Good morning, everyone.
Thank you, Tom, for that kind introduction. And thank you all for getting an early start to your day.
I’m pleased to see people here from every segment of our community—education, healthcare, military, all levels of government, businesses small to large, community and arts groups, Queen’s alumni and students.
I’m inspired by the diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and interests in the room this morning. And I look forward to seeing how we can take advantage of our shared commitment to our community in new and innovative ways in the coming months and years.
Queen’s, like all modern universities, faces a host of challenges. Financial constraints, the pressure of increasing enrolment, aging infrastructure, competition for talent and research dollars. The list goes on. Addressing these challenges is a daunting task, but I am certain that some of the solutions we seek lie encouragingly close to our campus.
At my first Community Breakfast last year, I talked about the role that Queen’s can play in our community’s economic development.
I explained how Queen’s and the City of Kingston were starting a new chapter, that we were rebuilding a relationship that, frankly, had experienced some challenges. I talked about research and development and innovations happening here in Kingston. I talked about our skilled graduates and what they can bring to local businesses. And I talked about partnering with business and industry to move discoveries made in the university to the marketplace.
I’m happy to report that we have made significant progress in all of these areas.
Our partnership with City Hall—Council and staff—is thriving and we are continuing to implement our Town-Gown Strategic Plan. A plan that now includes St. Lawrence College and RMC as partners. The day-to-day work, guided by our shared strategy, is something in which many of you are involved. And I thank you for your vision and commitment to this important work.
Our researchers continue to form partnerships with local and regional industry to benefit the local economy. Queen’s is working with a half-dozen small and medium-sized companies in Kingston to help them address technical challenges. These collaborations match the diverse expertise of Queen’s faculty with the diversity of technology-based industry in Kingston:
And the results will help the partner companies grow and stay competitive.
A career fair highlighting jobs in Kingston for our students and graduates held last winter at Grant Hall was a great success, with a record turnout of employers and students, despite the biggest snowstorm of the year.
Two of our recent construction projects on campus received Liveable City Design Awards from the City of Kingston. And I’m pleased to report that much of the work on these and other projects was completed by local contractors.
We continue to partner with our sister post-secondary institutions in Kingston.
Last week, St. Lawrence College President Chris Whitaker and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding that commits our two institutions to working much more closely together for the benefit of our students and the community.
And Queen’s and RMC are partners in the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, which will host a sold-out conference in Kingston later this month.
While there is always more work to be done, I am pleased to see tangible results from our community partnerships, and look forward to even more progress.
Earlier, I mentioned some in a long list of obstacles we, as a university, face. But one of our greatest challenges—and indeed, our greatest responsibility—is providing a quality education for our students, within the context of those realities. It is this enormous task that preoccupies my time, but it is also an area where I am very optimistic.
The 21st century university, while presenting abundant challenges, is also a place of limitless opportunity. And the source of much of that opportunity lies in our raison d’etre: our students.
We balance teaching with a strong, diverse, and intensive research program that brings new ideas, theories, and debates into the classroom. And our students benefit from the rich learning environment outside of the classroom. One that allows them to indulge their creativity, demonstrate initiative, and hone leadership skills. But fundamentally, the Government of Ontario funds us and our students pay tuition with the expectation that we will provide a high quality, well-rounded education.
When I was an undergraduate student here in Kingston more than 30 years ago, smaller classes, thick textbooks, and a professor delivering a lecture from the front of the room with chalk dust on his clothes were fairly typical. But times change and so do the needs and expectations of our students.
Our enrolment has doubled since my student days and funding from all sources has simply not kept pace with the increased demand for—and cost of—a quality university education. The same can be said for other universities in the province, and indeed, across the country. We are all facing similar challenges in this regard.
This has led—as the national newspapers have reminded us recently—to larger class sizes; extremely large in some cases. Universities have had to question the delivery model used in my university days; in my parents’ days; and in my grandparents’ days.
But—even allowing for the brilliant performance of many of our lecturers—what 18-year-old student of the iPad generation is going to do her best learning in a class of 500 students while a professor lectures for 50 minutes? What shy student puts up his hand in a class that size to ask a question—or to challenge the professor? And in that environment, what student learns the teamwork, communications, and problem-solving skills she needs to succeed in a knowledge economy career?
While funding is essential to maintaining and enhancing the quality of education we offer at Queen’s, it is only part of the solution. The other part is modernizing the way we educate our students to match the way they learn and the outcomes they need to succeed in today’s workforce.
At Queen’s, we have collaboratively drafted an Academic Plan that will guide us in our efforts. Efforts that will involve many inter-related programs and initiatives, involving all members of our university community.
In a speech at the centennial of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada which I attended last month—my colleague Stephen Toope, President of the University of British Columbia, stated that Canadian universities must commit to becoming more innovative in our teaching methods. And to ensure that our students are equipped to contribute and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
I fully support this position and our Academic Plan will help guide Queen’s in that new direction. And while the process of rethinking post-secondary education in Canada will involve extensive discussion, no doubt heated debate, and plenty of difficult decisions, there are some innovative steps we can take that will benefit our students today.
I mentioned earlier that the answers to some of our questions lie nearby. I believe that part of the way we can help our students learn and develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s workforce is to connect them with their community in a more meaningful way. I also believe that the community itself is a realm of limitless opportunity for shared benefits between our students and your organizations.
Our students seek course material and assignments with practical applicability. And they seek opportunities to put their theoretical classroom learning to work on real-world issues.
We can make our best effort to teach these skills in the classroom, and provide assignments that simulate real-world scenarios, but I expect you’d agree that there is no substitute for the real thing. Projects that allow our students to apply their classroom learning to solving real problems are one of the ways that a modern university can help meet the educational needs and learning objectives of today’s students.
But we simply cannot do this alone. This concept only works if there are real challenges to face. If there are clients with whom students can engage. If there are organizational cultures to learn to navigate. If there are stakeholders to consult. If there are consequences to failure—and, indeed, a willingness to risk failing. And if there are real outcomes that be seen, heard, experienced, touched, and lived.
What I am speaking of here are opportunities for students to learn real-world skills in the real world. And to offer that real world their own developing expertise. In short, I am talking about experiential learning.
Experiential learning projects are fundamentally about community partnerships. They are about businesses, government organizations, and community groups identifying challenges and questions that our students can help tackle. And they are about the university identifying students who would make good candidates to apply their skills and knowledge to projects in the community.
They are mutually beneficial to both the client and the student. And by that, I mean:
The community partner has a chance to have its issue addressed, for minimal cost, by creative and enthusiastic students with a theoretical understanding of the topic, and the practical skills to tackle the challenge.
The student has the chance to put her or his classroom learning to work in the community, practice the skills I mentioned earlier, and address a real issue, while earning course credit.
I can see some wheels turning in the room right now. You have problems to address, programs to implement, research to conduct, customers and constituents to engage, infrastructure to design.
Are there ways in which our students can help you meet your objectives and develop the critical workplace skills they need?
As you leave here this morning to go back to tackle your busy days, I would ask you to give some thought to this type of potential partnership. Even if you don’t see a fit with your organization, perhaps you have ideas for other parts of the community.
Let me give you a few examples of how our students are already learning through community-focused projects.
This past summer, Queen’s provided funding for 20 undergraduate students to conduct research in their fields of study. Last month, I visited these students as they presented posters on their projects. I was very impressed with the work that went into the research and the practical applicability of it.
One student looked into enhancing physical activity among Aboriginal youth. Another reported on issues around community access to family doctors. And another student tackled the timely and important issue of employment in the renewable energy sector in Eastern Ontario.
Through a modest investment by the University, these students were able to broaden their research skills and apply them to practical situations.
Some of our undergraduate students are working on projects that have gone from concept to design, and will soon be implemented in the community. One project is right next door, in fact.
A team of our engineering students collaborated with the group charged with restoring the Spirit of Sir John A. Macdonald locomotive. They designed a protective cover for Engine Ten Ninety-Five, to prevent damage to this newly restored piece of history. The students conducted the needs assessment, developed detailed plans and drawings, and made a prototype cover. This experiential opportunity allowed these students to apply the skills and knowledge they gained in our classrooms and labs to a real-world project. One with practical benefit for the community.
I’d like now to show you a brief video that highlights another way these community connections are already being made.
There is a broad cross-section of people in the room today, and I would encourage you all to think of how our students and course instructors can engage with and contribute to the broader community. In the neighbourhoods near campus; in the north, east, and west ends of the city; and in rural areas.
Let me throw out one particular challenge to you all:
As a historian, I have been thinking a great deal about the bicentennials of both the War of 1812 and of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth in 2015. As well, of course, as Queen’s own 175 anniversary in 2016. As you know, these celebrations have strong connections to Kingston. And there is much work already being done in the community by many dedicated people to prepare for these fast-approaching anniversaries.
Are there ways that we can take advantage of these events locally in support of historical education? Perhaps combined with other fields? Civics and politics; geography; religious studies; architecture; engineering; communications. The list could go on and on. How can our students, who are developing expertise in many of these areas, help animate this chapter of Canadian history for younger students and our community as a whole?
This is just one potentially rich opportunity for collaboration between community members and Queen’s students. I’m sure you can think of dozens more, which not only respect our past but drive toward a bright future for Kingston and our region. And as these ideas come to you. I would encourage you to share them with me.
I’d like to thank you in advance for contributing to this initiative, which I am confident will be a transformative experience for our students, and will benefit your businesses and organizations, and our community. Your participation will further enable our students to realize the limitless opportunity that lies before them.
Thank you all again for coming this morning. Next year at this time I look forward to reporting on some of the new community partnerships that have been formed.
I would like to thank Michael Springer and the Radisson Hotel for their most generous support of this breakfast. And for the delicious breakfast itself.
I hope you all have a great day and I look forward to seeing you again soon.