Engaging Kingston before the world

Hitchcock promotes service-learning to foster town-gown relations

Like all other universities, Queen’s is facing the tremendous challenge to grow in a time of great financial constraints, Principal Karen Hitchcock told a breakfast crowd of 120 Kingstonians at Ambassador Conference Resort Hotel.

“One of our biggest challenges is identifying additional revenues to help maintain our quality of education.”

Hitchcock cited partnerships with public and private organizations and businesses as a way to ease the financial burden.

She said the University is also looking to form partnerships with independent and small businesses around areas of research strengths in order to advance particular areas of research.

“We’re in the midst of developing a number of those kinds of partnerships so, as they say, stay tuned.”

Hitchcock spoke to some of Kingston’s business and community leaders about Queen’s strategic plan for engaging the world, and why it matters to Kingston.

The strategic plan is a university-wide planning process, she said.

“All of them relate to our mission as a student-centred, research-intensive university.” Hitchcock told the audience the University’s success was dependent upon co-operation with the city.

“We will do it best, most fully, if we do it in partnership with everyone in this room,” she said.

Much of the plan revolves around a focus on engaged learning and an inquiry-based curriculum.

“I think any organization and especially a place of learning and discovery like a University has to be more than an observer, it has to participate in the world, and of course that starts locally around it,” she told the afterward.

“Our students are learning and being educated to be contributing citizens not merely people observing life as it passes in front of them, so engagement is the key. It’s not just observing but participating, not being passive but being proactive.”

She said the futures of Kingston and Queen’s are inextricably linked.

“It’s our community with which our students interact day after day for four years, so to the degree that Kingston prospers, we are advantaged,” she said.

“If we’re trying to recruit exceptional faculty, they don’t just look at the place they will work—Queen’s—they look at the place they will live which is Kingston, and if the quality of life in Kingston is not good, if the economy of Kingston is not good, spouses will have difficulty getting jobs, the schools will not of the quality that people will want to move here.” Hitchcock said Queen’s major strength is the quality of the students.

“That’s something that’s been at the heart of Queen’s since it was founded,” she said, adding that the quality of students helps to attract strongly qualified faculty, and vice-versa.

“If you don’t have one, you’re not going to have the other,” she said.

Hitchcock said other University expansion projects, such as the Queen’s Centre, the new performing arts centre to be located in the current Tett Centre and the purchase of the old Prison for Women building, will also enrich the Kingston community.

“It’s going to be the heart and soul of the University,” she said of the Queen’s Centre. “[It’s] a place we hope to share with the community.

“We’ll have a better opportunity to have more people come from the community to share in academic and special entertainment programming, so that’ll be a key way the community can utilize the facility.”

“There are many organizations that want to contribute to the arts. Often it’s sometimes private corporations because again, a company that does business in a community recognizes what we’ve been talking about, because the better the community, the better the people who want to come here.”

Hitchcock said one aspect of the strategic plan is to institute a service-learning program which would include service in Kingston as part of the academic program.

“Service learning simply means that your education … extends beyond the classroom. If you, for example, are a business student you might as part of one of your courses—and I know students do this right now—help a young business, a start-up company in Kingston, write a business plan.

“That’s part of their academic program, it’s volunteerism, but it’s part of the actual learning experience in the classroom.”

Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker said he’s excited about this new initiative, which involved the creation of a new position to co-ordinate service-learning between faculty, career services and community organizations.

“This will bring a curricular component into town-gown relations,” he said. “The fact that [Hitchcock] saw the benefits of this and is funding it makes me really glad I work here.”

Venicio Rebelo, general manager of the Ambassador Hotel and host of the breakfast, said the upcoming construction at Queen’s will positively affect the Kingston economy.

“I think it’s an absolutely positive thing anytime someone builds a new building in the city of Kingston. It’s a positive ripple effect in the entire economy,” he said.

Because of the long-term nature of the project, Rebelo said the construction of the Queen’s Centre will bring about $40 million a year for the next four or five years in construction revenue to the city.

--With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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