Since the conception of the institution in the 1960’s, Capilano has embodied values of “inclusion, comprehensiveness and academic excellence”, principles that have operated on a do-it-yourself way of thinking (Kilian, Schermbrucker , 12). The globally affiliated university I experience now emerged from a community college that was, at the time, assembled to serve its local. I believe we are products of our history, and Capilano has a complex and interwoven past with regards to its sense of community and its distinction from other post-secondary institutions. The collective vision of education at the university as a “public good more than a private benefit” resulted in the cooperative construction of courses and intimate classroom numbers (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 9). Capilano has worked hard to poses purpose in its instruction by its structure, rather than allow an idled consumption of education, which is easily found in large universities. Specialization is what makes Capilano unique from big universities and attracts a multitude of students with a unified purpose: to learn.
I asked students at the university about their sense of community on campus, and most replied with hesitation. This frequently stemmed from the platitude of Capilano being a commuter campus, a place where students are constantly moving from one place to another. Others suggested that the campus doesn’t offer spaces where University students prefer to hang out and I can agree to this, but I find something unifying about these statements. I think that the commuter campus is one of Capilano’s greatest qualities; it provides autonomy and flexibility to its students. Very few students at Cap can say that they are not participating in a number of other activities outside of their education, whether this is work or extra-circulars. The engagement with society outside of campus adds to a student’s experience that can be shared with one another and build a more complex understanding of society. I have engaged with a number of students at Capilano that have worked in unimaginably different fields. The results of these networks have influenced a great deal of what I know about their subjects and inspired decisions that have arguably changed my life. Further, this repetitive notion of “commuter campus” also exemplifies a collective identity that students are conscious of and share with one another. The perseverance of numerous areas of interest highlights the individuality of each student and emphasizes the choice they made when deciding to attend Capilano University.
Though individuality is precious, commonality fortifies relationships and harnesses novelty for a common good. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German scholar that lived in the newly formed nationalized Europe in the late 1600’s. He was educated in philosophy and math primarily, but also wrote a considerable amount about the moral politics of autonomy. Leibniz’s famous quote; “Harmony is, in fact, unity in multiplicity”, is what inspired me to study the Capilano student identity. He regarded the structure of a composite state as one of an ideal nation, a place that protects the individuality of local traditions and legal structure but brings them together under a single monarch. I view Capilano as a ‘composite university’ since it incorporates unique backgrounds and identities to create a harmonious state. At the core of Leibniz’s philosophy, a composite state must stand for cooperation and tolerance amongst citizens while rulers help minister a common purpose. At Capilano, student success is the common goal, recognized among faculty, staff and student body. “The coursework was structured and articulated to take individuals where they needed or wanted to go next, but only with their shared commitment.” (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 192). Capilano students have the freedom to pursue a wide range of areas of study, with very little limiting their ability to “explore” other disciplines. It is believed that “an education should be and intellectual adventure”, where students are encouraged to be creative and feel comfortable discussing issues or sharing opinions (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 9). The University also offers unique programs in the province while sustaining the lowest tuition fees (Globe and Mail, 2015) I think that Capilano is like a small-scale composite state- a place where students have the license to discover their abilities and excavate their individuality while retaining the University identity.
I decided to interview three Capilano students, all of different generations and educational backgrounds. The first was my aunt; she graduated from Capilano in 2011 with a Medical Office Assistant Certificate. The second was my mother; she went to Cap in 1990 for her certificate in the Legal Secretary Program. Lastly, I interviewed a friend of mine that is in her first year at Capilano, a student of the Liberal Studies Program. There was not a single corresponding academic course amongst my subjects, but they were connected by their personal appeal to Capilano, and that was due to accommodation. In the 90’s, my mother was a single mom living in North Vancouver with a 10-month-year-old and wanted a post-graduate education. She described how difficult it was for her to find a college that could accommodate her busy life, since commuting across the city was out of the question. She told me that Capilano offered an evening program with flexible days, so she could easily find child-care for a couple nights a week.
For health reasons, my aunt could not go through university life in Ontario for long; I have found this to be a reoccurring event among recent first-year university students. While the world is becoming ‘smaller’ and better connected, there have been more social pressures to move away to big universities and “start your adult life” after high school ends. There is this assumption that everyone is ready to handle the social and intellectual leap that comes with moving to a new city and furthering their education. I have heard these points discussed at the foreground of debates regarding the appeal of larger universities; since the institutions harbor such a large number of students, it is difficult for them to adjust to individual needs. Instead, my aunt moved back to Vancouver, and found Capilano was offering a similar program to which she attended in Ontario, that was flexible with her new work schedule and granted a short commute, so she was able to live at home comfortably.
My friend, who is studying here now, is exploring her first year at Capilano by taking courses in a variety of disciplines; the variability allows her to work full-time concurrently. “Cap’s teachers from the very start were concerned about teaching skills that would teach everyone, from single mothers returning to work, to adult basic education students” (Kilian and Schermbrucker, 17). Since there is a sizable difference between the familiarity of high school and university, my friend has expressed her gratitude for the flexibility she has to explore disciplines she has no experience in and that she doesn’t have to give up her job to pursue the classes. Although she claims she does not have a real sense of community at Capilano, she can name nearly every student in her Japanese class by their first name and most of her professors recognize her and say “Hello!” when seen on campus.
The famous psychologist, Jean Piaget, is known best for his studies in child development and education. His theory of constructivism is what brought me to the importance of individuality as the center of Capilano’s student experience. A key performance indicator published last year of the university showed that 95% of the student body felt that their classroom instruction was good to very good (Globe and Mail, 2015). This is an outstanding statistic, one that reveals the excellent reception students have to their classroom structure. Contrary to the big university model, the small classroom structure is one of the most reputable features of Cap. Constructivism focuses on the epistemological position of experience and interaction, based on an individual’s knowledge. Piaget regarded students as a body of individual learners, rather than a uniform group. He believed that true understanding was developed by adaptation and construction, not rigid instruction. (Carey Zaitchik and Bascandziev, 38) “Education, for most people, means trying to lead… to resemble the typical adult of his society … but for me… education means making creators… You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists” (Bringuier, 132). Since there isn’t a severe separation between students and faculty on campus, there is an encouragement to establish a mutual, respectful and inclusive environment. Most students experience a reciprocal first-name-basis relationship with their professors at Cap, like my friend, enabling opportunity for authentic connection with their field of study for both parties. Capilano is known for its assembly of faculty members of extremely high quality, combine with very small class sizes, enabled a superior education received by the student body (Kilian and Schermbrucker, 9)
Outside of the Capilano campus, I interviewed two former classmates who have transferred to UBC to complete their degrees about university student life. Although they had been looking forward to the big university student lifestyle, they have both found the expansion to have a “larger than human-scale” feeling. Capilano’s small classroom sizes and familiar faculty set a principle for personal experience in a student’s education- whether they are rushing off after class or not. This intimate tactic to one’s education is absent in the big university scene; student bodies become a homogenized swarm and students can get lost among their peers. Piaget had emphasizes the importance of creating meaning by weaving personal ideas and local experiences but encouraging this concept can become impossible in a setting where a student’s ideas are one among hundreds. The students I spoke with expressed the overwhelming pressure for crowd conformity and docility, experienced in classrooms and conversations with fellow classmates due to staggering class-sizes and anonymity.
The Socratic dialogue model has been at the center of teaching methods for centuries. This is used when there is a cooperative asking and answering method, or a debate of sorts, enabling the evaluation of one’s own opinion and reduction of misconception (Lam, 3). This dialog between student and teacher is not primarily found in large university classrooms and is hard to roster if there is excessive pressure for the attention of one faculty member to hundred of students. The fact that Capilano has the ability to support a multiplicity of backgrounds, and bring them all into tolerably sized classrooms, offers students a diverse dialogue. Difference creates an opportunity for a mosaic of information, comparable to a mega-classroom full of students that have a hard time distinguishing themselves from one another. I will cherish the debates that were held in my Contemporary Literature course my first year at Capilano, I was encouraged to stand up for my beliefs (if I could articulate them!), and grew to recognize and respect the differences in my fellow classmates. My Capilano interviewees all had very different lives; one a mother, another newly married, and my close friend who is still trying to find her purpose here. Providing a place where all of these different experiences come together, and allow for connection and open communication, bring the possibility for broader perspectives. This can be found in all of the programs at Capilano since class sizes are relatively standard through all disciplines.
As a second year student at Capilano, I decided to take a continuing studies course at SFU over the summer, a program directed towards professionals looking to brush up in a familiar discipline. In that classroom, I was among twenty students, who were at least ten years my senior. They had graduated from top Canadian and American Universities years ago but wanted to know more about Urban Design. We introduced ourselves on the first day, and most admitted to their shyness since they had never been in such an intimate classroom since high school. Our professor was very hands-on, he ran his course following the Socratic model; he wanted opinions, oppositions, and discussion. Unfortunately, my fellow students were not used to this approach, and I spend three weeks as the sole representative from the auditorium pews. I think that the Capilano classroom structure gave me the confidence to think critically and become comfortable in the academic environment. I believe that Capilano has a sense of community; it just runs more intimately than some students may perceive at first thought. Capilano’s small classroom sizes honor multiplicity and tailor to individual needs, students have the applied learning opportunities that many do not have, and with this, connections are inevitably made with classmates and faculty members. It has been described that a sense of home can be found in a place where you feel comfortable, a sense of satisfaction with an awareness of ease, and I think Capilano is a home base for many, the commuters, the single mothers even the undecided young adult.
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