Social innovation initiative for arts and social sciences

Posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Several students in conversation

By Linda Scales

Starting this fall, uOttawa arts and social sciences students will benefit from a new hands-on learning program to foster entrepreneurial thinking and fuel their passion for helping others. Although student entrepreneurship (think Enactus uOttawa) is already encouraged and supported here, the new Arts and FSS Ventures Program will broaden the traditional notion of entrepreneurship from a business and technology approach to one that embraces the humanities, social sciences and fine arts.

“This initiative will expose many more students to entrepreneurship, while providing them with the tools they’ll need to take their social innovation to the next level,” says Maurice Lévesque, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Empowering students

Efforts that put innovation at the heart of academic learning are already part of the vision and strategy of the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences.

For example, Kristine Puzon, a student in the Faculty of Social Sciences’ International Development and Global Studies program, is using the entrepreneurship/social innovation model to support the growth of an existing videography initiative,  Youth Active Media. Through it, local youth from at-risk communities are learning how to create short films about issues affecting their lives. In addition to being empowered, the youth gain transferable skills in communications, scriptwriting and camera work, and receive paid employment opportunities.

Another uOttawa student using the entrepreneurship/social innovation approach is Stacey Olynick, the environmental coordinator at Youth Fusion. This award-winning charity works to lower school dropout rates. Olynick, studying environmental studies and geography in the Faculty of Arts, works with high school students to construct gardens and develop other green projects. Innovative experiential learning projects such as this create ongoing links between school systems and communities.

Curriculum enhancement

The new Ventures Program is all thanks to a $1 million anonymous gift to the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences. It will be rolled out over five years.

One of its main features will be additions and changes to the curriculum. Starting in 2018–2019, six arts and social sciences courses (first or second year) will include social innovation/entrepreneurship projects. By the end of the five years, 30 courses will have project-based learning components, affecting some 3,000 students. In each course, community partners will present particular challenges to student teams, which will then develop innovative solutions. 

The funding will also provide for the hiring of an experienced social innovator/entrepreneur in residence to assist professors with programs and events, such as a social innovators competition for the student teams in the revamped classes. Students will also be encouraged to participate in Startup Garage and other entrepreneurship events already happening at uOttawa.

Innovation, by nature, doesn’t go well with boundaries. The new Ventures Program will help to inspire creativity among arts and social science students and, it is hoped, inspire some to find their passion as entrepreneurs/social innovators.

“Some of the world’s most successful innovators and entrepreneurs have arts degrees,” says Kevin Kee, dean of the Faculty of Arts. “This gives them an opportunity to turn their aspirations into reality.”

In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a major fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience. Donations will also support innovative capital projects.

A group of students with some holding certificates pose for a photograph

FSS student Kristine Puzon (right) and students from the Youth Active Media initiative. Photo: Youth Active Media


Back to top