The 3rd annual Improve Life Challenge came to a close on Friday eve, roughly 12 hours after the University of Guelph’s Arboretum Centre began filling up with students and community partners. After months of prep and countless meetings, I am so proud of the team that made it all happen, and I can’t thank the folks involved enough for their incredible efforts and energies bringing it to life.
Honestly, there are so many people to thank that I’m worried I’m going to miss someone. Considering the fact that we had 44 students working with and learning from a combined total of 48 community partner representatives, facilitators, and geniuses, the list of people involved is long. And this doesn’t even consider special guests, the judges, or the tireless staff and faculty working in the background months in advance to make the Improve Life Challenge the success that it was.
I want to first thank the community partners1 for trusting us with your challenges, and for sharing your expertise and knowledge with our students. Because of your efforts, the solutions that were proposed were both impactful and respectful to the resources you have at hand. Even if your team didn’t place first, second, or third, you provided our students with a unique experience that is worth far more than the prizes we could offer.
To our geniuses2 – thank you for challenging our student and community partner teams. Your insights helped strengthen proposed solutions, and in some cases, forced the teams to completely reimagine and redesign their proposals. Your guidance and expertise is critical to the success of the day, and we are so glad you gave your time so willingly.
I also want to thank our judges3. You had the unenviable task of trying to decide which teams were deserving of first, second, and third place. I would not have wanted to be in your shoes, because the proposals were all so good, and so different.
To the team facilitators4; you were the glue that held together, and helped push forward our student-community partner teams. Thank you for your energy throughout the day, for patiently guiding our teams, prompting them when they were stuck, challenging their ideas, and encouraging them to try things outside of their comfort zone.
To my co-leading facilitators5 – I’ve had the pleasure and honour of working with you both for a while now. I have and continue to learn so much from you. Your energy and positivity is infectious. Your curiosity and ability to move evidenced based approaches from theory to action is unmatched. I am constantly amazed by your ability to critique and challenge ideas, to foster and test new ones, and to see things in ways that I can’t. I am incredibly proud to call you my partners in crime.
Most importantly, a huge thank you to the team6 behind the Improve Life Challenge. It should come as no surprise that pulling something together of this size requires a community. And the community behind the Improve Life Challenge is the best. While I haven’t explicitly mentioned any individuals as of yet, I’m going to break from that pattern and call out three people in particular. April, Mairin, and Jeanna – I am forever grateful to you for keeping things on track, booking rooms, planning meals, and managing all other logistical issues – including somehow managing to keep a team of faculty organized and focused. No small feat! Thank you for building and managing the relationships essential to the success of this event. Thank you for connecting with our students. Thank you for thinking about the things that we didn’t. You truly were the stars of this event, and without your efforts I’m sure we’d still be flailing about trying to determine what to do.
Finally, thank you to the students. Without your energy, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and ability to trust the process, the Improve Life Challenge would not be a success. Thank you for trusting us and working with us, and for using your skills to make our communities better.
The 3rd Improve Life Challenge has come to an end, but the high that I left with on Friday eve is going to last for some time.
1 The Beef Farmers of Ontario, Conestoga Meats, The Co-operators, Highline Mushrooms, Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, MapleLodge Farms, OCP North America, OMAFRA, and Wellington Brewery.
2 Verne Osborne, Maria Corradini (Associate Professor, Food Science), Manjusri Misra (Professor, School of Engineering), Tanya Mark (Associate Professor, Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies), Steve Tedesco, Kari Dunfield, Laura Van Eerd, Evan Fraser (Professor, Director of the Arrell Food Institute), Brandon Raco (Manager, Sustainability Office), Ping Wu (Past President of PEGO), Kathleen Rodenburg (Assistant Professor, School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management), Khurram Nadeem (Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics), Steve Duff, Briana Hagen, Meredith Gardiner, Bassim Abbassi (School of Engineering).
3 Mary Wells (Dean of the College of Engineering & Physical Sciences), Rene Van Acker (Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College), Deb Stark (Board of Governors, University of Guelph, and Former Deputy Minister of OMAFRA)
4 Elizabeth Shantz (Knowledge Mobilization Manager, Research Innovation Office), Jeanna Rex (Education Coordinator, Arrell Food Institute), Emily Duncan (PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, Environment & Geomatics), Robert Matson (MSc Candidate, Department of Animal Biosciences), Karthika Sriskantharajah, Sugandha Raj, Jessica Nelson (MSc Student, Department of Integrative Biology), Lisa Ashton (PhD Student, Department of Geography, Environment & Geomatics), Caroline Duvieusart-Dery (Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator, Community Engaged Scholarship Institute).
5 Shoshanah Jacobs (Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology), Erin Doherty (Program Manager, John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise)
6 April Albano (Program Coordinator, John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise), Mairin Scannell (Program Coordinator, John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise), Elizabeth Shantz (Knowledge Mobilization Manager, Research Innovation Office), Caroline Duvieusart-Dery (Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator, Community Engaged Scholarship Institute), Jeanna Rex (Education Coordinator, Arrell Food Institute), Erin Doherty (Program Manager, John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise), Bill Van Heist (Associate Dean External Relations, College of Engineering & Physical Sciences), and John Cranfield (Associate Dean External Relations, Ontario Agricultural College).
The Improve Life Challenge was a collaborative effort with support from the following groups on campus: The Lang School of Business & Economics, The College of Engineering & Physical Sciences, The Ontario Agricultural College, The Arrell Food Institute, The Research Innovation Office, and The Community Engaged Scholarship Institute.
Special thanks to OCP North, and CropLife Canada for financial support to bring the Improve Life Challenge to life.