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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 9 | Oct. 7, 2004

UBC’s Learning Exchange Recognized for the Great Trekker Award

By Erica Smishek

UBC students have recognized a distinguished educator who is helping change the face of learning at UBC and in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with the 2004 Great Trekker Award.

Margo Fryer is the director of UBC’s Learning Exchange, an innovative community outreach initiative that provides educational opportunities to people who live and work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and other inner-city communities. It also provides opportunities for UBC students to develop an understanding of society through first-hand volunteer work.

“The Learning Exchange brings learning alive for people,” says Fryer, who received her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from UBC in 2003.

“It’s really the Learning Exchange -- not just me -- that’s being recognized. And it’s especially fitting that the Great Trekker Award is coming to an initiative that is so tied to community and to the Trek vision (UBC’s strategic plan).”

The Great Trekker Award -- with its 2004 theme of Community Outreach and Community Involvement in the Greater Vancouver Regional District -- is presented by the student-run Alma Mater Society (AMS) of UBC to an alumni member who has achieved recognition in their chosen field, made a special contribution to the community and maintained a continued interest in UBC. The Award commemorates the spirit of the Great Trek of 1922, where UBC students marched from downtown Vancouver to the Point Grey campus in an effort to pressure the provincial government to provide funding for the campus.

“That event was about students making the statement that the conditions for learning weren’t good enough,” says Fryer.

“The students coming into the Learning Exchange Trek Program are saying something similar, that they need different learning conditions that connect them with the challenges of the 21st century. They want to be learning within the context of the community. They want to cultivate the qualities necessary to be responsible global citizens.

“People in the Downtown Eastside recognize that education is so important. The Learning Exchange is a setting where they can get access to resources that weren’t available to them before and where they too can reflect on their roles as global citizens.”

Fryer has directed the formation and growth of the Learning Exchange since its inception. The project began in 1999 when Fryer and another student were hired to consult with the Downtown Eastside community about how UBC could most effectively develop its presence in the area.

Since then, the Learning Exchange has operated a number of community-based educational programs and initiatives, including a storefront on Main Street where patrons can use computer resources to access the UBC Library, prepare resumes and letters and connect to the Internet. Several “101” level courses have also been offered free to low-income participants and include a meal before and transportation to and from each class.

“Dr. Fryer’s work has allowed many people to access educational services and programs in their own neighbourhoods,” says Holly Foxcroft, Vice-President of External Affairs for the AMS. “She is a pioneer in finding ways to increase the capacity of learning in the Downtown Eastside and for continuing to link the community back to the university.”

About 800 UBC students will participate in the Trek Program this year. UBC’s goal is to have 10 per cent of its students engaged in community service-learning by 2010.

Fryer says future plans for the Learning Exchange include a staff volunteer initiative, a pilot program for alumni volunteers, a more integrated approach to the education events and programs offered at the Main Street storefront, enhanced partnerships with other Canadian universities, and, in conjunction with the Vancouver School Board, a more strategic approach to the work students are conducting in inner city schools.

“We hear time and time again that this is a ‘transformative’ experience for the people involved,” says Fryer. “We’re being driven by the power of what’s being created. We have to keep that momentum going.”

Prior to completing her PhD, Fryer was a researcher in the health and social service fields. She has collaborated with
community groups, non-profit organizations and government agencies on research projects on a variety of issues, including childhood sexual abuse, immigrant women’s perinatal health, child poverty, the needs of seniors, women’s health care and multicultural service delivery.

She has also evaluated pilot projects related to community development strategies for health promotion, community involvement in health care decision-making, and building collaborative partnerships among health care agencies, and has taught research and evaluation principles and skills to community members.

Previous recipients of the Great Trekker Award include former Prime Minister John Turner, author Pierre Berton, CBC journalist Eve Savory, and diplomat and international lawyer Maurice Copithorne.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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