Trent University’s Community-Based Research Partnership in Haliburton County

Established in 1999, the U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research works with community partners, faculty and students to deliver high quality, relevant research services to Haliburton County.

By Patrick Walshe '66, U-Links

From its earliest days Trent has been committed to active community service. Trent’s foundational commitment to public service was clearly articulated by our founding president. In his speech at the opening ceremonies for Trent, President T.H.B. Symons stated his hope that Trent would give “service to this community, to this Province and to Canada, and to many scholars … through generations to come.” President Symons went on to take leadership roles in many vital local, provincial, federal and international organizations and committees, His example has set the standard for members of the Trent community to follow in assuming responsibility to bettering their communities for the benefit of current and future generations.

Nowhere is Trent’s commitment to public service more evident than in Haliburton County, one of the smallest and poorest counties in Ontario. In the face of limited human and financial resources, community planning requires careful, fact-based analysis. In 1989 John Wadland (Canadian Studies) and Tom Whillans (Environment and Resource Studies) created the Community Based Research (CBR) program as a joint initiative of their respective departments. They were joined by Jim Blake, a founding member of the Haliburton County Community Co-Op (HCCC), on the community steering committee that managed the Trent / Haliburton relationship. In 1999 the program was expanded to serve all interested departments. At that time U-Links was formally established in Haliburton a part of the Haliburton County Community Co-Op. A management committee made up of local citizens and Trent faculty facilitates the origination and execution of CBR projects, U-Links provides assistance to community organizations / groups, businesses and municipalities in finding practical information that will support social, cultural, environmental and economic development in Haliburton County.

The program brings the resources of the University to Haliburton to assess community needs / opportunities and to suggest practical solutions to these needs... The program is offered to Trent undergraduate and graduate students who undertake research and service learning projects for course credit. U-Links enables students to develop and apply research skills that generate results-oriented information with specific and direct benefit to the community. U-Links has strong ties with Environmental Resource Studies, Geography, Forensics and Canadian Studies at Trent. The program reflects the University’s belief in and commitment to experiential learning as a key component of the Trent experience...

Professor Whillans notes that “Trent University is an institutional citizen. It participates in its community through the actions of its students and faculty, notably their research skills and efforts. Nowhere has the engagement been more collaborative than in Haliburton. Over some 25 years a warm respectful working relationship has evolved, enabling individual students to realize their personal potential through applied research in that community and, in turn, offering community members and organizations control over the focus and quality of the research products. As with any dynamic relationship, some learning and research outcomes have been better than others; however, the overall mutual rewards have been undeniable”.

U-Links provides assistance to community organizations / groups, businesses and municipalities in finding practical information that will support social, cultural, environmental and economic development in Haliburton County. As such, the Community Based Research program is equally a Community Benefit Research program. Over 400 research projects have been developed and facilitated on behalf of local government; non-profit and community organizations. Many of the finding from CBR research projects have been used as the basis for planning and decision making as well as launching new initiatives. CBR reports are housed by U-Links in the Haliburton County Collection as “grey literature” - unpublished community research. We believe that Haliburton County is the only rural community in North America that has an independent Community Based Research Centre and that has been able to amass such a volume of community-specific research information,

Professor Randy Stoecker from the University of Wisconsin has extensively studied university based research centres across North America and Europe. Professor Stoecker notes that “There are only a handful of organizations in the world that serve community research needs and are controlled by the community rather than by a university or college. And I know of only one such organization in a rural area and that is U-Links. Add to that the long list of research projects brokered by U-Links that have made a visible difference in the community around transportation, recycling and waste, art, agriculture, and many other issues. The community development results alone make U-Links a major asset in Haliburton County.”

U-Links epitomizes Trent’s founding principle of public service and its focus on experiential learning... It provides local groups and organizations with the high quality research essential to creating a vibrant, liveable and sustainable community. U-Links also provides Trent students with the opportunity to create and execute outcome-specific research that contributes directly to the well-being and quality of life in Haliburton. President Symons’ hope that Trent would play a leadership role in the communities it serves is brought to life in U-Links. All of the students, faculty and administrators who have participated in this Community Based Research project are to be commended for their commitment to this important public service initiative and recognized for the many contributions they have and continue to deliver in making Haliburton a more livable and sustainable community.


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