The School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto (UoT) is teaching outside the lecture halls in a new Master’s course, so students can experience community work and meet activists.
The Master of Public Policy (MPP) program focuses on the role non-governmental organisations play in shaping public policy.
Instead of traditional teaching methods, organisers Gabriel Eidelman, an assistant professor at the school, and UoT alumna Jo Flatt, a senior manager of policy and partnerships at Evergreen – a sustainable development enterprise – are keen to get students into the community.
“Central to the course is this notion of community, and we’re trying to explore what that means but also see it for ourselves when we can.”
Students have visited the House of VR – a state-of-the-art Virtual Reality (VR) company offering unique experiences – to engage with refugees’ stories using VR to develop empathy, as well as visiting the town of Hamilton to learn about working with the community to identify their needs.
“For those of us who learn by doing, this was a really impactful way of exploring new concepts and I found myself far more engaged than I would be in a traditional classroom setting,” said Master’s student Harpreet Sahota.
“There is something really valuable about being in the physical space where the kind of impact that we’re talking about is actually happening. It made everything far more tangible.”
Students have received guidance on their final assignment from activists. The assignments will focus on urban flooding, food insecurity and high school dropout rates.
Sahota’s group focused on the barriers preventing people from accessing food banks. They spoke with Samiya Abdi, an expert in community engagement who currently works on Ontario healthcare initiatives.
“[Abdi] helped identify some ways that we could approach partnerships with other organisations in ways that acknowledge shared interests and values,” said Sahota. “I think this really emphasised the distinction between co-operating and collaborating.”
“The mentorship is very cool. Hearing from people working in the field was amazing and actually having some of their work as case studies that we can learn from was very insightful,” said Sasha Gronsdahl.
Flatt said the course should also be offered to others working in the public sector.
“Learning about how the outside understands you is really important to inform how your work should be done,” she said.