Ali Sutherland

 
Relational Service Learning: An Alternative Approach to Transformation
 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Mostly because I am curious. I love to learn and was excited to have the opportunity to be taught by professors speaking a language I was just starting to grasp. I also wanted to test the waters and see if a career in research was for me. Mostly, I was interested in growing my vocabulary, skills and knowledge about how I could best contribute to the changes I wanted to see in global education. I seek to develop the ability to foster these changes both within and beyond academia.
 

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

A large part of what attracted me to UBC was the dream of living in BC and in Vancouver in particular. I had the opportunity to visit a friend who attended UBC in 2012 and fell in love with the city. I was lucky enough to find a program that suited my interests, allowing me to pursue that move.

In reimagining more ethical alternatives to current practices, I think one of the biggest challenges is getting people excited about, and investing in, an education that is deeply uncomfortable.

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I enjoy the exposure I have had to different bodies of knowledge (both in the literature and in person). I am excited about weaving my own thread within existing literature and networks.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

The kind of education I am hopeful about is not always easy or even fun: sometimes it is difficult and painful. However, I think these educational encounters are the most transformative: they help us examine how we got to where we are. In reimagining more ethical alternatives to current practices, I think one of the biggest challenges is getting people excited about, and investing in, an education that is deeply uncomfortable.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Before you come, do your research on who you want to work with, what topics or interests you want to explore - even if it changes, it's great to come into the program with ideas and directions already in mind.

 
 

Learn more about Ali's research

Service learning has proliferated in higher education institutions over the last two decades. While ‘service learning’ is a broad term that encompasses many forms of learning, the notion that transformation is an intended outcome of the service learning experience is common across its various conceptualisations. The most prevalent forms of service learning are premised on an assumption that participants' transformation is inevitable, positive, and related to the betterment of the individual and their community. This model forecloses the possibility for a relationship based on interdependence and dismisses the possibility of engaging with notions of complicity and self-reflexivity. Instead of continuing to merely analyze and critique programs characterized by the dominant approach, I aim to illustrate a more hopeful approach that experiments with new ways of engaging in service learning relationships. While it is necessary and important to critique the most common, normalized forms of service learning, it is imperative in this ever-rising prominence of service learning programs that we explore alternatives to the current, dominant approach. We must provide examples of ongoing experimentations into how to do things differently. Through examining participant transformation in a program in Fortaleza, Brazil, I am hoping to find that although difficult, it is possible, useful and necessary to explore different methods of service learning. Core to my exploration of alternative approaches is service learning's productive potential to disrupt one’s assumptions and worldviews.