The University of Canterbury has established the first Community Engagement Hub at an Australasian university so it can build on its vision of preparing people to make a difference by engaging more students and staff with the community.
Hub director Associate Professor Billy O’Steen says the impetus for the Hub came from Canterbury students’ unprecedented actions through the Student Volunteer Army, which provided essential relief to the people of Christchurch after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
The Hub is being hosted by the College of Education and will serve as the meeting point between community organisations and individuals who want to get things done and University of Canterbury staff and students who can assist.
Associate Professor O’Steen says a recent example was a project between staff and 32 students in the CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch summer school course and the Christchurch City Council. As part of their Representation Review, the council asked students to speak with specific groups – rest home residents, tertiary students, immigrants, and migrant workers – to find out how they defined community and how represented they felt by their elected council members.
“The students produced reports with data analysis and suggestions for the Council, which will now be used in the Council’s report to the Local Government Commission.
“In addition to serving as a shop front for the university and the Canterbury community, the Hub will support staff in implementing the University’s new graduate profile, which includes providing all 15,000 UC students with opportunities to engage with the community during their academic studies.”
Associate Professor O’Steen is bringing his 20 years’ experience of professional development and work in this field to this effort and acknowledges that many University of Canterbury staff have been doing this kind of work for many years. Now, their work will be recognised and highlighted as contributing to the overall mission of the university.
To make the shop front more accessible, Associate Professor O’Steen has teamed up with the Student Volunteer Army to refurbish a garden shed that was retrieved from Christchurch’s Red Zone to use as a mobile office and meeting space that will be located at various places around the CBD.
It will be open for students and staff to use while in the CBD. This will complement the university’s relocation of classics and music to the Arts Centre and will strengthen connections with the rebuilding city.
“We have an amazing opportunity to use the dynamic Canterbury region as our classroom and need to bring the university to the community instead of always asking them to come to the Ilam campus. Many Christchurch, New Zealand, and international students have recognised this and are specifically choosing to come to Canterbury because of our community engagement opportunities.
“Our students are flexible and resilient and they have been involved in the hands-on programme CHCH101, Rebuilding Christchurch. More than 700 students have taken part in this course. This is the latest chapter in an exciting and vibrant chapter of our 142 year history. Students love the feel of the campus as it grows and reforms.”