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Reimagining our interactions

Public engagement tools, supports help connect communities

By Kelly Greenfield

In the months since the emergence of COVID-19, the Office of Public Engagement (OPE) has adapted its initiatives to better support people and communities.

The Catalyst Conference Fund is one example of the office’s response.

The fund is designed to support public engagement opportunities at academic conferences, offering up to $5,000 to support academic conferences, including virtual and hybrid events, that demonstrate creative approaches to public involvement and participation.

“Bringing public engagement into an online conference can start as early as the planning stages, including folks from relevant organizations outside of academia who can help ensure that a broad range of perspectives shape an event,” said Penny Cofield, co-ordinator, public engagement supports, with OPE.

“The pandemic held special challenges for university-community collaborations,” said Penny Cofield.
Photo: Submitted

“At the other end of the line, there are plenty of ways to include the perspectives and experiences of public partners and individuals within programming too, from online sessions open to all, panellists from outside the university alongside those from within, and any number of creative, specific approaches.”

One particular benefit related to online participation is that many conferences are more accessible for people in rural and remote areas and to those who are unable to travel for an event, for a whole range of reasons (economic, health-related, family responsibilities, etc.).

“We hope that by providing support through the Catalyst Fund, more people will be able to participate in Memorial-hosted events, opening up dialogue and enhancing opportunity,” said Ms. Cofield.

The Catalyst Conference Fund for Public Engagement is currently open and accepting applications on a rolling basis.

Making the most of online sessions

Mathias Rodriguez

To help teams make the most of the numerous learning supports available online, students hired by OPE created a webinar reporting template to help facilitate the sharing of information between teams, partners and organizations.

Mathias Rodriguez, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Business Administration designed the template, titled Catch and Release, as part of his ISWEP position with the office.

This template will help users share information in an organized, efficient manner, thus keeping the flow of communication open and active.

Mr. Rodriguez says that, as a business student, he was able to take a flexible approach to a business problem and find innovative solutions.

“It is something I learned during my program and these skills turn out to be highly transferable, in the midst of the pandemic,” he said.

“From working on this template, I gained a new perspective on the value of communication, and especially how important efficient communication is when we are working remotely.”

For more information about the Office of Public Engagement’s programming, including funding, please visit the website.

Emerging needs

Seeing the opportunity for Memorial and its public partners to address emerging pandemic-related needs, the OPE also repurposed a portion of its existing Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement into the COVID-19 Quick Start for Public Engagement.

As a result, the fund was able to support 10 community-engaged partnerships, with Memorial University’s faculty, staff, and students working hand-in-hand on projects that help address the impacts of this pandemic on individuals, groups and organizations.

Funded projects include the launch of a virtually accessible version of the Better Breathing Choir (situated in the School of Music,) which helps support respiratory health through singing, a project led by the Harris Centre that is investigating post-pandemic community needs across Newfoundland and Labrador, and a project through the School of Graduate Studies that is developing professional development and networking opportunities for international students and newcomers trying to break into the job market during this strange time.

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