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Academy + community

Public Engagement post-doctoral program creates learning opportunities

By Rebecca Cohoe

According to Dr. Mery Perez, academia should be a collaborative process.

“The role of the university in society is key. For me, that engaged piece has to be there because it gives context and meaning to what we do within our institution.”

It’s a belief that has only gotten stronger during her time as a post-doctoral researcher at Grenfell Campus, supported through the Office of Public Engagement’s (OPE’s) Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

Public-engagement focus

The competitive process offers Memorial units the opportunity to share the cost of a two-year post-doctoral position with the OPE.

Applications are accepted from all disciplines; however, all positions must include a strong focus on public engagement, either as a specific area of study or as a practical method (or, in many cases, both).

Dr. Perez is part of The Engaged Campus: Enhancing Grenfell’s Public Engagement in N.L., a collaborative project between Grenfell’s Environmental Policy Institute and the CBDC Nortip and the Gros Morne Cooperating Association. In fact, along with being interviewed by her academic supervisors, Dr. Kelly Vodden and Dr. Garrett Richards, representatives from both of the community organizations also participated in the hiring process.

Dr. Mery Perez (second from left) and participants at a Harris Centre engagement session in Baie Verte.
Photo: Submitted

That sense of teamwork, both within the academic team and the community-university collaboration overall, was a major draw for Dr. Perez, who moved from Guelph, Ont., to Corner Brook to take on the position.

“I had identified things I was missing as an academic: and one of those things was being part of a larger project where I wasn’t the only creator.”

Community liaison

Dr. Perez sees her post-doctoral experience as having two main paths.

The first is her work as a researcher on the project, undertaking community-engaged data collection, including focus groups and community meetings, and considering Grenfell’s role within its region. The second is her role as a staff member with Grenfell’s Office of Engagement.

“I was an academic who was doing research but within a specific context related to the practice of that office,” she said.

While the project has included a broad range of activities, one of the most fulfilling opportunities for Dr. Perez has been acting as a liaison between community members and the resources and people at Grenfell Campus.

“I love this place and the sense of responsibility that we have as a university to the communities here.” — Mery Perez

For example, a casual coffee after a focus group on the Northern Peninsula led to an interesting project between Grenfell and the Northern Peninsula (Mekap’sk) Mi’kmaq Band and the Norpen Aboriginal Women’s Circle.

The project involves the mutual exchange of knowledge between students and faculty at Grenfell Campus and community members in Port Saunders. Groups of courses are being offered in the community, including both traditional knowledge, as taught by the community, and academic or industry needs, as taught by the Grenfell students and faculty.

The goal is that, by deepening the Grenfell community’s understanding of the culture and knowledge of these communities, more long-lasting partnerships can be explored and strengthened in the region.

Opted to stay

As for Dr. Perez, now that her post-doctoral position is complete, she’s staying in Newfoundland and Labrador. She’s working as project co-ordinator, while conducting research, supervising students and building her academic CV. Why stay?

“I love this place and the sense of responsibility that we have as a university to the communities here.”

The Office of Public Engagement’s Post-doctoral Fellowship program is now accepting submissions from interested units at Memorial. For more information, please visit the Office of Public Engagement website.

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