History of University Classes at the Working Centre

About 500 University of Waterloo undergraduate students have taken credit courses at the Working Centre over the past twelve years, all of them in classes of no more than thirty students, incorporating ample discussion and a sampling of the Working Centre's programs in community education and development.

Board member Ken Westhues, professor of sociology at Waterloo, began the program with his course in "Sociology of Work" in the winter term of 1991. Since then, he has alternated this course with his course on "Ancestry, History, and Personal Identity." Other professors taking part have included Terry Downey, now President of St. Mary's College in Calgary, who taught a political science course, "Public Administration," and Kieran Bonner, current Dean at St. Jerome's University, who taught "Sociology of Community" at the Working Centre in 2003.

For full-time undergraduates living on or near campus in Waterloo traveling by bus or car to downtown Kitchener for one of their courses is an adventure beyond the ivory tower of theory into the real world of work. While courses at the Working Centre are the same as those on campus in the readings and assignments required, the atmosphere is different. Students get first-hand acquaintance with the programs of social development in which the Working Centre is involved and get a taste of the network of businesses, government agencies, and voluntary associations that form the fabric of Kitchener-Waterloo as a city and community.

In addition, the courses at the Working Centre have proven attractive to adults studying for a degree part-time. A number of places are normally reserved for noncredit students interested in trying out university, or in sitting in on a course out of personal interest.

The bridging of university and community reflected in these courses at the Working Centre draws on two models of "extension education." The cooperation in the 1890s between the University of Chicago and Jane Addams's Hull House is an especially apt model, since Waterloo County native Mackenzie King, Canada's longest-serving Prime Minister, acquired in the Chicago experiment many of the ideas of social reform he nourished throughout his life.

Another model for the University of Waterloo's venture into downtown Kitchener is the cooperative movement led by Moses Coady at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, during the 1930s. Coady aspired to the same kind of university service to community development that the UW courses at the Working Centre represent.

Below are some student comments on their courses at the Working Centre:

"The different location was a nice change, atmosphere personal and welcoming. I enjoyed the off-campus atmosphere; it encourages better discussion. A good way to allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Location added to a positive atmosphere and a different kind of learning. I really enjoyed the class being off campus. It made it seem more relevant to what's happening in the community. The Working Centre environment was helpful and appropriate for the subject of the course. Good complement to business courses I've taken."

We welcome conversation with University Professors interested in teaching classes in our spaces.

"The Working Centre was the perfect setting. Having the course off campus in downtown Kitchener was a nice change. I liked it that we were away from campus; I got to see the other side of things. This course being off campus brought it closer to the topics being discussed. It became clear to me at the first class meeting that this class could not be taught appropriately any place besides the Working Centre, Please don't let this course ever be taught in a lecture hall. The different vantage points presented in discussions were the key to my learning in this course."

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