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Daniel Woolf
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Culture, Heritage, and Dialogue: My Experience in Canada’s North

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 09:50

Guest author Justine Aman (ArtSci’18) writes about her experience with Global Vision’s Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus in Iqaluit. Her trip was sponsored in part by the Principal’s Student Initiatives Fund.

With exams looming and the end of the semester imminent, it is with a grateful and slightly stressed out heart that I am writing about an incredible experience I had the opportunity to partake in. For a week this past March, I took part in Global Vision’s Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a mission which brings together 50 Canadian youth leaders (25 from the North and 25 from Southern Canada). Global Vision (GV) is a national not-for-profit charitable organization, founded in 1991 by former Member of Parliament, Terry Clifford. GV has organized this Caucus every year since 2010 with the purpose of fostering a dialogue on the unique issues faced by Canada’s North. The roundtable topics this year included food security, health care, environment, poverty, and education.

Even though temperatures averaged -50 C, the passion and intelligence of the youth leaders was enough to warm your soul (even if your ears remained frozen). Conversations were engaging and insightful, with members of Nunavut’s government as well as Elders and community leaders all participating with the goal of furthering awareness, sharing experiences, and promoting knowledge. Eight-five per cent of Nunavut’s population is Indigenous and many of the most northern points of Canada have a majority Indigenous population. Because of these demographics, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants in the Caucus emphasized the importance of culturally appropriate solutions. The open and supportive environment allowed for constant dialogue and exchange of ideas. At the same time, we made connections and developed friendships with some of the most incredible people, who, without this program, would have remained strangers.

Although the Caucus had clear overall goals, GV encouraged its ambassadors to identify individual areas of interest, allowing for a personalized experience with relevant take-aways. For me, as a third-year sociology student, I integrated my interest of population health and health-care quality to expand my knowledge of these topics within the context of Northern Canada. It was a first-hand look at Canada’s North and the role that social and physical determinants play in determining the health of Canada’s most northern populations. While there, I took the opportunity to observe and educate myself about some of the barriers and enablers impacting the addressment of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Indigenous peoples. I drew upon these observations to supplement a final project, in which I created a health-care intervention program that addressed these factors through the collaboration of Western medical techniques and traditional Indigenous medicine.

As you can imagine, a program that can break down geographical barriers within our own country to create cross-Canada dialogue costs a lot more than your average exam snack haul. I have been, and continue to be, absolutely blown away by the generosity of individuals, various community groups, and Queen’s University that made this dream a reality. Departmental support and the Principal’s Student Initiatives Fund are just a few of the many ways that Queen’s supports its students and, without which, I would have been unable to participate in this program. I have brought back the knowledge and experience I gained during my time in Nunavut and have prepared presentations for various community groups – all to keep the conversation going. I cannot wait to see where the future takes me and how I can continue to use this experience to strengthen North-South dialogue and to encourage youth to become community leaders.

Cha Gheill,

Justine Aman (Artsci’18)

An alternative, industry-linked model for PhD training

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:55

This op-ed first appeared in University Affairs on March 28, 2017.

We’ve heard a great deal in recent years about a “skills gap” being experienced by business and industry and the need for more apprentices, pipe-fitters and so on. Much of this concern is economic-cycle dependent and the downturn in energy prices has quieted this discussion. What is less at issue is the need for more “work-integrated learning,” a broad category that can include everything from formal co-op programs to one-year internships, to more course-based experiential education. Universities such as Queen’s have invested heavily in recent years in creating programs and opportunities for our students to learn the lessons (some of them hard) of entrepreneurship and innovation. This will be a good thing, as long as there is sufficient supply of graduates also prepared to go into business, industry and the non-profit or public sectors – not everyone can or should be an independent entrepreneur.

But what about the needs of business and industry at the more advanced level? At a recent meeting of the U15 group of universities, a number of STEM industry leaders noted that there appeared to be a downturn in the production of PhDs generally and of PhDs in STEM disciplines in particular. However, the most recent numbers coming from Statistics Canada show that the number of PhD degrees awarded grew steadily between 2006 and 2013. That said, Canada falls below the OECD average with respect to the number of PhDs held – surely a problem if we are to be competitive in the global knowledge economy – and perhaps the reason behind the sense of a “downturn.”

Canada’s low number of PhD holders could be ascribed to a combination of factors including:

  1. the reduction in real terms of funding for investigator driven basic science research over the past decade;
  2. the sluggish academic job market, which, given constraints on provincial budgets (the primary funder of university operating expenses in Canada) and the absence of mandatory retirement, is not likely to change in the medium term;
  3. Canada’s poor performance in supporting business and organizations to embrace innovation as a strategy for growth. The cumulative effects lead quite simply to a drying up of the pipeline that leads from education to economic growth and global competitiveness.

University and business leaders agree that this is a problem, and it’s accentuated by the failure of many of us in academe to connect more closely with industry – not, I emphasize, to allow a private sector agenda to dominate research, but rather to make sure that prospective candidates for PhD are aware of opportunities outside the academy both before and as they progress to degree completion. It should be noted that academic/industry programs such as those offered by Mitacs have proven to be quite successful, but I wonder what more we could be doing to foster skills and career development through direct partnerships with industry. These would not be limited to STEM – banks and other businesses have needs for the critical skills that can be provided by PhDs in English or Political Studies – but I’ll confine myself to STEM here with a modest suggestion for a solution.

Universities and businesses could take a page from the playbook of Canada’s Armed Forces, who have been producing their officers for decades through a combination of teaching them themselves (for instance at Royal Military College in Kingston) or subsidizing their education at other institutions. In return, they get an agreed-upon promise of years of service post-degree.

What if we extended that model to the doctoral level? Businesses and industries could either individually, or as a pool, provide four years of doctoral funding for qualified candidates to do a PhD at a research-intensive university, in return for, say, four years of employment at the firm afterward. This would solve a variety of problems at once. It would provide a badly needed alternative stream of funding for students thus enabling faculty to take on doctoral-level researchers in their labs. It would remove the problem of “what do I do when I’m finished”? It would ensure a steady supply of STEM PhDs in needed areas. It would seed businesses with managers who understand the importance of university-based research and what it can do for Canada’s economy. And it would help mitigate the most unhelpful and unrealistic notion that we in the academy have, that our PhDs must go into academe, must get a postdoc, etc., or else they have failed us and we them.

This alternative model for PhD training would need to be designed carefully. At the outset it would require that intellectual property considerations are addressed and that there is a clear understanding that the research to be undertaken is an academic requirement conducted under the mentorship of the faculty supervisor. Ideally, there should be opportunities for work-integrated learning woven into the academic program. Many programs are introducing such opportunities, and with businesses investing in supporting students they may be highly motivated to provide training that will complement the academic learning and better prepare PhDs to join the employer upon degree completion.

The current model of relations between business and the university, built mainly on patents and licenses, has served us all well for decades. But the world has changed, and we need as a country to raise our game and examine other models of integration. If we do not, we run the risk of losing the next generation of research leaders. Not just business, not just the university, but Canada as a whole will be the poorer for it.

Becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 09:41

Canada marks its sesquicentennial this year, and amid the excitement and celebrations much attention is being, justly, paid to how as a country we can improve our national record on the treatment of our Aboriginal Peoples. There is a strong feeling that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, issued in 2015 and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, has the capacity to mark a watershed in Aboriginal matters, and not simply with respect to the apologies owed for the blight of the residential schools. Educational access and opportunity will lie at the core of any initiative to empower First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.

Queen’s, along with other Canadian universities, is doing its bit. Last year we set up a committee under Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) Jill Scott to consult widely and recommend some specific educational actions that Queen’s can take. Some are already in place or under way, as depicted in this issue of the Review. Others will be announced in the coming months.

During a special Senate meeting on March 7th, Nathan Brinklow, a lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, speaks after presenting me with a friendship wampum on behalf of the clan mothers at Tyendinaga and the Grandmothers’ Council in Kingston.

At the same time, Queen’s is also confronting wider issues of inclusivity, diversity, and – though the word is an ugly one – racism. Queen’s is a much more diverse institution than it was in my day as a student: we have students from around the world, and Canadian students from many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, and of different sexual and gender orientations.

Our faculty and staff are also more diverse, though that diversity is not evenly distributed across the university’s units and its ranks. Some of our attitudes and traditions have not kept pace with this reality.

Accordingly, in parallel with our work to improve the Aboriginal experience, I have also struck a committee to implement some changes recommended by previous reports such as the Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (DARE) report. A few have been made since that report was issued seven years ago, but the time is overdue to execute the others.

I do not expect this committee to be long in its work – we know much of what we need to do – though some of the actions needed (including greater attention to diversity in hiring practices, curricular reform, and the modification of some rather exclusive traditions) may take a little longer. We’ve already done some of that – I’m very glad, for instance, that some grossly homophobic and sexually offensive songs that I chanted as a frosh in 1976 are no longer in general circulation.

One or two of you have written letters with concern that the university is being “politically correct.” I thank you for sharing your thoughts. My perspective is simply this: organizations must change, adapt, and remain in tune with social standards (and, ideally, lead on their progressive reform), just as they must change and adapt with respect to pedagogical practices or areas of research. Queen’s has changed, for the better, in many ways over the past quarter-century, and will continue to do so over the next 25 years. As I have said in this column repeatedly during the seven-and-a-half years of my principalship, a university is an evolving institution; if it stands still, it will not survive, let alone thrive.

2017 marks the latter half of our 175th anniversary as well as Canada’s 150th. Let us recommit ourselves to preserving our values but also to updating our traditions and becoming a more inclusive site of scholarship and learning.

This blog first appeared in the Queen’s Alumni Review (2017 Issue 1: Indigenous Issues and Experiences at Queen’s). Those interested in contributing to the discussion on racism, diversity, and inclusion at Queen’s are warmly encouraged to attend one of three upcoming community forums on these topics.

Queen’s Model Parliament: A learning opportunity like no other

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 10:00

The following is a guest blog written by Queen’s Model Parliament co-chairs Jasmine Lagundzija, (Artsci’18) and Brandon Jamieson, (Artsci’17).

For three days every January, 350 students from Queen’s University travel to Ottawa to participate in the country’s largest and oldest model Parliament conference. For the past 70 years, Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) has given young Canadians the opportunity to engage with politics firsthand as they hone their debating skills and draft legislation to address some of the nation’s most pressing issues, all while seated in the House of Commons.

The conference begins in September, when more than 500 students from nearly every discipline apply for the opportunity to attend QMP. Then, through random lottery, 338 students have the opportunity to attend the conference as delegates. When they are admitted to the conference, they are bound to one of the five major political parties in Canada. After electing a party leader, the delegates are free to roam as party leaders canvass and campaign to have delegates join their party. After two weeks of campaigning and a leadership debate, delegates may either rejoin the party they were first bound to, or they may switch to a new party. As is practice by convention, the party with the most members will form government. Then, for four months, delegates meet weekly in their respective caucuses to draft legislation that will be debated on in full session of the House in January.

Simultaneously, the QMP Journalism Program kicks off. Ten students are admitted to the conference to adopt the role of the press. While delegates are drafting legislation, canvasing for their party, and preparing for the conference, the journalists are interviewing, critiquing, and publishing their work in the bi-weekly Parliamentary Post. The Press Corp travels to Ottawa with the delegates and continue their work, holding our would-be-politicos to account for their policies. At the end of the conference, they are invited to attend a live-taping of CBC’s Power & Politics – a small reward for their work.

While in the House, guest speakers are invited to preside over debate on bills as Speakers of the House. Just this year we were privileged to welcome the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, the Hon. Bill Morneau, British High Commissioner Howard Drake, Rosemary Barton, among countless others. After presiding over debate, speakers have the chance to share their own personal experiences and have a conversation with delegates.

The bills presented at QMP are wide ranging in their scope and subject. They cover topics on everything from the environment, to Indigenous affairs, foreign affairs to the future of the CBC. However, the topic of bills tends to reflect the broader concerns of young Canadians today. How can we address the ever pressing threat posed by climate change? What is Canada’s role in a quickly adapting global political landscape? It is hard not to remain hopeful about the future of the country when students willingly choose to attend this conference to debate these issues, for no reason other than their own personal satisfaction. The solutions presented are often innovative, comprehensive, and occasionally humorous. However, this reflects a broader light-hearted tone delegates adopt when debating issues. Debate isn’t divisive and partisanship isn’t poisonous.

The students leave with more than just the memories. The experience they have is just learning outside the classroom. They leave with a greater grasp on the legislative and procedural functions of our government and a more acute understanding of the complex issues we face as a nation. They hear of the value and importance of remaining engaged citizens through voting and community service. They appreciate the necessity of debate with equal parts respect and consideration. They have taken away skills that will continue to better them throughout their educational endeavours, their future careers, and, most importantly, as private citizens.

For us, as the co-chairs of this year’s conference, we had the privilege of working with a team of talented individuals and a network of hundreds of alumni to deliver this annual experience. Without hesitation, we volunteered 15 to 20 hours per week of our time on preparing for those three days. We were always motivated by the prospect that we were having at least a small, but hopefully a profound impact on the leaders of today and tomorrow. In our conversations with QMP alumni such as the Hon. Peter Milliken, the Hon. John Baird, and Nik Nanos, they frequently cite how their time at QMP shaped and inspired their desires to continue a life in politics. And for the past 70 years, there have been thousands of students just like them who drew on their time as students sitting in the House of Commons.