Q&A With Urban Studies Alumna Alison Chan
Alison Chan is a 2009 graduate of the Urban Studies Program. She works for an organization called the Centre for Community Learning & Development (CCL&D), which has been serving Regent Park for over 30 years. CCL&D started off as a literacy organization, teaching adults how to read and write, but over the years it has evolved into an organization that uses adult learning and innovative training as a catalyst for community development. CCL&D leads the management of the Regent Park Centre of Learning. Alison was previously the coordinator of the Regent Park Centre of Learning and was recently promoted to Manager of Operations and Development at CCL&D.
The Regent Park Centre of Learning opened in April 2010 and serves the community as an education hub. They work with different institutions and agencies, such as the University of Toronto, Ryerson University and George Brown College, to provide learning opportunities that have never been offered to the community before. All programs are free of charge and are designed to build the residents' individual capacities, which in turn, strengthen the community as a whole and fosters development.
Alison was kind enough to sit down with the Urban Studies Program Alumni Network and answer a few questions.
We understand you learned about CCL&D through the Urban Studies Program placement. Can you tell us a little about this?
In my last year at U of T, I took Professor Shauna Brail’s INI437: Urban Studies Experiential Learning Program which is a course designed to provide students with both an academic learning experience by studying different urban theories and ideas, as well as a practical learning experience, whereby the students are required to complete a placement around urban planning and community development in a counsellor's office, community agency or not-for-profit organization. The students are required to complete at least 8 hours of placement per week, whilst attending classes and completing required readings and assignments.
Was this your first placement? Or have you participated in others before?
I would consider this to be my first "official" placement. I had done a service-learning placement for another U of T class but the placement was much shorter, and only required 2 hours per week.
What new ideas, practices or theories were you exposed to at CCL&D?
I was very much interested in community development, but did not fully understand its relationship with adult learning until I started working for the organization. CCL&D uses education and training as a way to foster community-building and social inclusion by equipping residents with the right tools to make changes in their communities and getting residents engaged in civic activities.
You started at the organization as a student, and now you work full-time at CCL&D. How did this come about?
I was at a placement with the Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative from September to December, before I was transferred to CCL&D, where I completed my placement from January to April. This was approximately a year before the Regent Park Centre of Learning opened, and as a placement student, I was responsible for assisting the Executive Director of CCL&D in organizing the start-up of the Centre. After completing my placement, I realized that they needed a lot of help with the new centre, and I asked the Executive Director if there would be any employment opportunities for me as I had already worked on the project with them for 4 months and would be able to continue my assistance. They hired me as a part-time staff, where I assisted them in setting up the centre, as well as assisting them with various funding proposals. Recognizing my potential and eagerness to learn, they hired me full-time the following January.
How have your experiences as an Urban Studies student contributed to your work at the community center? And tell us your overall thoughts about the Urban Studies service learning program.
The Urban Studies program at Innis College is a multi-disciplinary program, where we were required to study an array of different subjects outside of Urban Studies, such as Sociology, Geography, Political Science, etc. Much of what I studied, from urban theories to current social issues, gave me the background information I needed to serve the Regent Park community. That being said, there were also many things that I learned during my placement that I could not have learned in the classroom. The service-learning program was one of the best things that happened to me during my time at U of T. It gave me a chance to learn things that I could not have learned by reading a textbook, allowed me to meet and work with community planners and residents, and gave me an extremely rewarding job upon graduation, where I am learning something new every day.
I am very thankful for the service-learning program, a program that helped me find my passion and purpose at such a young age. I love working with communities and I know that the non-profit sector is a place I want to stay in for a long time.
For more information on Alison’s work at CCL&D please visit www.tccld.org.