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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Growing sustainability education through community-university engagement : a case of community-based food system study at the University of British Columbia Sipos Randor, Yona


This action research case study investigates community-based experiential learning (CBEL) in a large undergraduate food systems course, documenting classroom innovations, highlighting community partner experiences, and offering recommendations for long-term improvement. It evaluates how the pedagogical synergy of sustainability education, CBEL, and food system study is relevant for post-secondary sustainability transitions. The case is situated in a major Canadian university, the University of British Columbia, within the interdisciplinary Faculty of Land and Food Systems. This dissertation investigates several iterations of one required undergraduate course and the development of the embedded British Columbia Food System Project (BCFSP), which includes approximately 200 students per term working with thirty community partners. This qualitative action research incorporates case study, primary engagement by the author, and semi-structured interviews with community partners to address two specific questions. First, what innovations were developed to integrate CBEL into a large course? Second, what insights did community partners share for more effective community-university partnerships? Five innovations were identified. First, student integrators who connect numerous food system projects encourage better understanding of complex issues among the many students. Second, projects spanning multiple years maximize returns from costly relationship development. Third, community service-learning alongside community-based research advances student understanding of community and project research potential. Fourth, offering workshops for teaching teams and students supports their limited experience with CBEL. Finally, engagement protocols clarify communication pathways with community partners to not overtax their time and resources. Community partner interview analysis corroborates challenges and benefits described in previous literature, and it contributes a new insight, that universities and associated communities need each other. While community partners articulated significant cultural differences between communities and universities, they see partnerships as a way to overcome perceived disparities and offer an alternative perspective that universities and communities share needs, interests, and resources. CBEL in particular offers options that are rooted in community and place. Engaging in CBEL can empower communities to demand more from universities, such that resources flow more freely, particularly from universities to communities. A final outcome is a biomimetic metaphor that accommodates the necessary networks of reciprocity, resilience, recursivity, and non-linear resource exchange.

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