Fourth-year Knowledge Integration student Geoff Evamy Hill spent a summer on a pipeline project in northern British Columbia. At a community open house, an older woman commented, “You people come here from the big city and mess everything up and call it progress.” This comment resonated deeply with Geoff, who thought about the number of conflicts in Canadian history between people with a poor understanding of one another and the diversity that is Canada. It also reminded him of his own experience: Coming from Calgary to study at UWaterloo, he had been surprised by his peers’ lack of awareness about the realities of life in other parts of Canada.
Believing that 21st century leaders need to develop this capacity, Geoff developed what he calls a “moonshot” of an idea: The Pan-Canadian University Project, where top Canadian (and international) students will complete joint Canadian undergraduate degrees offered by university consortiums, with students traveling with their cohort to a different university in Canada for each year of their studies.
“This is a project for massive social change,” says Geoff. “It is about fundamentally shifting the way we prepare future leaders at the systemic level. The project is hugely complex, and requires a very high amount of attention in order to be successful.”
There is successful precedent for this idea: Erasmus Mundus is a decade-old EU educational initiative where consortiums of European universities come together to offer joint degrees. Geoff notes that the Erasmus Mundus program has produced a new generation of ambitious students with broad vision, and believes it could have a similar effect in Canada. Such a collaborative program, he says, develops the skills and knowledge needed in a rapidly changing information economy. It also leverages regional resources and experiences to create linkages of knowledge and perspective, and to broaden social networks.
Being part of the St. Paul’s GreenHouse community has been very helpful to Geoff in this initiative. “When you are with people in a community who share a singular focus on getting things done and made, it’s very motivating. The weekly skill sessions with practitioners have been hugely successful because they are very practical. Mentorship and the connections provided help make it happen. The people at GreenHouse approach this with an equally entrepreneurial spirit – putting their heart, soul, know-how, and connections to making our ideas work.”
Geoff would like to see joint Canadian undergraduate degrees as “a gift to Canada for our sesquicentennial or 150th birthday” and hopes to put student mobility and innovative education on the national agenda and mindset for 2017. While he recognizes the challenges of adopting this new approach, he believes the project can become more than the sum of its parts, with high potential return.
– by Susan Fish
St. Paul’s GreenHouse is a social enterprise and social innovation incubator at the University of Waterloo. It is a key supporter of the Canoe Project.