When I was a student, the professor was a distant figure at the front of the room and the university was an unresponsive institution to which I had to adapt. That isn’t the case nowadays, especially at Trent University Durham GTA. Here, as a professor, I have the real pleasure of hearing all sorts of feedback from students. It lets me know that what I do matters; and it gives me a chance to show students that I take their ideas seriously.
One piece of feedback that I’ve heard as much as any other is that students are interested in taking courses and enrolling in programs that will help them get a job. I understand that request, even if I think it’s a little misplaced. There is a growing sense that competition for jobs is fierce, that initial employment is frequently precarious, and that education should make an applicant more attractive and turn temporary jobs into permanent careers.
The province’s politicians have heard this feedback, too; and they’re encouraging universities to respond. To their credit, universities are taking up some new initiatives, without eroding their mandate to produce and share knowledge. At the Trent Durham campus, we’ve responded in a variety of ways: by increasing internship opportunities, encouraging community-based research projects, and developing new programs, including the one I coordinate, Communications and Critical Thinking.
This program is designed to help students develop a set of durable and transferable skills that we know employers want. We help students learn how to think in rigorous and creative way, sorting and evaluating vast amounts of information from various disciplines -- and responding with clear and persuasive writing. Courses in project management, research methods, digital communications, among others, develop skills that will last entire careers (comprised of many different jobs) in almost any field.
Recently, we’ve finalized our first rendition of the program’s capstone course. Starting in September, students in the capstone course will be taking on a project included in the Region of Durham’s Climate Adaptation Plan. As the climate gets wilder, warmer, and wetter over the next 25 years, some of the region’s infrastructure will need updating, including the stormwater management systems. The students in the capstone course will be working closely with the Manager and Program Coordinator of Sustainability for the Region of Durham to develop a policy and communications strategy to bring to the region’s municipalities new ideas for upgrading of storm water management systems.
There are a lot of reasons why I’m excited about this course. Our work has a chance to have a real impact on an important issue facing our community. I’m also eager to see the students realize just how valuable their skills are, allowing them to feel confident with a variety of ideas from different disciplines - especially geography, political science, communications, and psychology, and create a reasonable, well-researched, persuasive, and professional proposal.
This piece was contributed by Dr. Joel Baetz, senior lecturer and program coordinator for the Communications and Critical Thinking program, as part of a reoccurring column with Metroland Media highlighting what's happening at Trent University Durham GTA.