At the Trent Centre for Community-Based Education (TCCBE) ‘projects’ are the common currency.

I think I say the word ‘project’ about a 100 times a day now, probably more. I started working at this local gem of an organization this past July and have discovered a whole new world of fascinating community-based research. Over the past 17 years, Trent students have contributed significant knowledge and resources to the Peterborough and Haliburton areas by completing research projects for community organizations. Looking through the collection of past projects in the library here is an overwhelming and addicting activity. There are projects on community gardening, soil ecology, fish habitat, harvesting wild foods, and even how to start a winery! And all of them are firmly rooted in our local area. (And all of them are available online via Sadleir House’s Alternative Library: library.sadleirhouse.ca.)

The related concepts of ‘Community-Based Education’, ‘Community-Based Research’, and ‘Community Service-Learning’ have emerged and evolved over the last few decades. Basically, these learning approaches involve (usually) post-secondary education through service to a community, and for Trent students, the main skills they have to offer are research skills and specialized knowledge. Especially in these times of government austerity and stiff competition between non-profit organizations for funding, many organizations have more ideas and more needs than they have the capacity to undertake and fulfil. This is where the TCCBE comes in.

The TCCBE describes itself as “an independent facilitator of academic and community-inspired projects” (or at least that’s what it says on the back of my new business cards). Our staff of three (Todd, Marjorie, and myself), along with staff at our sister non-profit organizations in Haliburton (U-Links) and City of Kawartha Lakes (C-Links) help local organizations undertake projects that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to without the support of Trent students – through what’s called the Community-Based Education (CBE) and the Community Service-Learning (CSL) Programs. Every year Trent students eager to get out of the classroom, get “real world experience,” and make connections in the community step up to play their part and make their contributions.

Usually this takes the form of a full-year, full-credit research project undertaken with the support and supervision of a local host organization, a faculty supervisor, and TCCBE staff. But students take the lead, collecting and analyzing oral histories from rural residents; making recommendations on how to increase active transportation in Peterborough; helping develop strategies for making more immigrant-friendly workplaces; and so many more fascinating projects too many to mention.

Trent University has from its founding days been deeply connected to the Peterborough community. Blue collar workers on the production line at General Electric made regular contributions from their paycheques to help fund and found the University. And until recently, local seniors could audit classes for free in recognition of the importance of providing education to the community. In Haliburton, Trent faculty have been taking students to this region for decades to learn and contribute to local community economic development. In City of Kawartha Lakes, the Trent student presence is relatively more recent, but community post-secondary projects and partnerships have long been the tradition with Fleming College in that region.

A way to keep these community connections alive and to make sure that the University, besides being a place of pure intellectual pursuits, also remains a pillar of the community and a source of community-relevant knowledge is community-based education.

Right now there are over 60 projects listed on the TCCBE`s website from community organizations in all three local regions. If you are interested in community-based education, check them out and come talk to us. The TCCBE is located at Stewart House at Traill College and we have regular on-campus hours.