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Blog 4: What are we hearing about Discovery, Community, and Reconciliation?

Author: Alison Van Rooy, Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Initiatives

In this blog post, I’d like to continue from the last edition to share the second of three summaries of our campus conversations, this time about Encouraging Discovery, Engaging Community and Deepening Reconciliation -- three more of the themes shaping our strategic planning conversations this spring. 

The theme of “encouraging discovery” was made deliberately broad to capture the wide range of VIU’s activities in research, scholarship, creative activity, inquiry and applied problem-solving. The history of VIU’s transition to a university is important context for the discussion today: VIU’s designation as a teaching-intensive university and lower levels of funding than research-intensive universities are challenges to encouraging discovery.

At the same time, knowledge building and sharing – including formal research – is growing and having an important transformative impact on our students. Their stories focus on the encouragement VIU gives to its primarily undergraduate population to apply for grants, learn and deploy research methods, conduct original research, present at conferences and be accepted for publication – all of which are vanishingly rare opportunities for undergraduates in other universities. That work not only happens in the university’s various research institutes and with faculty members in disciplines that are more traditionally associated with research; we also heard of initiatives in Trades and Applied Technology to experiment and share findings more broadly. Further, we know that the vast proportion of that work is based in the community: about the local ecology, economy and society. Areas for new thinking include ways to extend the experience to an even greater proportion of VIU’s students, build additional supports and create new opportunities for sharing applied knowledge.

Community engagement is a point of pride at VIU, including research and discovery, but extending much more widely. Building on VIU’s history and its Academic Plan commitments, the range of community ties is wide, reflecting VIU’s role as provider of skilled labour in the region, an anchor against youth exodus, a thought leader and as a community neighbour. Key strengths centre on the full range of experiential learning opportunities provided by the community for VIU’s students, and the wide range of opportunities that VIU provides to the community for non-credit learning, professional training and community support. Visions for the future included ideas for extending community-based experiential learning still further and better designing course and program offerings to meet regional employment prospects.

VIU built an early reputation as a leader in welcoming and supporting Indigenous students and communities, and local First Nations and other Indigenous leaders have in turn contributed to the pedagogy/ways of knowing, curricula, classroom experience, and academic and personal support on all VIU’s campuses. The range of practices, programs, services and mutual support in place today is meaningful. We also know from the conversations on “Deepening Reconciliation” that this culture of respect has been transformational for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and employees alike. More is still to be done, including bringing more of the employee and student community into the conversation, rethinking the learning experience, clearing the path for Indigenous students and considering still more partnerships off-campus.