Booth School Community Engagement Coordinators Salman Bawa and Richard Allen took home the 2023 MSU Community Engagement Award on behalf of the School at the MSU Teaching Award Ceremony in late March. The award is presented annually to instructors who have shown a dedication to the integration and inclusion of community engagement education at McMaster.
Their win comes as no surprise. For more than a decade, Bawa and Allen have devoted themselves to establishing community-based project learning in The Booth School. In 2021 the pair successfully implemented 45 community engagement projects involving over 100 students 40,000 student work hours, and over $50k in project funding.
“Community engagement is an endeavour which requires patience from those who invest in it, and the outcome may not always be tangible in the traditional business sense of measuring success.” Says Bawa, reflecting on the school’s win. “The fact that this award comes from our students makes it very special, indeed!” He adds.
Bawa and Allen have built successful relationships with community stakeholders in healthcare, transportation, advanced manufacturing and more, both within the private and not-for-profit sector. These relationships have been key in creating opportunities for students to participate in projects across various disciplines.
“Over the years, community engagement has become more tightly woven into the fabric of our entire school” Says Allen. “Processes, resources and facilities are in place to deliver learning outcomes that provide our graduates with a clear advantage in today’s labour market.” He adds.
Associate Director for the Booth School, Tom Lee, who praises Bawa and Allen’s ‘tireless efforts’ in building community partnerships, would agree.
“The Booth School offers its undergraduate and graduate students with many opportunities to experience real-life applications and challenges through projects, co-op terms, and networking events and many of these are set up and nurtured by Richard and Salman.” He says. “Their work directly contributes to those qualities that make the Booth School and its renowned applied education so appealing to today’s students.”
Considering the above, it’s understandable why Bawa and Allen love working in the Booth School. Bawa, a Ph.D. candidate and sessional faculty member in the BTech Automation Stream expresses his enthusiasm for working “at the intersection of Industry and Academia.”
“The inputs of Academia in emerging technology, design, policy, and practices, in collaboration with Community Partners (Industry, Government, and NGOs) are profound, and it is extremely gratifying to see some of our Academia’s work materialize in our community.”
Allen, who has been with the Booth School for over 10 yeas and has raised more than $5 million in support of partnerships in educational and economic development explains that he loves “working in a school that’s at the forefront of experiential education implemented in collaboration with our home community and the wider region.”
But how exactly would the pair define community engagement and what value does it add not only to the students, but the wider community?
“Community engagement is the platform that enables our students and faculty to collaborate with industry, government, and NGOs on tackling real world problems ripe for innovation”. Says Allen. “It’s a model of higher education that allows students to apply classroom learning in external settings and gain skills needed for career and life success.” He adds.
Undoubtedly, students who have taken part in these projects would vouch for the benefits that community engaged project learning brings.
Senior Policy Analyst at the government of Northwest Territories, Amar Maharaj, who graduated from the Master of Engineering and Public Policy Program in 2018, goes as far as to say “I attribute my qualifications and professional success to my real world exposure through community-based learning that the W Booth School offered…” Maharaj explains that during his studies, his team who had been studying the urban regeneration of James Street, were given the opportunity to participate in an informative walking tour of James Street led by the City of Hamilton. This project afforded him the opportunity to develop skills which were essential towards his success at securing a prior project management role at the City of Hamilton upon graduating.
Community partners also see the value as evidenced by testimonials provided in support of the Booth School’s bid for the award.
Rick Badzioch, Vice President, Clinical Programs at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton boasts of a 5-year partnership between St. Joseph’s and the Booth School entitled the “Healthcare and Engineering Collaborative.” Badzioch argues that the collaboration, which sees Booth School students work alongside hospital teams to improve patient experience, is “making it possible for real world healthcare problems to be addressed by a non-typical group of learners in a healthcare setting.”
So how exactly do Bawa and Allen envision the future of community engaged project learning within the Booth School?
The pair are hopeful that community engaged project learning will “continue to deepen its roots in the School”, students will “uphold tradition by participating in community-engaged projects for the benefit of both society and students,” faculty will “continue to share their expertise and resources with our Community Partners”, and Community Partners will “continue to invest their time and knowledge with us and reap the benefits of our community-engaged processes.”
To learn more about Community Engaged Project Learning in the Booth School read our 2021 Community Engaged Project Learning Report.