New to the neighbourhood: U of S engagement office moves into Station 20 West

Keith Thor Carlson has only just received the keys to the university’s new office in Station 20 West but he already knows what success will look like for the outreach and engagement initiative—more research output from faculty and grad students, and community organizations in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods that see the U of S presence as valuable.

The history professor and special advisor on outreach and engagement in University Advancement said the Station 20 West location will allow the university to bring together its community service learning programs and community-based research to "explore opportunities for cross pollination between teaching and research driven by community priorities."

The U of S will occupy space on the second floor of the 20th Street building. Called a community enterprise centre, Station 20 West also houses CHEP Good Food Inc., Quint Development Corporation, Good Food Junction Co-op and the Saskatoon Health Region's Mothers' Centre and Kids' First program. The grand opening
is set for Oct. 17.

The function of the U of S office will be to encourage and facilitate opportunities to enrich teaching and research through community engagement. "Many people on campus have a clear vision of engagement," said Carlson. "My job is to make sure things don't get in the way and that we open up to new visions, and create opportunities for others to join in."

Staffing at the U of S office will include clerical support and an office manager, "the point person to make connections between campus and downtown organizations and individuals," said Carlson. Phaedra Hitchings, co-ordinator of community service learning in the University Learning Centre, will also move to Station 20 West. Her role, said Carlson, will be to transform or create new courses downtown based on community needs, "and design and co-ordinate those teaching opportunities." Additional staff includes Nola Woods, community relations specialist in University Communications, who will "plug existing outreach to regional colleges around the province into what's going on downtown."

Eventually, the space will also house an academic advising office for Métis, First Nations and new Canadians, he said.

Flexible space in the building will be made available free of charge to faculty and graduate students for research and teaching in the core community. Carlson added the Station 20 office will also operate in partnership with the university's Office of First Nation and Métis Engagement located at English River First Nation just south of the city, and with existing programs like Community Legal Services for Saskatoon Community Inc (CLASSIC) and the Student Wellness Initiative Toward Community Health (SWITCH).

"Station 20 West is really a hub of activity," he continued, "and if it works at all the way the designers intended, it'll be a place that community members just go to."

There is a lot of outreach and engagement work going on at the university "but for the most part, people are doing it on the side of their desk without a whole lot of support. What Station 20 West provides is creative space, training and facilitating conversations. It's about taking partnerships and making them relationships. We want creativity to really work here."

Looking ahead six months to the end of his term as special advisor, Carlson said he wants to see the university doing research that not only advances knowledge but also "has a transformative role for the underprivileged. I want a clear sense of what engagement means on this campus. Outreach and engagement is a signature area on campus and it should be something every student has the option to make part of their degree program."

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