Barbara Decker Pierce, director of the School of Social Work at King’s. Photo courtesy of King’s College University

The joy of connecting with knowledge

By 
  • October 27, 2012

For Barbara Decker Pierce, seeing the joy in the faces of those taking part in King’s College University’s Liberal Arts 101 course is priceless.

The co-founder of the free course offered to London’s underprivileged at the Catholic college at London, Ont.’s Western University, Pierce says she loves “the enthusiasm with which the participants come to the program.”

She enjoys “the look on their faces when they connect with knowledge, when they are treated with respect, when they feel like they’re part of something that is helping them grow as individuals.”

Pierce is the director of King’s School of Social Work. Though the program is run by King’s, it’s a joint activity between Western’s Registrar’s Office, the Dean of Students and the School of Social Work.

King’s is wrapping up the fifth session of its increasingly popular Liberal Arts 101 course. Every fall semester since 2008, the Catholic college has offered free university-level classes to underprivileged members of the London community.

Fifteen participants are selected for each session, and every Tuesday night for the duration of the program, a different liberal arts topic is covered.

This past semester, lectures covered serious issues facing First Nations communities, what psychoactive drugs really do to the mind and body, the economic rise of China, the history of electricity in Canada, the Occupy movement and understanding the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The cross-section of subjects covered is largely dependent on which faculty members volunteer and what they would like to teach. This semester, there are six faculty volunteers.

“The faculty love it,” said Pierce. They enjoy “the love of learning that they see on the faces of people in the program.”

Pierce describes the participants as attentive and always eager to jot down notes and ask questions.

Before the lecture, each class begins with a communal meal.

“The meal is important I think in terms of showing hospitality,” said Pierce. It brings together classmates, faculty, the co-ordinators and the six or seven student volunteers from the School of Social Work.

After the meal, the lecture lasts for about an hour, followed by discussion groups.

“We divide into small groups for some questions that the lecture has presented or provided, and those small groups are facilitated by our social work students,” said Pierce.

“This is a chance for them to work on some of their facilitation skills and also to connect them to the participants.”

The program also provides bus tickets and child care subsidies to participants in need “to remove any barriers people might have from participating,” Pierce said.

Some participants attend the program to test their readiness for post-secondary education. Participants have included those with physical or psychiatric challenges, single parents, immigrants and refugees.

King’s College was founded in 1954 and is sponsored by the diocese of London. Its mission is in part “to foster an environment based on open inquiry, Christian values and service to the larger community.”

The Liberal Arts 101 program is run out of the School of Social Work, said Pierce, as “It’s consistent with our mission to reach out to community, to be present in our community, and it’s also consistent with the values of the School of Social Work, which are clearly to support and assist people in making change.”

The seventh and last class of the program is a dinner and awards night where participants are acknowledged for completing this non-credit course and asked what could be improved upon.

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