Here at Trent University it would seem it really is “Our Time to Shine.” Students and faculty may have noticed that tables have appeared throughout common areas of campus—in the basement of Gzowski, the Great Hall, first floor of Bata and so on—touting the line “Our Time to Shine” and asking passers-by to write a sticky note with what they think makes Trent special.
This campaign comes from the Office of External Relations and Advancement and is the work of a committee whose goal is to create an “institutional positioning” report. The report will identify what makes Trent stand out, and what our hallmark is, so to speak, in the Ontario and Canadian university market. As part of their initiative, this committee has hosted panel discussions.
The inspiration to begin the process of creating an institutional positioning came from the integrated plan, which made clear that the time had come to specifically look at Trent’s current position and its direction, and make clear, decisive distinctions about who we are as a University, communicating this to prospective members of the university and the community at large.
The structure of the panel event was simple: each of the panelists had, in advance, received three questions to address so as to prepare notes. At the event the panelists took turns answering the questions before turning to the audience. The three questions asked were along the lines of “What’s different about Trent?”, “What is common at Trent across our programs and two campuses (Peterborough and Oshawa)?” and “In what ways is, can, and should Trent be a leader?”
The four panelists at this particular event included Oliver Cooper, an Oshawa alumni who now works at McGillen Keay Law Office, Julie Crook who is an Engineering Assistant in Physical Resources as well as a part-time student whose children went to Trent, Doug Evans who has taught at Trent for 25 years in Environmental and Resource Studies, and myself, a current undergraduate student.
What was really remarkable about the panel I was part of was the similarity in our answers. The four of us all talked about Trent’s campus for its architecture, positioning and environmental “vibe” with the surrounding forests, and of course, the river and the celebration of interdisciplinary relationships among students and staff.
It is clear that for us four, and for many in the room, the beauty of Trent’s campus does two things: connect those on campus with beautiful surroundings, and imply that we practice what we teach in preserving nature. The distinct style of architecture on campus was also noted as a constant reminder of the decade Trent began in and how it has grown.
Panelists agreed that the encouragement of students to take courses in various departments, mixing everything from Physics and Women’s Studies to History and Environmental Studies, is a valuable thing for attendees of the university. There was agreement that interdisciplinary relations added to and improved the experience of all our university members.
As encouraging and inspiring as it is to meet others who are involved with Trent in different ways and who are happy to contribute to the university’s growth and development, this discussion has some major challenges and hurtles to overcome.
When we ask ourselves what’s different about Trent we have to push and test the answers that come to mind, asking, “Is that really unique to us?”
We can’t assume that other schools are void of a community feeling or spirit, that at no other university professors take time to really support and inspire students, or that nowhere else is as beautiful as we are. We would love to, as these things may be true, but as a university we must push to put into words what it is that should really bring people here and what it is that makes people want to stay in a way that no other university can claim.
A further challenge, as Doug Evans of my panel pointed out, is that a university is not a static institution. When one asks, “What’s different about Trent?” our answers today may not be relevant or applicable in 15, 20, or 25 years.
As the times change, the students change, the staff change, and so does the school. In this way, it becomes fickle to create a statement that doesn’t have lasting resonance. The non-static existence of the university though, while making it difficult to answer what we are, provides a great opportunity for us to dream of what we will be.
Many involved in this project purport not just an understanding of and interest in our university today, but a dream and a vision for our university in the future-the academic force that we will become as we continue to grow and expand.
So, the next time you—yes you—pass one of those tables with the “Our Time to Shine” board and sticky notes, pause and share what makes Trent distinct for you.