Dr. Cynthia Stacey
Dr. Stacey served as dean of Renaissance College from 2013 to 2018. Prior to this appointment she was an Associate Professor of Recreation and Sport Studies in the Faculty of Kinesiology at UNB. She has a PhD in cultural geography from the University of Ottawa. Her Bachelor's degree in Recreation is from Acadia University and her Master's degree in Resource Planning is from the University of Guelph. Her research interests center around the themes of resources-based recreation and tourism planning and management, community sustainability and well-being, and non-profit governance and leadership.
Renaissance College is home to Canada’s first interdisciplinary leadership studies program. Undergraduate students receive a Bachelor of philosophy degree, named in the Cambridge-Oxford tradition. Renaissance College uses hands-on, social learning extensively and promotes experiential learning through internships and other community organization projects. It fosters strong academic development, practical leadership skills and critical thinking in a unique and comprehensive program.
MS: From Kinesiology to Renaissance College seems like quite a journey!
CS: It is not really as much of a journey as it may seem. Renaissance College is about fostering students’ understanding of civic leadership and the challenges of ethical and effective engagement in society by encouraging them to apply their learning in meaningful pursuits. The fields of recreation and tourism are concerned with the provision of opportunities for the health and well-being of individuals and communities. That takes collaborative and civic-minded leadership. As a result, both really support leadership and social engagement plus self-fulfillment combined and a sense of personal responsibility
Furthermore, along with my academic teaching and research, I have worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors and have been an active volunteer in the community with environmental, tourism, recreation and social- focused organizations. These experiences have given me insight into the knowledge, abilities and imagination needed to anticipate, adapt to and drive change for social good. The solid community network I developed through this work helps connect students to experiential learning opportunities.
MS: Discussion of Renaissance College dominated our conversation, and when I visited the building, it was clear that you are strongly committed to its program. What are its distinguishing characteristics?
CS: I can easily describe five characteristics of Renaissance College, which when combined, contribute to the uniqueness and growing popularity of the program.
First, the interdisciplinarity of the program provides the freedom for students to explore diverse academic interests. In addition to the core courses in leadership studies, (which are inherently interdisciplinary), each undergraduate does at least a minor selected from the many options available on campus. Students often do a double minor. These options range from biology, business and environmental studies to political science, psychology, sociology, international development, and gender and women’s studies. The graduating class this spring included minors in eighteen different disciplines. By combining the core program with a variety of disciplinary perspectives students are able to view the world with both focus and with breadth.
Second, we are small-scale and high intensity. Typically, we accept 30 students each year into our accelerated eight consecutive term program and they are already quite accomplished, with a wide range of interests. We deliberately build a sense of community through activities such as our weekly "Soup's On" event. Teams of students prepare and serve soup to all members of the College each Thursday. Our unique Victorian house, engagement with caring and supportive staff and faculty and a variety of other activities and community projects results in a particular ‘RC culture’ and a feeling of ‘family’.
Third, several of our instructors are practicing members of the community, grounding our students' education in what the students call 'the real world.' This demonstrates that their coursework is strongly connected to everyday life.
Fourth, we give particular attention to intercultural awareness through our courses and internship experience. This is built on our belief that in a pluralistic world, successful organizations must be populated by individuals who understand group processes and how to guide them while maintain the proper respect for each individual.
Fifth, each student is required to complete two mentored and facilitated leadership oriented internships. The first is domestic and can be paid or volunteer. The focus of this internship is on leadership in the professional environment. The second internship is designed as an international cross-cultural learning experience. Each of the internships lasts ten to fourteen weeks, and usually occur during the summers between first and second year and the second and third year. Students also have opportunities to work with community organizations at various other stages during their degree.
MS: In developing a Florida State University course in creativity for non-art majors, I found that coming up with the right mix of rigor, inspiration, engagement and applicability was quite challenging. If Renaissance College were to develop a creativity course, what might it look like?
CS: A trans-disciplinary special topics course might be a good starting point. It is so valuable for students to tackle important problems from multiple perspectives and to gain an understanding and appreciation for other disciplines. This could be built into the course structure through the students who enroll. Exercises in creativity and innovation could drive such a course while students work on addressing ‘real problems’ in the community, province or beyond.
MS: Yes! The breadth of student majors in my Creative Inquiry course greatly strengthened learning. Students loved team-based problems that revealed the different lenses through which their classmates viewed the world.
CS: A similar approach was used in my Master’s program at University of Guelph. The dozen students in the program were deliberately selected from a variety of disciplines. It took us nearly a semester to stop fighting and embrace our difference--in approach as well as in opinion. But, ultimately, we all learned as much from each other as from the official instruction. We tackled a major project that required all of our skills and created a strong bond.
MS: What is your connection to the Atlantic Centre for Creativity?
CS: I have been a member of the Centre, involved in the planning of the conference in the fall and presented a session with a colleague on using gaming in leadership education.
MS: What would you most like to see the ACC accomplish?
CS: The Centre has already done some very good work. There is a growing network of interested and active members throughout Atlantic Canada and UNB has presented a ‘Year of Creativity’ on campus. In the fall of 2017 UNB hosted a very successful Conference and Acadia University will host a creativity symposium this year. The next step is to secure formal status for the Centre at UNB and to continue to develop the resources of the Centre. It can become a hub for best practices and research as well as take a lead in promoting creativity education at UNB and other educational institutions in the region. Creativity is the foundation for innovation and creative problem solvers and innovative thinkers are needed now--more than ever.