The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Sep8ThuThe Salvation Army's only university college is poised for the future. September 8, 2016 by Kristin Ostensen
Beth Conway came to Booth University College in Winnipeg two years ago. She had taken a year off after high school, working part time at a grocery store while thinking about what she wanted to do with her life.
- Filed Under:
The answer came when she met a social worker.
“I had some experiences in my life and with friends that showed me there was a need for good social workers,” she says. “And for a long time, I had been trying to picture myself in different jobs, and always thought, That's not something I can do. But when I encountered this social worker and job shadowed her, it clicked. I finally thought, I can see myself doing this.”
Booth's social work program is widely acclaimed, and the campus is close to her hometown of Elie, Man. But it was the personal connection that brought her to Booth's doors.
“I had a friend, a few years ahead of me, who was going to Booth and she said that it was a positive experience for her,” says Conway. “The class sizes were small, it was a Christian environment, and the teachers cared about you.”
Not wanting the same experience as her two older siblings—“They went to huge universities where the classes had 300 people”—Conway applied to Booth, where she found not just an education, but a community.
From Bible College to University
Booth University College began in 1982 as Catherine Booth Bible College, graduating to William and Catherine Booth College in 1997 and its current status in 2010. It is the only degree-granting institution in the Salvation Army world.
Today, Booth offers seven bachelor's degree programs and two certificate programs on its Winnipeg campus, with further programs and courses offered through the School for Continuing Studies (see below). As Booth has increased its offerings, enrolment on campus and in the School for Continuing Studies has also increased steadily for the past nine years.
“A lot has been accomplished over the last 10 years,” says Dr. Marjory Kerr, Booth's president. “Booth has weathered many challenges and we're now in a position of strength as we develop our reputation as a Christian university college of choice.”
In 2014, Booth launched a strategic plan, Vision 2020: The Road to Booth University, to guide the institution's development in the years ahead. One of the plan's six priorities is growing Booth's university profile. “This means ensuring a vibrant culture of learning, leveraging our existing academic programs and developing new ones,” says Kerr.
Rooted in Faith
The bachelor of social work is the largest program at the university college's Winnipeg campus.
“Booth's social work program is one of only two programs delivered in faith-based institutions in Canada, and it's rooted in the Salvation Army heritage of hope, social justice and mercy,” says Bonnie Bryant, who has been program director since 2000.
“In the early days of the program, the community didn't believe that you could deliver social work within a Christian institution—the students would be biased, they would be evangelizing, they wouldn't be able to meet clients where they are. So even setting up practicums was a challenge,” she notes. “But when I look at where we are today, there isn't a field of practice that our students are restricted from.”
Booth students complete practicums in various places, from hospitals to Indigenous agencies, and have further opportunities to hone their skills through the program's unique “social-work lab.” The lab allows students to role-play different scenarios and watch the videos afterward. “It's a great way for them to look at how their skills are developing,” says Bryant.
That practical experience, combined with classroom learning, pays off—Booth's social work students have a 96-percent employment rate upon graduation.
As Booth continues to increase its offerings, one of its newest programs is the bachelor of arts in psychology, which launched in 2015 under the direction of Dr. James Cresswell.
“We designed a program that emphasizes applied psychology,” says Cresswell. “Our students have the opportunity to do a lot of community-based, community-engaged research.”
For example, last fall, students in Cresswell's personality psychology course completed a research project for a settlement agency that assists newcomers. The agency's director noted that some of the clients bounced back and thrived after immigrating, while others did not.
“The director asked my students to find out, How do we predict who's going to do well and who's not?” says Cresswell. “Because, with limited resources, you want to put your money where the people need it most.”
The students spent four months doing a literature review on the topic of resilience, and developed a model for resilience and how it relates to adaptation. Then they made a presentation to the agency and developed an assessment tool for the agency to use.
“Not many people get those kinds of opportunities while they're undergraduates,” Cresswell says.
While each student chooses a major, core curriculum and elective requirements ensure students receive a well-rounded education.
For Alicia Loner, who graduated with a bachelor of business administration last April, the non-business courses were very valuable. “Especially world religions,” she says. “I learned about different cultures and religions, which I had always wanted to study but knew nothing about. And I loved English, so, even in the courses that weren't business, I gained knowledge that I'll use the rest of my life.”
Along with the diversity of courses, Loner appreciated the variety of teaching methods used at Booth.
“The head of the business department, Angela Davis, catered to so many different learning styles,” says Loner. “It wasn't just, 'Here's a lecture, here's your homework.' Almost every class we did something different. We'd learn about something and then apply it.”
Reflecting on her experience at Booth, Conway says, “I've realized that I need to interact with the ideas and ask questions to solidify all the connections that my mind is making. In a small class, it is a lot easier to have a conversation with the professor.”
Tailoring the educational experience to individual students is one of Booth's strengths, Bryant believes. “We know our students, and when you know your students, you can work with them and help to stretch them, to maximize their potential,” she says.
“I think the best thing about the professors is that you can go up and talk to them, inside and outside class,” says Conway. “They care about who you are and where you're going.”
A Christian Perspective
As a Salvation Army institution, all of the instruction at Booth is infused with the Christian faith.
“One way in which we try to embody the faith, as expressed through the Army, is our focus on service and engagement in the community for the betterment of social good,” says Cresswell, pointing to Booth's slogan: “Education for a better world.”
It's not a traditional university experience. The focus isn't on just school, it's on the community, your friends, your faith.
All of Booth's instructors are Christians, which means that faith is part of the ongoing discussion.
“The professors will mention things like their church experience, or their personal experience with God, and it adds a richness to the discussion, because there's a difference between exploring an idea that you don't believe in, and exploring something that is real to you,” says Conway.
Unlike some Christian institutions, Booth has open enrolment, so not all students share that faith. In the social work program, approximately 40 percent of students come from other backgrounds and worldviews.
“It enriches the program because it gives students the opportunity to look at diversity,” says Bryant. “When they finish the program, they're going to be working with people with diverse worldviews, so to have those discussions in the classroom is invaluable.”
Bryant often sees the impact of Booth's Christian teaching at the end of the program, when her students put together a portfolio, reflecting their experiences there. “Even if they weren't Christians when they came into the college, they'll talk about the influence of the environment and the religion courses on them. Sometimes we have students who have had a faith background early in their life and reconnect with it while they're in the program.”
Loner's faith was on the rocks when she arrived at Booth in 2013. “I wasn't sure how I wanted God in my life, and I wasn't even sure if I believed in God,” she says. “Going to Booth was a scary decision because it would force me to face that.”
Loner grew up in The Salvation Army and started attending Living Hope Community Church when she moved to Winnipeg. “It was a welcoming church, really multicultural, and there were tons of kids,” says Loner, who was involved with Sunday school and kids' club.
Though she entered Booth with doubts, she reached a turning point in her faith during her second year, when the university college hosted a Time to Be Holy conference. “It was a whole weekend of taking time away from real life and worshipping God, and learning how we can be holy the rest of our lives,” she says.
As with Loner, Conway was raised in a Christian family but came to Booth with mixed feelings about her faith. “When I finished high school, I was in a bad place,” she says. “There was a lot going on, and I didn't stay connected to God.”
During the summer after her first year, Conway decided to give her faith another shot. “Going into my second year, the difference was night and day,” she says. “Suddenly I could see all of the spiritual aspects to my school that I had been oblivious to my first year. The atmosphere was almost charged with joy.”
For Conway, that feeling comes from the community itself: “It's in the little conversations, it's how they treat you—their faith shows.”
Loner, who lived on campus throughout her studies and was a resident assistant for two years, says the campus atmosphere reminded her of a Salvation Army camp. “We'd go to classes during the day, and then we'd hang out in the common room, watch movies, go out to restaurants,” she says. “Even though we were in school, it felt like home.”
Booth has twice-weekly “community gatherings” that can take various forms, from chapel services to discussion groups. “It's about bringing the community together, and that includes students, staff and faculty,” says Kerr.
“It's not a traditional university experience,” Loner says. “The focus isn't on just school, it's on the community, your friends, your faith. It's a school that impacts the rest of your life, not just your education.”
For Conway, the past two years have been even better than she expected. “I was expecting school,” she says. “I was expecting hard work. And when I think of school, I think of cold, hard walls, an empty space. But Booth has so much life to it. And yes, it is hard work. But at the end of the day, even if I'm stressed out of my mind, I can still say that I thoroughly appreciate and enjoy my school, and love spending time there.”
School for Continuing Studies Expands Booth's Reach
Booth's School for Continuing Studies (SCS) launched in April 2014, fulfilling one of Vision 2020's strategic priorities. Dean Lt-Colonel Susan van Duinen shares how the SCS is making an impact in—and beyond—our territory.
Why was opening the SCS a priority for Booth?
Booth's focus is education for a better world, and what better way to reach the world than through online education. Booth always had an element of distance education, but we wanted to enhance that.
What kinds of courses does the SCS offer?
There is a strong Salvation Army focus, which is good—the Canada and Bermuda Territory is blessed to have a denominational educational institution. Booth provides the academic religion training for our cadets, and after commissioning they work with the SCS to complete their degree.
What we want to do in this next phase of our development is to open up some of these courses and certificates—for example, our certificate in not-for-profit management. Many of our courses focus on leadership.
What's next for the SCS?
We want to develop a fully online degree—it's not a matter of if, but what. What is our niche as a Salvation Army educational institution? We're at the beginning of the research stage; we want to offer something that will meet a need.
We're also looking beyond our territory. We're currently developing a program of studies for the United States, a certificate in Kroc leadership, for staff at all the Kroc centres. This year, the associate dean and other instructors have taught in Cuba, Costa Rica and Argentina. Those courses—theological courses for cadets and officers—have always been well received and well attended.
* * * *
Doing Business Differently
"I come from a business background, but I wasn't long into the Army when I realized that we do business quite differently. My area commander approached me and asked if I would be interested in the certificate for notfor-profit management at the SCS, and when I looked at what courses were offered, it was perfect for my role at the Booth Centre.
One of the instructors, Lt-Colonel Neil Watt, had this phrase: “understanding administration as ministry.” That threw me for a loop. I signed on as an officer for front-line ministry. But as I took the courses, that started to resonate with me and at the end, I had a complete understanding that these courses were exactly what I needed to do. I handle the finances at the Booth Centre and the not-for-profit certificate has given me a better understanding of what needs to be done here."
—Captain Tony Brushett, Assistant Executive Director, Ottawa Booth Centre