Preparing for a rapidly changing economy through student-community partnerships
Date
July 30, 2019

Across the province, Ontario university students are engaging with their communities, getting involved and driving social and economic development in order to create a better future for Ontario and all who live here.

Partnerships between universities and communities are vital in ensuring both students and the province are better prepared for a rapidly changing future and in ultimately helping build strong communities throughout Ontario.

Many students who arrive at the doorstep of an Ontario university become integrated into the social and economic fabric of their surrounding communities. Through volunteering and work-integrated learning opportunities, they develop the skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of the future, while they help drive local economies through entrepreneurship and innovation.

In fact, students are also boosting regional economies by supporting local businesses, buying Ontario goods and generating tourism by inviting friends and relatives to visit throughout the school year – having an economic impact of $3.4 billion, or the equivalent of 26,000 jobs.

But the threads of student community impact and collaboration run deeper. Whether it’s helping to increase access to fresh produce in northern communities, raising awareness around invasive species in Ontario or teaching kids about urban farming, university students are inextricably linked to the communities they serve. Their reach extends beyond the postsecondary sector, into health care, K-12 education, business development and municipalities, to name a few.

Today, for example, students have been using their summer breaks and reading weeks to give back to the community. At Brock University, students and staff volunteer through a partnership with the Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region (LDANR) to help Niagara youth improve their literacy skills.

While at the University of Toronto, students participate in Alternative Reading Week every year – a tri-campus initiative that matches undergraduate and graduate students with local community organizations to provide much-needed short-term support and problem-solving. Many of these collaborations give students the opportunity to take part in market research and planning, event organization, delivering products to clients, fundraising initiatives and creating public awareness campaigns.

In some cases, student-community partnerships are embedded into the course curriculum or are launched through student-led initiatives, providing work-integrated learning opportunities for students and access to talent for municipalities and businesses.

Take the University of Guelph, for example. Every year, more than 70 fourth-year students partner with the university’s surrounding communities to help them achieve specific goals. The environmental sciences class provides students with opportunities to apply their knowledge, while offering an entry point for clients such as the City of Guelph or Eden Mills to approach the university, drawing from its talent in order to find solutions to issues they are facing.

But these opportunities extend beyond the university curriculum. Hack the City at McMaster University is a student-led extracurricular initiative, providing McMaster undergraduates with the opportunity to creatively problem-solve challenges brought to them by community and industry partners.

Stories such as these illustrate how students are moving into the community space to collaborate with partners on short-term or project-specific initiatives. These opportunities act as springboards to develop their skillset as future employees – often in their surrounding regions, as has been the case through partnerships between Ford Canada and the University of Windsor, as well as Carleton University and Shopify.

However, while we often focus on students as job seekers, they play a role as job creators in their communities, as well. Through the earlier example of McMaster’s Hack the City, an undergraduate student was able to develop Catalytics Inc., a start-up that works with hospitals to capture patient information and reduce delays in providing personalized care through predictive analytics. Partnering with IBM and Hamilton Health Sciences, Catalytics Inc. now operates out of the IBM Innovation Space and has grown into a team of four.

Likewise, at Trent University, using the entrepreneurship opportunities available to them, two students created Noblegen Inc. The biotechnology company is now fast-expanding, exceeding growth expectations with 60 employees, 21 of them are Trent graduates.

This is just a small collection of student community-building stories that demonstrate how our students, through their creativity, leadership and motivation, are working with their communities to discover the kinds of solutions that will build a brighter future for themselves, and the province.

For more examples of the many ways Ontario university students and communities are working to build a stronger province, visit our Partnering for Ontario page at ontariosuniversities.ca, or read more about the 50 ways Ontario Universities are Partnering for Stronger Communities.

David Lindsay
President and CEO
Council of Ontario Universities