The MacPherson Institute’s annual symposium is an exciting opportunity for McMaster’s Student Partners community to gather and share their ongoing partnership work. This year’s symposium, held on April 11th 2019, involved more than 20 students presenting work from 13 partnership projects. A panel discussion led by Beth Marquis (Associate Director (Research) at the MacPherson Institute and Assistant Professor in the Arts & Science Program) brought together faculty members Kim Dej (Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Science) and Kim Jones (Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering), along with students Rachel Guitman (Arts & Science), Esra Bengizi (French) and Sophie Geffros (Health, Aging, & Society), who have been involved in a range of partnerships over the past year. The panel discussion focused on motivations for getting involved in partnership work and reasons for staying engaged through the course of a project.
The unusual experience of partnership involves “stepping into a space of co-ownership and leadership,” Rachel says, “and becoming comfortable with discomfort in power dynamics.”
Motivations for joining a partnership ranged from an interest in the interdisciplinary work that often comes with partnership to curiosity about the concept of partnership itself. For student partners like Rachel, joining a student-faculty partnership was driven by an interest in the concept of partnership and its international scope, while for Esra, it was an opportunity to get a hands on experience addressing issues of equity in a particular course. Though initial motivations were unique to each panelist, partnership appealed to most in its difference from traditional approaches to research and pedagogical development. The unusual experience of partnership involves “stepping into a space of co-ownership and leadership,” Rachel says, “and becoming comfortable with discomfort in power dynamics.”
Sophie, who has been working on enhancing equity in the classroom, shared their initial suspicions about working in partnership. While describing several positive outcomes of their partnership, they concluded by noting that “[they] will remain suspicious,” emphasizing the importance of adopting a critical lens when exploring the concept of partnership. Allowing suspicion and discomfort is essential for engaging in unrestricted, productive conversations and fostering an environment where both students and faculty members can be open to new ideas. For faculty members Kim Dej and Kim Jones, this means providing just enough guidance to students to make room for co-ownership of the project in a mutual learning space.
Allowing suspicion and discomfort is essential for engaging in unrestricted, productive conversations and fostering an environment where both students and faculty members can be open to new ideas.
The panelists agreed that students are often motivated to keep working in partnership because of the sense of agency that they gain from their projects. Similarly, as they witness the growth of the student partners, faculty members are motivated by students’ fresh perspectives that challenge traditional academic assumptions. Ultimately, for the panelists, motivations for getting involved and staying in partnership revolve around the sense of community that brings together students and faculty members with various backgrounds and knowledges.
As the panel made clear, thinking about motivations is important for setting the right expectations and goals through the course of a project.
Consider: what are your motivations? How might they evolve? What about partnership keeps you engaged? To what extent do your motivations shape your partnership experience?
Special thanks to Abhishek Premachandra, Adrianna Michell, Cherie Wolmer, Beth Marquis, and Michael Agnew.