Students should engage with their communities

14 April 2015

University students should engage with their communities as part of the learning process when they get their degrees, UC's Associate Professor Billy O'Steen says.

Students should engage with their communities  - Imported from Legacy News system

Associate Professor Billy O'Steen.

University students should engage with their communities as part of the learning process when they get their degrees, University of Canterbury Associate Professor Billy O'Steen says.

He says that by working in communities through internships, volunteering and service-learning students are able to tangibly apply their degrees and see the relevance of them.

Associate Professor O’Steen, director of the university’s Community Engagement Hub, will give a public lecture on campus tomorrow night. A preview interview can be viewed here.

“In the past universities got the order of things all wrong. Students were studying first to be prepared to make a difference personally, communally, and professionally. But unless we give students multiple opportunities to engage with a variety of communities during their primary, secondary, and tertiary studies, then we’re preparing them for a long time for a game that we don’t let them officially play until they are at least 16 years old when they can leave school to get a job.

“It is similar to having someone train for rugby for 13 or 16 years without ever letting them play the game. The importance of this for New Zealand is that If our students don’t have the chance to contribute to their communities during their studies, then they may not be inclined to put their hands up for the basic services that are performed here by volunteers such as school governance and management, emergency response provided by fire brigades and water safety by surf lifesaving guards.

“Without the next generations getting a feel for community engagement in their education, rubbish clean ups, literacy tutoring and rest home support visits may no longer happen by volunteers. It’s probably safe to say that nearly every New Zealander would feel a negative effect if people stopped volunteering.

“This is particularly important to address because according to the Department of Internal Affairs, the percentage of volunteers in New Zealand has been on a steady downward trend. As of December 2013, 28 percent of respondents to a survey said that they volunteered. Of those, the majority were between the ages of 40 and 49.

“In addition to a national necessity, engaging with their communities provides individuals with opportunities for professional development of essential employability skills such as problem solving, communication and teamwork. Helping communities also provides students with a sense of personal identity in terms of competence, autonomy and relevance.

“When done within an academic setting, research shows that students who participate in community engagement have higher levels of engagement with the academic content an advanced level of personal growth, and a deeper sense of civic responsibility.”

Through Associate Professor O’Steen’s direction, University of Canterbury students have helped external entities such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Christchurch City Council, community boards, Gap Filler, the Police, community hubs and a recent Vanuatu Relief Project.

“As demonstrated by the thousands of students in the Student Volunteer Army from 2010 to the present and more than 500 students who have taken the course, CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch, our students are flexible, resilient and want to engage with their communities in solving problems. The University Council has recognised this through its approval of community engagement as one of four graduate attributes and the establishment of the first Community Engagement Hub at any university in Australasia."

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications 
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz