CityStudio nabs student ideas, research, energy

City of London // Special to Western News

A fledgling partnership among postsecondary institutions, the city and a non-profit agency is turning all of London into a classroom.

In its inaugural year, CityStudio London matches designated projects with student teams who, as part of their coursework, work with city staff to co-create pilot projects for the benefit of the community. All told, 420 students are working on 22 projects – 16 of which are embedded in courses offered by Western.

Modelled on CityStudio Vancouver, the project is a partnership between Western, King’s, Brescia and Huron university colleges, Fanshawe College, the City of London and Pillar Nonprofit Network.

“CityStudio goes beyond traditional curricular experiential-learning courses that pair student groups with a single community partner,” said Kelly Hollingshead, Community Engaged Learning Coordinator at Western, and Co-lead for CityStudio London along with Stephanie Hayne Beatty, Director, Careers & Experience, at Western.

“By connecting student teams with projects that align with the city’s strategic priorities, CityStudio has the potential to shape a better and brighter future for all Londoners, with long-ranging positive impacts across the region.”

Each project relates to one or more city strategic-planning priority, including urban resilience and sustainability; active and green transportation; and neighbourhood accessibility.

Huron History students, for example, are working on an historic re-enactment for downtown. King’s Social Justice/Peace and Political Science students are designing ways to improve women’s safety in parks and pathways. Western Social Science and Art and Humanities students are developing a toolkit for intervenors in discrimination and harassment.

One student team worked in the first cohort last fall with London Air Quality Manager Jamie Skimming to analyze postsecondary students’ transportation trends. The resulting report details concrete ways to reduce the number of cars on London roads and curtail carbon emissions through expanded carpooling services.

This is the first of what is expected to be a multi-year commitment.

By the time the school year is done, students from Western and affiliated university colleges will have collectively devoted 11,000 hours to city improvement projects. Students spend about three hours per week on their CityStudio projects.

“It extends Western’s reach beyond campus and brings learning to life for our students,” Hollingshead said. “Students are able to increase their job readiness and develop transferable skills such as communication, leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking to increase their employability.”

Organizers say that everyone benefits from the program: city staff receive support, research and action on key strategic issues; neighbourhoods become prototype sites for innovation; postsecondary institutions expand their community engagement; students gain real-world learning and research experience; and faculty introduce new teaching strategies into curriculum.

“To have everyone come together has been unique,” said Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director of Pillar. “It’s been pretty exceptional. It’s exceeded my expectations of what’s possible.

“It just shows to me that there’s this openness to innovation and this idea of experiential learning and bringing that learning to real-world problems and solutions.”

London Manager of Economic Partnerships Chris Green said city staff take a “hands-on, hands-off approach” as they guide and check in with student teams, but don’t direct solutions.

He said it’s also been enjoyable that the program has attracted students from some disciplines that wouldn’t ordinarily work with the city.

“Not only does it give our staff a breath of fresh air working with different faculty, it lets students know that whatever faculty they’re part of, there are potential career opportunities in public services.”

A public showcase of the program’s work is scheduled for April 2 at Innovation Works in downtown London.