UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 9 | Oct.
UBC’s Learning Exchange Recognized for the Great Trekker
By Erica Smishek
UBC students have recognized a distinguished educator who
is helping change the face of learning at UBC and in Vancouver’s
Downtown Eastside with the 2004 Great Trekker Award.
Margo Fryer is the director of UBC’s Learning Exchange,
an innovative community outreach initiative that provides
educational opportunities to people who live and work in Vancouver’s
Downtown Eastside and other inner-city communities. It also
provides opportunities for UBC students to develop an understanding
of society through first-hand volunteer work.
“The Learning Exchange brings learning alive for people,”
says Fryer, who received her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies
from UBC in 2003.
“It’s really the Learning Exchange -- not just
me -- that’s being recognized. And it’s especially
fitting that the Great Trekker Award is coming to an initiative
that is so tied to community and to the Trek vision (UBC’s
The Great Trekker Award -- with its 2004 theme of Community
Outreach and Community Involvement in the Greater Vancouver
Regional District -- is presented by the student-run Alma
Mater Society (AMS) of UBC to an alumni member who has achieved
recognition in their chosen field, made a special contribution
to the community and maintained a continued interest in UBC.
The Award commemorates the spirit of the Great Trek of 1922,
where UBC students marched from downtown Vancouver to the
Point Grey campus in an effort to pressure the provincial
government to provide funding for the campus.
“That event was about students making the statement
that the conditions for learning weren’t good enough,”
“The students coming into the Learning Exchange Trek
Program are saying something similar, that they need different
learning conditions that connect them with the challenges
of the 21st century. They want to be learning within the context
of the community. They want to cultivate the qualities necessary
to be responsible global citizens.
“People in the Downtown Eastside recognize that education
is so important. The Learning Exchange is a setting where
they can get access to resources that weren’t available
to them before and where they too can reflect on their roles
as global citizens.”
Fryer has directed the formation and growth of the Learning
Exchange since its inception. The project began in 1999 when
Fryer and another student were hired to consult with the Downtown
Eastside community about how UBC could most effectively develop
its presence in the area.
Since then, the Learning Exchange has operated a number
of community-based educational programs and initiatives, including
a storefront on Main Street where patrons can use computer
resources to access the UBC Library, prepare resumes and letters
and connect to the Internet. Several “101” level
courses have also been offered free to low-income participants
and include a meal before and transportation to and from each
“Dr. Fryer’s work has allowed many people to
access educational services and programs in their own neighbourhoods,”
says Holly Foxcroft, Vice-President of External Affairs for
the AMS. “She is a pioneer in finding ways to increase
the capacity of learning in the Downtown Eastside and for
continuing to link the community back to the university.”
About 800 UBC students will participate in the Trek Program
this year. UBC’s goal is to have 10 per cent of its
students engaged in community service-learning by 2010.
Fryer says future plans for the Learning Exchange include
a staff volunteer initiative, a pilot program for alumni volunteers,
a more integrated approach to the education events and programs
offered at the Main Street storefront, enhanced partnerships
with other Canadian universities, and, in conjunction with
the Vancouver School Board, a more strategic approach to the
work students are conducting in inner city schools.
“We hear time and time again that this is a ‘transformative’
experience for the people involved,” says Fryer. “We’re
being driven by the power of what’s being created. We
have to keep that momentum going.”
Prior to completing her PhD, Fryer was a researcher in the
health and social service fields. She has collaborated with
community groups, non-profit organizations and government
agencies on research projects on a variety of issues, including
childhood sexual abuse, immigrant women’s perinatal
health, child poverty, the needs of seniors, women’s
health care and multicultural service delivery.
She has also evaluated pilot projects related to community
development strategies for health promotion, community involvement
in health care decision-making, and building collaborative
partnerships among health care agencies, and has taught research
and evaluation principles and skills to community members.
Previous recipients of the Great Trekker Award include former
Prime Minister John Turner, author Pierre Berton, CBC journalist
Eve Savory, and diplomat and international lawyer Maurice