A revamped Core curriculum was at the heart of Redeemer’s academic program renewal over the past five years. The Core’s first students have formed an interdisciplinary academic cohort, which came into full effect in the winter 2019 term with the pilot of the Core’s capstone course.
On their first day, the capstone’s pioneering class met at CityLAB and, over the term, toured subsidized housing buildings with CityHousing Hamilton. The 22 students in the class worked in interdisciplinary groups of four or five to increase community engagement in the City’s housing system.
Redeemer’s students tackled five distinct topics in their semester-long projects. One group researched the perceived value that additional employment resources, such as a resume workshop, would have for City Housing residents. Another polled residents to discover what “makes a home” to them — and whether they view their apartments as fitting that description of “home.” The “Housing First” approach to mitigating homelessness, which prioritizes finding permanent housing for individuals over other services, was explored by a third group who sought to find its applications within Hamilton. A fourth group researched community engagement within City Housing to determine the level of connection that residents feel to their neighbours and their community. Finally, the fifth group looked at the issue of senior isolation and considered how public visibility could combat the prevalent issue, with loneliness felt by 1.4 million seniors in Canada.
“I have learned that students are filled with creative solutions to solve problems within Hamilton,” shared Danielle Magcalas, one of the senior students who took part in the course. “When people are willing and able to help, change can happen!”
These semester-long projects culminated in a public presentation to industry and government stakeholders and community members at the CityLAB spring showcase alongside McMaster University and Mohawk College students who had also worked with CityLAB.
“This course is really more about process than product. As important and useful as it is for students to produce something tangible, the real learning is not what they did, but how they did it,” explained Dr. Jim Vanderwoerd, who instructs the course.
The Core Capstone has a lot of freedom built into its structure. Each group chose their own study topic and created research proposals, submitted Research Ethics Applications and conducted their own self-directed research, all under the supervision and support of faculty. Unique to the pilot year of this new course, each group worked with a faculty guide who helped to ensure that students’ projects were on the right track.
“Being able to take what I’ve learned in courses throughout my undergrad and put that knowledge into action to serve Hamilton with fellow students was a great way to conclude an education at Redeemer that equips us to do Christ’s work wherever we end up.”
Putting “a cap” on their respective degrees through the Core Capstone Experience, this hands-on course provides students with the chance to learn in a real-world context where they can struggle with the challenge of tackling an issue in their community and wrestle with uncertainty.
“This course made it clear to students that in the real world of real, messy problems, there are no quick fixes,” Vanderwoerd concluded. “Student teams bumped up against the reality that they could only do so much in one semester, and that their efforts are only one part of a much bigger process. Overall, the two words that come to my mind with this course so far are humility and possibility.”
The inaugural offering of the Core Capstone course marked a milestone for Redeemer’s Core program. Starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, the capstone experience, like the Core itself, will be a part of Redeemer students’ degrees. Each term about 75 students from diverse perspectives will together tackle a real-world problem with a community organization.
Of his experience in the course, student Alex Van Ommen said, “I think the experience in the new CTS core was really quite exciting. Being able to take what I’ve learned in courses throughout my undergrad and put that knowledge into action to serve Hamilton with fellow students was a great way to conclude an education at Redeemer that equips us to do Christ’s work wherever we end up.”