From Inquiry to Engagement

Title of Proposal

From Inquiry to Engagement: A Reflection on 10 Years of Community-Based Learning and Research on Food Security and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia

Presenter Name(s)

Dr Alejandro Rojas, 
Will Valley, 
Yona Sipos


At the end of the 1990’s, the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (formerly the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences) was in a context of crisis due to a decline in both student enrollment and curricular relevance. A transformative intervention from expert- to inquiry-based pedagogy was initiated, with a focus on food system sustainability, community partnerships and overcoming the fragmentation of disciplinary knowledge that effectively prevented the communication across departments within the faculty. Through establishing a core series of required courses for 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students, undergraduates from the diverse range of programs (agroecology; soil, plant, animal, nutrition and food sciences; food resource economics; dietetics; and global resource systems) were required to work together on integrative questions about food system sustainability. In order to respond to the decreased engagement and relevance of the curriculum, community based learning and research projects were developed in each course: the Food Security Project in Vancouver, the UBC-Based Community Food Assessment Project, and the UBC Food System Project. These projects are pedagogical explorations on ways to overcome the separation of teaching from research and to bridge the distance that separates academic work from community service and community concerns, by means of the study of food security and the sustainability of food systems. 
Each research project commenced with humble beginnings in community inquiry in order to understand the context of the food system within each community and to establish relationships with key stakeholders. Through iterative cycles, the strengths of the community partnerships grew, positive outcomes accumulated and evidence of systematic and institutional change were apparent on many levels. In the beginning of 2010, faculty involved in the core series were awarded a 5-year Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant from SSHRC’s Canadian Environmental Issues Special Call. The successful application would not have been possible without the strength of the community partnerships that progressed over the course of 10 years. The intention of this paper is to outline the context and details of the faculty’s transition from instability to engagement through institutional and curricular changes, and our projections for the next 5 years of community engaged scholarship.

Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.