On Jan. 10, McMaster president Patrick Deane hosted a lecture, featuring guest speaker Dr. Andrew Furco, on community engagement as a part of the McMaster Seminar on Higher Learning series.
The seminars were inspired by Deane’s letter “Forward with Integrity,” and were organized to address the issues surrounding the institutionalization of education at the university level and specifically to foster the development of innovative ideas at McMaster in the realm of education, teaching and student involvement.
Furco, the Associate Vice President for Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota, looked at the increasingly significant contribution community engagement can make to the university institution and how it can translate into funding for universities.
Furco began his lecture with an statistic pertaining to the increase in service-learning (volunteering, community internships and other activities) available in American universities, which increased from 49 per cent five years ago to 90 per cent now. The increase in such community engagement opportunities stands as a testament to the resurgence of the idea that universities and colleges are institutes that exist to benefit society.
This important idea may seem obvious to many students, faculty and staff alike. Furco, however, noted that educational institutions such as the University of California at Berkley, where he was the founding director for the Service-Learning Research and Development Centre, had many world renowned experts on issues ranging from homelessness to cancer yet ust across the street from Berkley there was, and had been some for time, a growing poverty issue.
Community engagement in an educational context refers to the consolidation of educational endeavours into it’s implication for the surrounding community, which Furco referred to as the “So what?” factor. All of this research, education and training must be undertaken in order to accomplish certain goals and community engagement seems to be a way to do exactly this.
Community engagement through service-learning is certainly relevant in an institution such as McMaster which is located in the city of Hamilton, often regarded as one of the only cities where housing is cheaper when individuals move closer to the downtown core. Some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada can be found in Hamilton’s downtown core.
McMaster’s reputation lingers among those of world-renowned institutions and as such attracts immense talent in its students and faculty. McMaster is also situated in close proximity to some of the poorest districts in Canada, and is well equipped with the experience and skill to put forth the effort to create viable and long lasting change in order to meet the societal needs of this city.
This fundamental goal is central to McMaster’s mission, as stated, “At McMaster, our purpose is the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge. In our teaching, research, and scholarship, we are committed to creativity, innovation, and excellence.” McMaster students are encouraged to incorporate community engagement in their educational pursuits in order to gain the most from their experience, explained Furco.