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Idea Groups strategize about key aspects of Concordia’s future

Research, community engagement and the rights skills for the future are subjects tackled by three groups of faculty, staff, and students
March 31, 2015
By Tom Peacock

Seven Idea Groups were formed to examine key issues as part of the university’s strategic directions initiative Seven Idea Groups were formed to examine key issues as part of the university’s strategic directions initiative.

As part of the strategic directions initiative, seven Idea Groups were set up to consult with members of the community about key strategic issues, discuss ideas and solutions, and report their findings. They’ll be submitting their preliminary findings this Thursday, April 2. The work of three more groups is profiled below.

Next-generation student skills and expectations

Post-secondary education plays a key role in preparing young people for employment in today’s knowledge-based economy and for active citizenship in a complex and diverse society. Are students acquiring the know-how they need to succeed after graduation? This is the question at the heart of the work of the Idea Group focused on the needed skills and changing expectations of future students.

“We hear from our students that there are skills they would like to develop, which they don’t necessarily have the occasion to develop during their courses,” says Guylaine Beaudry, Concordia’s librarian and a member of the Idea Group chaired by Andrew Woodall, dean of Students.

The team has almost finished drafting its report, which lists a set of skills –– for example sense-making, defined as the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed –– then provides ideas on how they could be delivered.

Beaudry says the group has consulted with administrators from existing programs, such as the Institute for Co-operative Education and GradProSkills, and is working closely with the new Student Success Centre to devise its road map.

“We gained a better understanding of what skills our students should be developing, as well as what other people are already doing at the university to develop those skills,” Beaudry says. “It has been a great opportunity to think about the future of our institution from another angle,”

The future of research

Another Idea Group, chaired by Lynn Hughes, Concordia University Research Chair in Interaction Design and Games Innovation, is looking at how Concordia can continue to strengthen its research profile despite smaller budget envelopes.

Between 2008 and 2013, Concordia attracted 15 per cent more research funding. Given current fiscal challenges, can the university continue to attract top researchers, and fund new and exciting projects?

Hughes points out that acquiring research grants is a key element in continuing to attract high-quality graduate students. But since some funding agencies are now requiring that research projects be developed in partnership with corporate or non-profit entities, the university needs to encourage more outreach on the part of its researchers.

“We want to look at new kinds of support that the university can lend — new systems, structures and recommendations—that will make it so that people will be able to connect with industry and create other new partnerships.”

The Idea Group has also been looking at ways to support specific strategic areas of Concordia’s research landscape. “Even in areas that have potential to be strategic, or are already quite strategic, there are not always good connections right across the university,” Hughes says. “We need better mechanisms to get people together.”

According to Hughes, her Idea Group work has served as a good starting point for thinking about what needs to be done. It elicited strong input from students and faculty members. “I sensed what I would characterize as very friendly enthusiasm and a commitment to the process.”

Public and community engagement

The challenge for this Idea Group, chaired by Management professor Isabelle Dostaler, has been to develop a next-generation model for community and public engagement at Concordia, when the definition of this concept changes depending where you’re sitting.

In Dostaler’s experience, it involves giving her students real-world exposure while connecting them with potential employers. But engagement could also mean a certain program forging a long-term connection with a community group, or an individual student volunteering with a local charity organization. Making outreach and engagement a key component of the academic curriculum is, in her opinion, the most effective way to engage with the public and the surrounding community.

“If we choose the route where this notion of public and community engagement is integrated into what we do on a day-to-day basis, it means we’ll go further down the road of having our students doing projects with real companies –– of having them do studies that put them out there in the field.”

She points to Concordia’s popular Institute for Co-operative Education as, “very good in that regard.”

Dostaler admits that within her Idea Group, people have different ideas about how to define engagement, and then encourage it — making it difficult to come up with an overarching strategy. Nonetheless, she says, “Just the process of making this happen, the kind of discussion it has favoured –– just that, is very valuable.”

Find out about more about Concordia’s Idea Groups and the Strategic Directions Initiative.

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