By Sonia Vani
It’s not uncommon, as we age, to feel like the students we see on our campus each year look younger and younger! Well, during the first week of May each year, you may not be imagining this. Each year since 1981, the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Continuing Education has been welcoming students in grades 8 to 12 from various school boards to give them a taste of what university is like through its Enrichment Mini-Courses Program.
As an employee and alumna of our institution, I take some of my annual holidays during the mini-courses so that I can have the privilege of leading some of these students on behalf of the Faculty of Arts’ Department of Communication. This year again, I was fortunate enough to teach one of the 51 English-language workshops offered to the 1,887 students who descended upon our uOttawa campuses.
This year, I opted to embark with my students on a one-week journey to connect with the oceans, right here, from Ottawa as we lead up to World Oceans Day on June 8. My workshop, #174 S.O.S. Oceans, was geared towards helping us learn as much as we can, in a matter of days, about oceans and the complex challenges they face, from overfishing to acidification, and to develop some targeted messages we could later move into the public sphere. Emmanuel Sayer, programming director of CHUO 89.1 FM, who partnered with me on the media component of the course, explains, “Our role is to be the voice of the community and to make sure that we put on the airwaves content that you care about. These students care about the oceans, so we did our best to show them how independent media can help them have their voices heard.”
The students and I hosted a visit from representatives of the World Wildlife Fund, we met with a chief scientist and a communications team from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and we even welcomed uOttawa staff and researchers, like ocean expert Professor Daniel Lane, to help all of us wrap our head around some of the governance issues surrounding the global ocean. As a class, we used many methods to do our part in tackling what just might be one of our planet’s most complex challenges—the global ocean crisis. We called on the fields of science, business, policy and government, art and media to figure out how to make a meaningful contribution. By the end of the week, the students had partnered with a team at CHUO to record several public service announcements, allowing the students to add their voices and perspectives to those of existing media content. We also invited one of uOttawa’s media relations agents, Danika Gagnon, to come speak to us about finding a hook for storytelling that can engage media.
Looking back on the experience, I can say that something truly special happened this year. The oceans brought together a small group of students who, at the start of the week, didn’t know each other. But as oceans have the ability to do, they brought people together and created a sense of community. From NGOs to government bodies and from staff and researchers to independent media, many people came together to share ideas on how to begin engaging in a different dialogue around how Ottawans can, right here from our nation’s capital, begin to make choices that can change, for the better, the world’s oceans.