Community-Engaged Learning

Reflections from the Students in Community Summer Program

Credit: Remy Quiroga
Description: Seven students lined up smiling and laughing

 This past summer of 2022, students from across campus were invited to the Students in Community initiative, a fund to support their coursework which engaged them with community partners. While there was a tremendous diversity of projects and students’ areas of study, students shared highlighted common learning outcomes across the range of their community-engaged learning experiences. These common learning outcomes, shared on the e-portfolio blogs, included the importance of connection (to self, to others, to culture and to the land), and envisioning new ways of being. 

Reflecting on the tangible, meaningful and engaged learning experiences in their field of study, students shared that they were able to build more confidence in their personal, professional, and academic journeys, strengthen their connection to self, and gain a better understanding of the impact of their work in community. For example, Remy (Social Work) expressed gratitude for being able to openly express the complexity of all their identities within a workspace, helping them find themselves in the work they do and build on the understanding that who we are informs the way we work within and for our communities. Elly (Political Science) reflected on how new experiences that pushed beyond comfort zones led to their growth of confidence and capacity and granted opportunities to reflect on their ‘place’ in the world. 

Credit: Maxime Bergeron
Description: Students preparing a meal in a small industrial kitchen
Credit: Jennifer Goyer de Lara
Description: Six students lined up smiling, arms wrapped around shoulders  

Unsurprisingly, building connections to others, such as community members, mentors, and peers, greatly impacted student learning outcomes. Students such as Jen (Community Development) and Kyle (Political Science & Environmental Studies) reflected on the importance of open dialogue and being attuned to community needs to honour those connections and to give back to community members in meaningful ways. Jennifer (Psychology) reflected on the importance of dispelling single-story narratives when building out community connections by listening to the diverse experiences of community members. With deep listening and challenging our biases, we foster relationships founded on community safety, and can aid in  developing community-orientated policies and practices while furthering opportunities for community-based healing. These experiences were bolstered through the relationship-building between peers: students like Maxime (Geography & Environmental Studies) and Nicole (Restoration of Natural Systems Diploma) noted the importance of effective collaboration that plays to each individual’s strengths and honour the unique skills and capabilities we each bring into community. By leaning into these relationships and shared experiences, students were able to process what they were learning with each other and build community within their cohorts.  

Credit: Joshua Houghton
Description: Cedar weaving

Credit: Alicx Mitten-Kowalchuk
Description: Medicine wheel mural painted on floor in front of an entrance

Students in the SICASSI program also expressed how their projects helped them connect to Indigenous Cultures and the land in new and profound ways. These connections solidified when students could envision alternative ways of being in the world, focusing on non-Western epistemologies, Traditional Practices, and ways of resisting the status quo. Ronda (Indigenous Governance) contributed to the Komoks First Nation’s traditional food revitalization efforts by engaging and collaborating with Knowledge Keepers in the Victoria area, seeking to share the language of camas and restore Traditional Agricultural Practices while building a connection to Land in the process. Joshua (Child & Youth Care), discussed how community-based frameworks that center on non-hierarchy, equity, and respect for all things, such as human and non-human animals, land, water, and spirit realm, have been used for millennia in Indigenous contexts. This framework highlights the interwoven and cooperative nature of communities, drawing attention to the importance of kinship to the world around us as key to our collective healing and wellbeing. This framework was echoed by Sam (Social Work), who reflected on the importance of integrating Traditional Medicines into healthcare plans and putting Indigenous Knowledges into practice, and Alicx (Social Work), who stressed the importance of integrating Indigenous approaches to conflict resolution as demonstrated through the Restorative Justice model that prioritizes interconnectedness, emotional growth, and healing.  

Last, but certainly not least, these community-engaged learning experiences allowed students to envision alternative ways of being, to lean into joy and playfulness, and to prioritize ‘unschooling’ or learning that is passion and curiosity driven rather than hyper-structured or linear, as demonstrated by Caleb (Biology & Political Science) and Emily, (Political Science & Environmental Studies) in their reflections. Mary’s (Geography & Environmental Studies) reflection on their field school experience even illustrated a unique playfulness by utilizing creative field note-taking methods rather than technical documentation, such as drawing visual soundscapes. By utilizing an arts-based approach to notetaking, Mary was able to apply a critical lens and alternative way of thinking to their learning, representing the success of their biodiversity project in a particularly personal way. 

By exploring theories and concepts learned in classrooms and interacting with them in new ways, such as applying them to their work in community, students can shift their perceptions of the communities around them, the coursework they complete, and ideas of any future engagement throughout their academic careers. 

Credit: Mary Nightingale
Description: Notebook with doodles and written notes

In summary, student learning in UVic’s Students in Community summer program, coordinated by the CEL Office and funded by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada’s Innovation Hub (iHub) centered on the value of connections. Without a doubt, connection-building is a vital component of community-engaged learning, and through community projects, students can deepen their connection to self, to each other, to culture and to the land. Through these connections, students could apply a critical lens to their in-classroom learning and explore alternative knowledges and modes of being that honour community, the unique strengths students have to offer, and that bring about deep levels of healing and understanding. Despite the wide range of student projects, the shared nature of these learning outcomes speaks to the power of community-engaged learning opportunities and the richness these experiences hold when supporting student learning, and the direction of future goals and opportunities.

Skip to content