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"Camosun" and "innovation" are becoming even more entwined.

March 4, 2011

“We are on the leading innovative edge,” says Dr. Tim Walzak, Director of Camosun’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation (CARI). “And our new SSHRC status is federal confirmation of that fact.”

The college has just been granted eligibility to access research funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Combined with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funding Camosun has been able to access over the last three years, Camosun is set to leverage huge opportunities. These funds will not only enhance the student experience during a leaner economy, but also support new levels of innovation within the greater community.

Innovation: the backbone of a healthy community

"Local businesses and community organizations see colleges as ideal partners for helping to develop new products or improve processes and services," says James Knight, President and CEO of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC).

One year ago, The Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a "D" in innovation in a report that ranked the country 14th among 17 industrialized nations for its ability to turn knowledge into money-making products and services. However, the big federal funding forces NSERC and SSHRC have decided funding applied research at colleges is part of the solution. Realizing the potential for colleges to change the lives of Canadians, they are seeding innovation with a number of initiatives including their joint College and Community Innovation Program.

"The social sciences and humanities show us how to harness and interpret innovation from a human perspective," says the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, "which translates into benefits for society."

Also supporting this route to community success is the private sector, increasing their funding of college research by more than ten-fold since 2005 with the funding remaining stable between 2008-09 and 2009-10, in spite of the recession.

Colleges improve the lives of people in their communities

"Becoming eligible for SSHRC is prestigious recognition of the role we can play in transforming community, both through economic diversity and social innovation," says Stan Chung, Dean of Camosun's School of Arts and Science.

Colleges know their communities well. Integrally aligned with the needs of their communities, they are adept at translating these needs into specialized training, or, increasingly, business-savvy or humanitarian solutions.

"NSERC funding allows us to come up with innovative nuts and bolts. But the SSHRC funding allows better identification of community issues so we best know where to apply them," says Walzak.

Colleges are traditionally known for teaching not research. However, the picture is changing. Over the last few years, colleges have proven increasingly valuable in using "applied research" to bridge the gap between theoretical research and practical community solutions. Embedded into the heart of the community, colleges specialize in the use of technology, commercialization and implementation techniques, therefore complementing the academic style of research traditional to universities.

At Camosun, the last three years and 2.5 million dollars of NSERC funding has germinated the interest of not only additional funding partners but also project partners. To date, Camosun’s applied research has had a broad reach within the community. The Sport Innovation and Research Centre (SPIN) focuses on athletic innovation, such as the ability to analyze athlete’s biomechanical needs with new textile and sensor technology. Vancouver Island Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping (VICAMP) acts as a catalyst for innovation by delivering advanced manufacturing and prototyping services to local industry. Recently, Camosun worked with Profile Composites of Sidney, using VICAMP’s sophisticated prototyping equipment to supply a variety of plugs required to mold wing sets for small aircraft used in remote mining exploration. Another ongoing initiative is the ANCESTOR project, based on NSERC funding, and working with Aboriginal high school students with the dual goal of introducing computer programming as a career option but also to encourage ownership of their Aboriginal cultural stories.

Camosun's first funding proposal to SSHRC is by Dr. Francis Adu-Febiri, with a proposal to measure a "Human Factor Competency Index" as a predictor of social inclusion and the impact of equitable diversity in the Canadian workplace.

Boosting the student experience

Not only does the community benefit from applied research. According to a recent ACCC report profiling applied research at Canadian colleges, the number of students engaged in applied research more than tripled between 2008-09 and 2009-10. Research allows students the opportunity to become part of social transformation in their communities.

"Students see their instructors are actively engaged in thinking how to improve the human experience as 'practitioners of knowledge' not just discussers of theory," says Chung. "Students begin to understand they have power to effect change as individuals, as members of a community, as well as part of a college." In addition, the hands-on experience in helping gather and analyze data as well as supporting innovation is valuable to potential employers.

SSHRC funding supports profound life questions such as: what is happiness, or how best to live? It supports discovery of who we are as human beings or what we need to survive in a changing world. Practical considerations might include: what do we do to engage people in democracy, what do we do to reduce homelessness, how do we affect environmental sustainability, or what are issues around the inclusion of traditionality?

Interested in bringing life to an innovative project?

Camosun's Centre for Applied Research and Innovation (CARI) is the focal point to coordinate research and innovation at the college. CARI engages faculty expertise, provides assistance in obtaining project funding, and connects project partners. CARI is also is also a resource for organizations in the community having a great idea but not enough capital, expertise or fancy equipment to make it happen.

For more information, contact Tim Walzak at TWalzak@camosun.bc.ca or 250–220–2530.

Last updated: March 3, 2011 9:47 am

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