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York U students enrolled in C4 summer course build community spirit in Scarborough

York U students enrolled in C4 summer course build community spirit in Scarborough

The students were taking part in the University’s innovative Cross Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) learning opportunity. Fifty undergraduate students spent the summer testing a shorter pilot of the longer fall/winter course and helped develop solutions to help Scarborough residents make the best use of community spaces.

C4 organizers partnered with YSpace to provide students enrolled in the summer course with a stipend for eligible students while they worked on developing solutions to the real-world challenge pitched by the Smart Cities team at MaRS Discovery District, whose challenge tostudents was: “How can we redesign city spaces to improve their use across four-seasons?”

The C4 equity team
The C4 equity team pose for a group photo prior to their pop-up community event

Summer C4 brought together 50 undergraduate students from various programs at the Keele and Glendon campuses into project groups to develop solutions to this large, complex, and multidisciplinary challenge. The students were grouped into four teams, each team reflecting one of C4’s core values – accessibility, community, equity and sustainability. Each team approached the challenge through the lens of the value they were assigned.

The teams got straight to work. Guided by bi-weekly class visits from Sergio De Lara and Chris Markis of the MaRS team, the students posed questions while researching, designing, and testing potential solutions to the challenge. As each team’s project progressed, the original focus of the challenge became more refined. Teams produced multiple solutions and deliverables from various perspectives. All the teams focused on strategies to bring together the many communities in Scarborough to offer accessible and sustainable public spaces (broadly defined) across different seasons. The solutions offered the potential to reduce social isolation in area youth.  

The C4 equity team was made up of 10 students from the School of the Arts, Media Performance & Design, the Faculties of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Health and Science. Their work exemplifies the efforts of all the C4 teams. The equity team collaborated with the Woburn Local Planning Table in Scarborough and worked with ideas presented by area residents to adapt their project to reflect the true needs of the community.

Over the course of the project, the team met virtually with resident leaders, Leah Yuyitung and Nita Goswami. Team members learned about some of the ongoing issues in the community, which had been exacerbated by the pandemic. Together, they worked on how to make the best use of current community spaces in Woburn Park while also tackling the lack of sports and outdoor equipment available for youth, which resident leaders had expressed was something they had tried and failed to source in the past.

“I was really intrigued to hear how the Woburn community has been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and how their experiences differ so vastly from those living in my own neighborhood. Similarly, I’ve realized that it really is your postal code and not your genetic code that are the biggest drivers of health inequities. This pandemic has highlighted some of the structural inequalities that exist within the Woburn community,” said Mariya Shireen, a C4 Alumna from the Faculty of Health, who participated in the summer C4 course.  

By centering community voices, focusing on outdoor spaces, and ensuring that children and youth had adequate resources to enjoy their public areas, the equity team planned and hosted a Community Pop-Up Event on Aug. 29. Working with a zero-dollar budget was not a hurdle for the team as they reached out to local companies and organizations to secure donations for the full-day event. Some of the larger donations included 408 school backpacks, one pop-up soccer net, 30 soccer balls, 30 basketballs, 10 back-to-school gift baskets, 153 boxes of feminine hygiene products, and hundreds of books for children.

During the event, there were two different basketball and soccer obstacle courses for children in the community to enjoy, as well as many raffle giveaways throughout the day. In addition, a booth by the Toronto District School Board for an Essential Skills Upgrading Unit was also set up to distribute programming focused on English literacy for newcomer parents.  

“Planning an event of this sort was a new experience for me. It was incredible to see how much is possible and the different resources that are available even when working on a zero-dollar budget,” said Faculty of Science student Sakina Hasnain. “Most of all, it was amazing to see the wonderful plans and ideas that local community leaders had, and I am honored to have been able to help bring some of those ideas to life.”

children play soccer in an urban playground
Youth from the community test out their soccer skills during a challenge at the C4 pop-up event

The event was extraordinarily successful as it had a turnout of more than 200 families. Every child went home with items from the giveaways arranged by the team. The enormous number of donations to the event meant the team was able to offer the remaining items to six schools in the community. In their reflections on what they learned, the C4 students involved said they owed much of their success to Yuyitung and Goswami, who were important mentors on their project journey. All team members said they learned the importance of real-life change that can arise from community-based collaboration. 

“York U C4 students were amazing, and we are very grateful for their interest and passion to assist our community. Residents saw that it wasn’t just a student assignment but a true personal and learning moment for many,” said Yuyitung, spokesperson for the Woburn Local Planning Table. “Our youth volunteers especially enjoyed being paired off to work alongside York U students at the event. I attribute the success of the event to the students and the authenticity of their collaboration. The presentation by the [C4] equity team at our community meeting in July garnered interest and applause from our resident members and guests. Event guests included staff from the East Scarborough Storefront, Strides Toronto, and our Councilor & MPP’s office. All expressed interest in connecting with the students for future initiatives.”

In addition, eligible students who participated in the C4 summer pilot were enrolled in the Experience Ventures initiative. Experience Ventures is a national initiative creating paid entrepreneurial thinking placements for students to be innovative and creative. At York University, YSpace partnered with C4 this summer to provide paid stipends to students, and they will aim to support over 200 students in the coming Fall and Winter terms. As for the next steps, the C4 equity team plans to continue the pop-ups through different seasons because the connections and groundwork with local organizations and companies will help the community with similar initiatives in the future.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York: follow us at @YUResearch; watch the animated video which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity, such as artificial intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic, a glimpse of the year’s successes.