by Meredith Dault
When David Gordon set off for Australia and New Zealand over Reading Week, it wasn't to take advantage of the southern hemisphere's balmy temperatures. Though the newly appointed director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning was thrilled to take in the sights (and to take advantage of the sun), his intentions were ultimately more academic. He was looking for opportunities to establish exchange programs with universities Down Under.
"There is an inexhaustible demand for travel among our graduate students," Gordon explained upon his return, "and we also really value having international students in our classroom." Explaining that the Master's of Urban and Regional Planning degree program, which admits about 33 students a year, is structured around five terms with a summer internship, Gordon believes that there is room for interested students to spend one of those terms at a partner university -- while at the same time inviting foreign students study at Queen's.
Gordon visited five institutions in his 11 day journey, including the University of Western Australia, in Perth, ("one of the most beautiful campuses I've ever seen!") and the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, a city of 120,000 which he says felt not dissimilar to Kingston -- except for the students in wet suits going surfing off the edge of campus. Though Gordon says Otago's planning school is smaller, its location would provide Queen's students with valuable - and unique - learning opportunities. "I did an evening ecotour and I saw just amazing landscapes...yellow eyed penguins, the world's only mainland albatross colony...the surrounding ecosystems are so interesting and so carefully managed. Our environmental planners would certainly benefit!"
As well as scoping out opportunities for Queen's students, Gordon is also confident about the options available for planning students keen on coming to Kingston. "Queen's is ideally suited for comparative study," he explains. "The visiting students should fly through Vancouver, and then in the fall term our school travels to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa...using Kingston as a base. It would be a great opportunity to see great city planning in action," adding with a wry smile, "they would also get to see North American sprawl at its best."
Though he acknowledges that exchange programs are harder to establish at the graduate level (mainly because of the ongoing student/supervisor relationship) Gordon envisions a set-up that would see graduate students taking their core courses at Queen's and then taking electives abroad -- an experience that would provide planning students with vital experience to explore other cities.
Gordon is confident that the new exchange program will be up and running soon -- perhaps with a pilot project as early as next year. "We have agreements already in place," he explains. "We'll let students know about these options before they are admitted - so they'll already have it in their two-year study plan when they get here." Participants will continue to pay tuition to Queen's while on exchange -- but they'll have to ensure they have the money to cover the cost of airfare and living expenses while away. Gordon says he is intent on finding more opportunities for student travel-- all part of what he calls an "internationalization initiative."
SURP faculty are already collaborating for research with colleagues in Fudan University in Shanghai and four graduate students take internships in China each year. Besides the new exchange program with Australia and New Zealand, plans are also in the works to partner with universities in Shanghai and India for workshop courses on real-world projects overseas. While the students will enjoy the travel, Gordon says "the real benefits are for increased understanding of different cities and cultures."