April 11, 2023

The meeting is called to order: UCalgary students present their urban planning work to city council

Urban Studies class gives students an opportunity to tap into real-world experience at The City of Calgary
Students in Urban Studies 451 present their project to panelist inside The City of Calgary council chambers
Urban studies students Annica Best and Mhairi McGuigan present at Calgary city hall. Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

This semester, students in Urban Studies 451: Planning in the Canadian City had the unique opportunity of presenting their final urban planning projects to a panel of councillors and experts at city hall. The room was filled with nervous energy as the groups waited to share their hard work with Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Councillor Sonya Sharp and city planning experts Joel Tiedemann and Derek Pomreinke.

City of Calgary planner and UCalgary instructor Andrew Sedor has been dreaming of this moment for his students for a while. Although this isn’t the first year they have presented to the mayor and other professionals, it’s the first time it was able to happen in person at city hall as the exercise was imagined.

At the end of the day, it’s nice for the students to have something that doesn’t just sit on a shelf somewhere. I really try with my students to get their ideas out there.

Students Mhairi McGuigan and Annica Best present in Calgary city hall.

Students Mhairi McGuigan and Annica Best present in front of classmates to a panel of experts inside council chambers at city hall.

Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute

Sedor has also encouraged students to pitch other ideas in his class to professionals in his network. “You get better essays and projects that way too, right? When it doesn’t just stay in academia, it’s a super helpful incentive.”

And the students seem to agree. Fifth-year real estate business student Dylan Dallaire notes: “The details and consideration you need to have inspires a higher standard than traditional academic teaching.

“I really appreciate things like this not only as resume-building activities but honestly to develop myself personally and to learn how these systems that we’re going into as we graduate, work. It’s extremely valuable as a student to touch into the real world but also practise the theory application, critical thinking, and the creativity of an outside perspective.”

The student presentations were polished and professional after doing dry runs with Sedor. “I tell them, ‘I’m on your team so I’ll grill you now but I want you to look super good in front of the mayor.’” In fact, Mayor Gondek and the other panellists commented on the presenters’ confidence and their level of detail.

Students Mikhail Storozhakov, Farrah Cormier and Dylan Dallaire presenting at city hall.

Students Mikhail Storozhakov, Farrah Cormier and Dylan Dallaire present on behalf of their group to the panellists.

Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute

The strength of the presentations also comes from Sedor’s unique way of forming the student working groups. At the beginning of the semester, he takes students through a teamwork exercise to help them identify their skill sets in different areas. Groups are formed to strike a balance between those who feel like strong presenters and those with skills in writing or presentation design.

Sedor also considers other commonalities, like favourite band, so groups have a sense of camaraderie from the start. “There’s some level of ‘Hey, we’re all friends’,” he says.

This style of experiential learning in the classroom has resonated with students, especially after a few years of learning online. Fourth-year urban studies student Annica Best says, “It was honestly refreshing.

“This is one of my first classes where I could actually experience something practical and see an almost real-world situation of getting a group together, having a master plan done, being a planning manager, and then presenting it to council.

“It really changed my mind about planning. At first I was thinking ‘This is not for me’ and now it seems like it might be a possibility.”

The Office of Experiential Learning leads initiatives to enhance experiential learning in partnership with teams across campus and in alignment with UCalgary’s bold goal of providing all students with opportunities to enhance their academic experience through practical, hands-on learning.

Share your stories about experiential learning by getting in touch with our team at experientiallearning@ucalgary.ca or learn more about the Experiential Learning Plan.

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