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Hub for Good

Campus to Community Goes Digital to Better Serve Partners and Students During the Pandemic

By Laura McCaffrey

As long, hot weeks give way to shorter, cooler days and lush greenery melts into golden foliage, there is often a feeling of change and reinvention in the air. This year, in the midst of a global pandemic, that sense of change will be particularly pronounced. Families, individuals, communities and institutions will encounter new challenges as we jump back into the hustle and bustle of the school year.

At Carleton, with all first term classes being offered virtually, the semester will look decidedly different than any year before. The typical clusters of excited students pulsing through the Quad will be nowhere in sight. The Ravens’ Nest will be deserted, muted—a result of the cancellation of the fall athletics season.

And yet, the fall semester—although different—is shaping up to be as successful and memorable as ever. This unfamiliar environment presents an opportunity for the University to demonstrate its resiliency and double down on its commitment to serving its students and the community.

Throughout the summer, staff, faculty and diverse departments have banded together to rethink and adapt program offerings to make the most of this new reality.

Carleton’s Student Experience Office (SEO), which aims to enhance students’ university experience by offering fun and meaningful experiential learning and leadership opportunities, is one of many units that’s forging a bold new path to deliver its impactful programs in new (and safe) ways.

One such flagship offering is the SEO’s Campus to Community (C2C) program. Closely aligned with Carleton’s values of community and connection, C2C is a co-curricular community-engaged learning program that links Carleton students with local non-profits and community organizations through short-term volunteer placements.

Carleton students participating in a past Campus to Community volunteer placement.

“Carleton has a long-standing tradition of community partnerships and service in Ottawa,” explains Dwaine Taylor, student development and community outreach coordinator in the SEO.

“C2C aims to continue that tradition, while at the same time increasing the availability of experiential learning opportunities to all Carleton students, regardless of program or year of study.

Historically, the C2C program has relied heavily on in-person volunteer experiences. Now, in the COVID-19 era, the program is getting flipped on its head.

“When the University shut down in March, the remainder of our planned C2C days for the academic year were cancelled,” Taylor recalls. “After about a month of working from home, we realized that this may be our reality for a while. So, we started thinking about how we could innovate in order to deliver this program in a new way. We began reaching out to some of our long-standing community partners to understand their COVID-19 transformations—how they were innovating, what challenges they were facing, how students could provide support.

“Due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic, many community organizations are having to refocus on their core services and scale back any peripheral activities. The result is that our community partner organizations are facing an interesting paradox: they are simultaneously experiencing an increased need for volunteer support and a decreased capacity to receive volunteer placements.

“By understanding their needs, we were able to envision and explore a new delivery model that is better suited to the current environment. Since then, our team has been working hard to devise both an operational and pedagogical shift to adapt the program.”

The operational shift takes the form of remote delivery of the program for the 2020/2021 school year—a change driven by a deep commitment to protecting the safety of students and community partners.

Pedagogically, the program is transitioning from volunteer, event-based delivery to a project-based delivery model.

Carleton students engaging in the past volunteer event-based C2C model.

“In our traditional model, learning is accomplished through the volunteer experiences themselves, with students identifying the knowledge they acquired through reflection activities. The revised model is flipped; students will acquire knowledge through instruction and apply that knowledge to tasks or projects.”

In the newly revised model, community partner organizations will have the opportunity to identify a program, project or service with which they need help, and they will receive support from Carleton students virtually.

“Like Carleton, many of our partners are adjusting programs and services for remote or online delivery,” Taylor explains. “They will undoubtedly benefit from the unique perspectives of students, who are often well versed in digital engagement. Ultimately, we want our students to work collaboratively with our partners—learning about their needs, building genuine relationships and providing operational support and technical expertise.”

This experience, Taylor says, will be invaluable for students, too, giving them skill-building work experience and co-curricular credit during a time where employment opportunities are scarce. And, as an added benefit, they’re able to engage in group work and collaborative experiences during an otherwise isolating period.

When asked what drove him and his team to ambitiously take on the task of redefining the C2C program, Taylor cites an unwavering commitment to addressing community needs, supporting and working with community partners and serving students through experiential learning opportunities.

He adds: “As our team contemplated the ways in which we could deliver on our promise to our partners and students, we arrived at the idea of going back to basics. We asked ourselves ‘What is the core objective of C2C?’ The answer is community-based learning and engagement. When you re-align with the ‘why’ of your programming, you realize that the delivery model—or the ‘how’—is not as critical. This re-focusing gave my team and I the space we needed to challenge ourselves and start from scratch—re-thinking the entire delivery model of the program and creating something new, but equally effective.

“Our hope for students is that this new model and program will show them that remote or online learning doesn’t have to be disconnected; in fact, it can be immersive and impactful. And for our community partners, we hope that the new C2C model will make their efforts to innovate and transform their programs, projects and services during COVID-19 easier, so they can continue to do critical work in service of our most vulnerable and underserved populations. That’s our driving force.”

To reflect the changes in the program, C2C (Campus to Community) will take on a new name for the 2020/2021 academic year: the CPP (Community Partnership Project).

If you are a representative from a community organization or non-profit that would like to learn more or get involved, please contact Dwaine Taylor at cpp@carleton.ca.

At the Hub for Good, read more partnership stories, explore opportunities to get involved and learn how Carleton University makes an impact around the world.

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