Broadening Perspectives with CityStudio
Published14 April, 2022
Photo credit Steph Townsend
North Vancouver City Fire Department is a fan of CityStudio’s city-campus collaboration.
Greg Schalk, chief of the North Vancouver City Fire Department (NVCFD), is a dedicated and forward-thinking leader, the kind of action-driven person, who, on hearing a good idea, grabs the phone to learn more about ways his team can benefit.
That’s how Chief Schalk got involved with Capilano University students and CityStudio.
“As fire chief, I work quite closely with the RCMP. When a superintendent described some of the projects the RCMP had worked on with CapU Criminology students, I immediately thought about opportunities,” he said. “I contacted a CityStudio coordinator and we just started to brainstorm ideas, and that’s how the relationship started.”
“The Fire Department has been an amazing partner,” said Aderyn Davies, CityStudio Project Lead. “They’re so into it. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Danks literally took a call from a student while in a helicopter over Abbotsford!”
When I mention this to Chief Schalk, he nods approvingly. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “He’s a very committed person.”
In our edited conversation below, Chief Schalk tells me why working with students on a project through CityStudio can provide valuable outside-the-box thinking to help move important issues forward.
Describe the projects that CapU students have worked on with you at the NVCFD.
The first project explored ways the Fire Department can be more inclusive in our recruitment process. How can we build a team that has diversity and equity at its foundation?
Next, we worked with students on advancing our public education messaging to make it more current. We want to see our public education messaging trending more.
Most recently, we looked at ways we can best utilize social media, which I have to admit, touched on new territory for me. TikTok? Never heard of it. But it's an opportunity for us to reach a different group in a different way.
Was that project a good fit for the students?
I think all of the campaigns we've done together have been really advantageous to us because the students help us broaden our perspective. We can get too hyper-focused in our own little world that we operate in.
Have the results of the CityStudio projects impacted the way the NVCFD works now?
For sure. There has been a real awakening. They bring a totally different lens to what we’re trying to achieve and they have reshaped our thinking. The students have explored issues in ways that we didn't have the resources or the time for.
What’s in it for the students? What do they get out of learning opportunities like this where they partner with community members?
They are working with a real client on real problems or challenges. So, it prepares them to go into the workforce.
What can you tell other potential City partners about the kinds of projects best suited to collaboration with students?
I think the initial CityStudio connection is a really neat exploration adventure. It’s great for generating ideas. So, I don't think you should put a whole lot of boundaries on what you would like to explore. We had other concepts, but we went with ideas that were the best fit.
Speaking of exploration adventure, if CityStudio students had superpowers so they could resolve any issue at the NVCFD, what would it be?
Okay, this is a really big challenge, but we’re wrestling with a vision of our future. What is the fire department going to look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? What is the future of the fire service as it relates to the community? How should our role evolve?
We're not just a group of firefighters that responds to calls. In fact, that’s a very small percentage of what we do. We have a bigger role to play and we need to explore that and figure it out.
In my 20-plus years here, fire services have changed and adapted. Where will we be in 30 years? And how do we prepare for that?
CityStudio projects have dealt with climate change, transportation, food security, health, wellbeing, public policy.
Speaking personally, if those same super-human students could address any issue in the entire city of North Vancouver, what problem would they tackle and solve?
No limit? Well, I’d get them to solve inequality and the associated social challenges that we see in our communities, whether it’s homelessness, mental health issues, addictions. How do we create a better system?