via Georgia Straight
SFU’s Semester in Dialogue fosters cross-discipline collaboration
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY professor Mark Winston has a long list of academic achievements. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he’s won the Manning Innovation Award of Distinction, the Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy, and the B.C. gold medal in sciences and engineering, among other honours. An internationally renowned expert on bees, he’s also been featured in a documentary hosted by David Suzuki on The Nature of Things.
So it probably comes as a surprise to some in the community to learn that Winston had rotten marks at Boston University. “I was just bored,” he tells the Georgia Straight in an interview in his office at the SFU Harbour Centre campus. “I was one of those students who had really bad grades, but I published three peer-reviewed papers as an undergraduate student.”
This experience led him more than a decade ago to create a new model of experiential education at SFU called the Semester in Dialogue. Launched in September 2002, it brings together up to 20 students from a variety of disciplines in a collaborative program each semester. They work on a common topic, which, over the years, has included urban issues, the environment, religion, health care, food, and the arts. According to Winston, students are required to figure out how to do something that will make a difference in the assigned subject area.
“They’re exploring their voice in the context of a larger community around them,” he says. “And they discover that life works best when it’s networked. Projects work best when you’re connected. If you want to get something done, you have to figure out who to work with, how to work with them, and how to talk to them.”
He adds that about 500 “thought leaders” in the community have been brought in over the past decade to provide different perspectives, but they don’t deliver standard lectures. Instead, they engage in discussions. The Semester in Dialogue also retains fellows, such as urban-food expert Peter Ladner and former diplomat Paul Meyer, who share their expertise with students.
Graduates of the Semester in Dialogue include former Greenest City Action Plan public-engagement strategist Olive Dempsey, SlutWalk Vancouver march cofounder Katie Raso, SFU Public Square program manager Janet Webber, Gen Why Media artistic director Fiona Rayher, and Kei Baritugo, founder of BoldLove Communications.
“I think in our small way, we’ve created a subculture of very effective and well-networked people who are really starting to have an impact in changing a lot of the ways we have conversations in the city,” Winston states.
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Mark Winston is facilitating a one-day program at Hollyhock in Vancouver Sept 27, 2013. Get more info and register for “Developing Dialogue Skills” here.