This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Showcase: The Experiential Learning Issue. View the complete publication.
"Community-based research is the most engaged form of experiential learning,” explains John Marris, executive director of the Trent Community Research Centre (TCRC), an organization which addresses local research needs while providing undergraduate and graduate students with engaging research opportunities.
The TCRC, which has been a part of the Trent and Peterborough communities for over 20 years, provides the opportunity for Trent students to address real-world research questions that directly impacts the community they are studying in.
“Trent has prioritized community engagement and experiential learning for over twenty years,” explains Dr. Marris. “This speaks volumes for Trent. As the University is part of the Peterborough community, and therefore gives its students a more engaged and grounded learning experience.”
Undergraduates access graduate level work
Third and fourth-year students at Trent have the opportunity to take their theoretical learning and apply it to a real-world research project. Opportunities like this are often reserved exclusively for graduate level students, however through the TCRC, undergraduates have the invaluable opportunity to experience learning in a community setting, with the rewarding satisfaction of knowing they are giving back to the community.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the Trent Community Research Centre during the past two years, in two different placements,” explains Trent Browett, fourth-year student in the International Development program at Trent, whose most recent project saw him looking at programs that community police can use to help keep people with mental health and addiction issues out of the court system. “These experiences have changed me for the better, as a student, as a person, and as a professional. The experiential learning opportunities I’ve had at the TCRC have by far been the most enriching experiences I’ve had during my undergraduate career.”
Community research that Peterborough needs
The TCRC works with a broad range of organizations in the city and county of Peterborough, which range from local municipalities and conservation authorities, to various charities, and local interest groups. The TCRC's partners include the New Canadian Centre, Peterborough GreenUp, and the Human Service and Justice Coordinating Committee.
“Our projects range from looking at water quality in local lakes, to services for homeless youth. This is real, live research that is needed by the community,” explains Dr. Marris. Indeed, the results of the work coming out of the TCRC support numerous organizations to develop services, programs, and to pursue funding for community projects.
“This is an excellent program that helps add value to our organization, while enabling us to introduce the realities of working in our industry to promising students considering this line of work,” adds TCRC community partner, Ontario Invasive Plant Council about their experience with the program.
With a continuous increase in projects, the TCRC’s independent research program widens the opportunity for experiential learning for even more Trent students, and allows the centre to continue to be a catalyst for community action through research.
Among the forty plus projects underway through the TCRC this year is thy study of the early history of the New Canadians Centre and its establishment in response to the needs of refugees from Vietnam, the digital mapping of Peterborough’s natural areas for Peterborough Field Naturalists, and research into the history of the Peterborough County Jail – these are just three of the many projects the TCRC is supporting, making the 2016-17 year one of the most active years in the Centre’s history. “We matched a lot of strong, enthusiastic students to important projects for local organizations this year,” Dr. Marris said. “Carrying out these projects will be a rewarding educational experience for the students, and the results will have real, tangible benefits in the Peterborough community.”