By Linda Scales
People studying at the University of Ottawa have countless reasons for learning. And so do the many graduates of Discovery University, a unique, lively and inspiring program run since 2005 by The Ottawa Mission in partnership with uOttawa.
Discovery University (DU) offers free courses to people with varying levels of education and in low-income living situations. The DU program helps reduce the isolation associated with poverty regardless of a person’s place of residence.
The Ottawa Mission has been serving the city’s homeless since 1906 by providing food, shelter, clothing, skills and, most of all, hope. Located on Waller Street, it’s a stone’s throw from the main campus.
Each fall and early winter, three non-credit university-level courses are taught at uOttawa to men and women over the age of 18. Carleton University, Saint Paul University and uOttawa each supply one professor for the courses. The courses offered at Discovery University are primarily in the Social Sciences and Humanities fields. Other non-university level courses such as creative writing are also offered by DU in the spring term.
The courses change often and are chosen based on requests of the DU students, many of whom return countless times to study. A popular course, Digital Photography, was recently taught for the fourth time by uOttawa sessional lecturer Rosalie Favell, an accomplished photo artist of Métis (Cree and English) heritage.
Favell holds her class each Thursday afternoon in one of the Department of Visual Arts’ digital labs. She also meets her students on Wednesday afternoons throughout the 10-week program for “walkabouts to take pictures together.” And in the evenings, the other DU participants gather for a meal and discussion groups at St. Paul’s–Eastern United Church, a uOttawa neighbour located close by on Daly Street.
“The students bring their warmth and humanity to class. I get a lot of satisfaction just interacting with them,” says Favell. “Many are accomplished but hit a crook in the road and life took another turn.”
The coursework helps to “reduces social isolation that comes along with poverty,” says Aneesha Sidhu, DU’s program coordinator at The Ottawa Mission. “It’s an opportunity to make friends, talk, discuss and learn new things.”
“This program helps with their transition away from homelessness,” she continues, noting that some of the people have pursued higher education after taking a DU program.
At a ceremony held at FSS on December 8, 2017, about 60 students received certificates for the courses they took during the fall term. President Jacques Frémont addressed the graduates and reminded them that “this is your community.”
A generous donor gave 10 digital cameras to The Ottawa Mission in January 2015. Students share them during their photography walkabouts with digital photography instructor Rosalie Favell.