agreement with the Sobey School of Business, others to take the Master of Finance Program. Many of the 25 students currently enrolled at Saint Mary’s enjoyed a dinner on Sunday hosted by their alma mater in China to celebrate the arrival of the delegation to Halifax.

Meeting with the delegation on Monday, Dr Summerby-Murray, President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s, said that the University was committed to building on the strong foundation of academic partnership between the two universities. This week’s visit, he said, was also an important affirmation of people-to-people connections between Canada and China. As “Canada’s International University”, Saint Mary’s is proud to be recognized as a national leader in building bridges between the two countries, he said.

Guangzhou College of South China University of Technology is a large primarily undergraduate institution with more than 21,000 full-time students who can choose from 35 programs offered through 14 schools. Its 283-acre campus is located just outside Guangzhou city in China’s Pearl River Delta, home to more than 120 million people a major centre of technology and innovation.

Ancient vapours are helping researchers identify gold deposits in Nova Scotia

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Kevin Neyedley, left, and Dr. Jacob Hanley of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are doing research supported by Nova Scotia’s Mineral Resources Development Fund. (Photo: Kelly Clark/Communications Nova Scotia)

Vapour trails from an ancient volcano may point the way to an economic opportunity in modern-day Nova Scotia.

Researchers at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are using the composition of ancient volcanic vapours, trapped in tiny fragments in rocks, and other geological features, to learn more about a type of precious metal deposit called epithermal gold. Their work over the past year was supported by the province’s Mineral Resources Development Fund.

Geology professor Dr. Jacob Hanley said the project’s goal is to gather information on how and when the gold deposits formed, and to generate exploration criteria that may predict where the highest concentrations of gold may be found in the province. Giving companies a better idea where to explore has financial and environmental benefits.

“The more information we gain about where the deposits are sitting in this vast array of rocks which we have in the province, the better off the environment will be. The overall footprint is smaller in terms of that activity.”

Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received a $47,500 grant from the development fund in 2018 for their project, which focuses on deposits in the Eastern Cobequid Highlands. The area is about 50 kilometres north of Truro, Nova Scotia.

Continue reading the full article from the Department of Energy and Mines.

Mineral Resources Development Fund expansion announced at Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette. (Photo: Kelly Clark/CNS)

Businesses, prospectors and researchers now have more support for innovative projects in the mining sector as the result of a provincial government announcement at Saint Mary’s University.

As part of Budget 2019-20, the province is increasing the Mineral Resources Development Fund by $800,000 to a total of $1.5 million. Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette opened the fund to applications in an event at Saint Mary’s on April 9.

“Mining is a globally competitive sector that creates career opportunities for our young people, while generating revenue for programs and services that benefit all Nova Scotians,” said Minister Mombourquette. “These investments make connections and develop new ideas that help our companies stay at the forefront of technology and environmental protection.”

Saint Mary’s University Professor Dr. Jacob Hanley and PhD student Kevin Neyedley received $47,500 from the fund in 2018. They are working on research and gathering geological information about how strategic minerals formed. This will help identify where deposits may be located and then extracted with minimal environmental impact.

“It is vitally important for Nova Scotians to have access to the most current scientific knowledge, gathered using cutting edge research tools,” said Dr. Hanley.

“Our research can help attract companies by reducing exploration costs for industry and reduce the impact that grass-roots exploration has on the environment through narrowing the size of mineral deposit targets,” said Mr. Neyedley.

Last year, the province supported 28 projects including mineral exploration programs, professional development, innovation, university research and training opportunities for young people.

Saint Mary's research projects with big industry impact

The Office of Innovation and Community Engagement at Saint Mary’s is a small office that delivers a big impact.

A recently-released progress report highlights a few projects that Saint Mary’s faculty members have been working on in collaboration with industry partners, including:

  • Dr. Jason Rhinelander’s partnership with LED Roadway Lighting has allowed him to lend his expertise in artificial intelligence and object recognition to evaluate the accuracy of an adaptive radar-based sensor platform for pedestrian and vehicle recognition at streetlight intersections.

  • RetailDeep uses innovative facial recognition software to enhance the shopping experience in stores, collect data from clients, and pinpoint opportunities to innovate within the retail space.

  • A partnership between Coloursmith Labs and Saint Mary’s researcher Dr. Danielle Tokarz has led to a breakthrough in treatment for colour blindness. Along with her team, Dr. Tokarz helped the startup company refine the focus of their research efforts and identify the appropriate nanoparticles and gels for the lenses. 

“Our office also takes pride in pairing faculty members with industry, helping to facilitate solutions to local companies’ problems using academic expertise, said Kevin Buchan, Director of the Office of Innovation and Community Engagement. “It’s also a great opportunity for students, the next generation of researchers, to work on applied projects in their fields.”

“We’re encouraged by the success we’ve had so far, and we look forward to doing more of these innovative projects,” said Buchan.  

 Click here to read the progress report, featuring researchers from all faculties at Saint Mary’s, and their partners, click here.

 ABOUT OICE:

The Office of Innovation and Community Engagement (OICE) facilitates research relationships between Saint Mary’s University and companies, government departments, and community organizations. OICE is the initial point of contact for faculty members and external partners wishing to collaborate. The office assists with finding suitable expertise, contract development, and advises on funding opportunities.

Maximizing land use and earning more money for farmers part of new federally funded research at SMU

Research into how poor-quality, marginal land can be used to produce biomass as a potential revenue stream for farmers underway at Saint Mary’s University received $1.2 million in funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriScience program and the Nova Scotia Innovation Hub Fund.

“Community is at the heart of all that we do at Saint Mary’s University, including our research,” said Saint Mary’s president Robert Summerby-Murray. “We are committed to working with the community and sharing our expertise to find innovative solutions to real-world challenges. I want to thank the Government of Canada for supporting Atlantic Canadian researchers who are at the forefront of agricultural research, research that will benefit us all.”

Dr. J. Kevin Vessey

Dr. J. Kevin Vessey

Led by Dr. J. Kevin Vessey, the project receiving funding is called “Purpose-Grown Biomass Crops: Efficient Production, Yield Modelling and Real-world Verification.” The five-year project aims to determine what substances and organisms best promote plant growth and decrease production costs in a variety of plants including willow and switchgrass. The project will assess the yield potential of the crops on marginal soil areas on farms and AAFC research sites across Nova Scotia. The result is a database and yield prediction model for the four crops under examination.

“The long-term goal of my research is to enhance the bioeconomy, the part of the economy that uses renewable biological resources from the land and sea, of Nova Scotia. To do this we need to increase the production of biomass for processing into biofuels and other bioproducts in a sustainable way,” said Dr. Vessey.  “This research is crucial to de-risking the use of biomass by providing a sustainable feedstock supply, which can attract more biomass processors to Nova Scotia. It has the potential of greatly diversifying the Province’s biomass feedstock inventory, while also contributing to rural economies and environmental sustainability.”

Sites for the project extend from Yarmouth to Inverness County. Partners on the project include: Acadian Seaplant Ltd, ADECO BioResources Inc., The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, Port Hawkesbury Paper, and Propel Bioenergy.

The funding comes as part of the federal Biomass Cluster announced by Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The Cluster, led by the BioFuelNet Canada Network, includes a federal investment of up to $7 million along with an additional $3.1 million in contributions from industry, for a total investment of $10.1 million.

Preparing students for the workforce, supporting entrepreneurship focus of new RBC-SMU partnership

rbcsmu-1771.jpg

A new partnership between Saint Mary’s University and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) will create new co-operative education positions and expand entrepreneurial coaching, skill building and mentoring for Saint Mary’s students.

On Thursday, Feb.14, 2019, Saint Mary’s University and the RBC Future Launch Program announced the establishment of the RBC Talent Hub at the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre. The partnership is supported by a gift of $695,000 over three years from the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch. The new RBC Talent Hub will encompass four initiatives designed to expand cooperative education and entrepreneurship opportunities for Saint Mary’s students.

“As a national leader in business education, Saint Mary’s has a history of driving entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Saint Mary’s University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray. “Through this new partnership, we are looking to bridge the gap between the needs of our changing economy and what students are learning. Together with RBC, we can better prepare our students for the workforce and support the growth of Saint Mary’s as a key driver of entrepreneurial culture and success in our region.”

Chris Ronald, RBC Regional President, Atlantic provinces and Saint Mary’s University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray

Chris Ronald, RBC Regional President, Atlantic provinces and Saint Mary’s University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray

RBC Future Launch is a 10-year, $500 million commitment to empowering Canadian youth for the jobs of tomorrow. With a focus on networking, skills development, practical work experience and mental wellbeing supports and services, the initiative aims to help break down the barriers facing young people.

“Canada is at a transition point, economically, socially and technologically, and universities play an important role in positioning our country for tomorrow,” said Chris Ronald, RBC Regional President, Atlantic provinces.  “Our country’s future prosperity will depend on our young people and their ability to lead us forward, which is why we are so proud to help bring students high quality experiential learning opportunities through the RBC Talent Hub.”

The RBC Talent Hub Program will consist of:

•      Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program: rotating, nationally recognized EIRs who will coach and mentor students and help connect local entrepreneur-led businesses with co-operative education opportunities.

•      Entrepreneurial Mindset Success Certificate: multi-level skilled entrepreneurship training workshops for Saint Mary’s students.

•      Student Consultant Team: co-operative education students will run this self-led student consulting practice focused on the needs of entrepreneur-led businesses.

•      Talent Fund: fund student co-op placements in the region and support opportunities for students to grow their own business as part of a co-op term.

Gregg Curwin (BComm’90), the inaugural RBC Entrepreneur in Residence

Gregg Curwin (BComm’90), the inaugural RBC Entrepreneur in Residence

Chris Ronald also announced the inaugural RBC Entrepreneur in Residence.  An innovative alumnus and industry disruptor with decades of business experience, Gregg Curwin (BComm’90) is the director, and former president & CEO, of TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture, a company that has created an indoor farming system to grow fresh plants for food and medicines. In his advisory role as EIR, Curwin will work within Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre to coach and mentor students and help to build relationships with regional entrepreneurs.

“I am thrilled to be a part of this partnership between Saint Mary’s and RBC,” said Curwin. “This type of forward-thinking approach is exactly what is needed to prepare students for the demands of the workforce and the opportunities they have before them as business leaders and entrepreneurs. Some of the most important things I learned about being an entrepreneur came from my mentors. Being able to share my knowledge with the next generation, and pay it forward, is an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Saint Mary's and Yale partner for experiential learning in Northern Ireland

2019International2 (2) copy.jpg

A group of Saint Mary’s students and professors departs Halifax on Tuesday, heading overseas to share peace education workshops with children in 16 schools in Northern Ireland.

It’s the 14th annual trip to Belfast through the Northern Ireland Conflict Resolution Program, which provides unique experiential learning for students in SMU’s Faculties of Arts, Science and Commerce.

This year for the first time, an undergraduate Yale class studying political science with Dr. Bonnie Weir is collaborating with the SMU students, thanks to technology.

“They’ll have a chance to Skype into what we’re doing in real time,” says Bridget Brownlow, SMU’s Conflict Resolution Advisor and President of Peaceful Schools International.

“Our colleagues at Yale recognize Saint Mary’s as a leader in this type of experiential programming linked to civil conflict in Northern Ireland. Yale is interested in the model we use to engage with schools and communities, and has an interest in replicating our efforts in the promotion of peace education and exploring the various connections we’ve developed with schools, ex-combatants, community leaders and academics over the past 14 years. We anticipate developing a long-term, meaningful partnership.”  

The Yale students will have the chance to share questions beyond the school programming as they join in the SMU team’s discussions with ex-combatants who are now working toward peace.

Brownlow and Weir have been exploring ways to collaborate for some time. Their efforts were enhanced in November, when Brownlow and SMU President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray took part in a symposium at Yale, co-hosted by Queen’s University Belfast. Titled “Twenty Years of Peace: Progress and Possibilities in Northern Ireland,” the conference 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.

Another twist for this year’s trip to Belfast is the new series of storybooks launched in October by Peaceful Schools International, with support from SMU and SMUSA. Already shared locally with more than 1,000 elementary schoolchildren, the books were written and illustrated by three Halifax junior high students.

The Saint Mary’s students have created interactive workshops based on these books. To date, their efforts have been very well received by local children. One of the books, Animal School, has just been translated into Irish (by Prof. Neil Ó Briain of the Department of Irish Studies at Saint Mary’s) and will be presented to a Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh, a long-term Irish medium school. Plans are underway to translate the other two books.

The Saint Mary’s team, including 25 students and four faculty members, will return to Canada on February 25. It’s the most diverse group of students to date, says Brownlow, adding it includes international students from as far away as Bangladesh, Yemen, Nigeria, Brazil, India and Jamaica.

The faculty members involved are conducting research while in Northern Ireland:

  • Dr. David Bourgeois, a Psychology professor, is studying the impact of the Peaceful Schools International program on our own student participants at SMU, as well as initiating research on the motivational profiles of Loyalist Youth involved in the ongoing activities associated with bonfires in Belfast and surrounding areas;

  • Criminology professor Dr. Ashley Carver is conducting research on Republican and Loyalist internees; and

  • Dr. Catherine Loughlin, Associate Dean of Research and Knowledge Mobilization for the Sobey School of Business, is collaborating with Dr. Carver on the role of women internees in Northern Ireland.  

For updates on the initiative, please follow Peaceful Schools International on Twitter at @PeaceatSchool and Facebook at @peacefulschoolsinternational.     

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