UBC Dialogues Series brings topics that the community wants to the community

The UBC Dialogues Series — a series of public presentations organized by UBC’s Alumni Association — aims to connect research at the university to the wider community.

The series has been running since the first year of Stephen Toope’s presidency in 2006. According to Fred Lee, UBC’s director of alumni engagement and leader of the UBC Dialogues project, it is currently the university’s longest-standing series. 

Each presentation in the series features experts from the university and community leaders in a target community who speak to the topic. CBC, one of the sponsors of the Dialogue Series, provides the moderators for the discussions.

The Dialogue Series began as a project operating in the Metro Vancouver area, but has evolved over the years into an international initiative. Lee said that the topics are issues specific to the target communities and that they aim to address issues that are of relevance to UBC alumni.

“The topics are really [ones] that our alumni want to hear from the university to provide some expertise on, so they run the gamut,” said Lee. “We really listen to the communities where we’re going into to identify the right topic.”

Still, the input on topics doesn’t come exclusively from the alumni. Students, faculty and partners of UBC are also among those who contribute to the creation of topics.

“If there is something you are interested in, chances are there is somebody at the university who is doing research on that topic,” said Lee.

The Dialogue Series’ most recent presentation examined the benefits and disadvantages of a shared economy in Metro Vancouver. Panelists in the dialogue included David Holzer, the regional director of car2Go; Mia Kohout, the general manager of Mobi; Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs; and Marc-David Seidel, professor at the Sauder School of Business.

“Issues of affordability continue to dominate headlines … and I think there is a desire to see, especially amongst millennials, this trend towards more shared services,” said Lee.

An upcoming dialogue that is currently in the works is one on gender equality and identity in the workplace — a topical matter in light of the recent US presidential elections and the current trend at establishing gender-neutral public washrooms.

Stephen McNeil, an associate professor of chemistry at UBCO, was a panelist at a recent dialogue in Kelowna on chemicals. He believes that the UBC Dialogue Series provides a valuable opportunity for everyone involved to learn.

“It’s one of the advantages of having a university or universities in your community,” said McNeil. “They put on these kinds of opportunities for public discourse where you can go and learn a lot about what your campus is doing, and gain access to expertise.” 

There is also a downloadable podcast for every dialogue in the series, which is available through the its website and the digital library in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

“You can download the podcast so that you can hear if you live in this city or not, or if you live elsewhere. Our podcasts are downloaded about 20,000 times annually, so it is really well-subscribed,” said Lee.

No UBC Dialogue Series talks are currently posted for future dates, but the project is still in the works and the website is updated whenever they have an upcoming talk.