Student Directed Seminars: A History Lesson from Dr. Neil Guppy

Sociology Department Head and Professor, Neil Guppy, believes in the power of student initiatives, especially Student Directed Seminars.

Neil Guppy has been the Sociology Department Head for 4 years, in which he has worked to ensure the best possible experience for UBC students and faculty.

“My most important duties are hiring new faculty in conjunction with my colleagues, trying to provide a supportive environment for learning and research, and trying to represent the interests of sociology students and faculty, and the university more broadly,” he described. In addition, Guppy teaches several sections of Sociology 100, a popular first-year survey course.

During his UBC career, Guppy has had a hand in some of UBC’s most popular outlets for student engagement; including working with UBC’s unique first-year orientation, Imagine UBC, and helping to create the Student Directed Seminars (SDS) program.

Guppy coordinated the inaugural SDS program with former AMS president, Vivian Hoffmann. Hoffmann was interested in creating opportunities for students to lead learning. She based her proposal upon a program she witnessed while studying at the University of California, Berkley. Hoffmann brought her idea to Guppy, looking for support and guidance.

“She came to see me because I was the Associate Dean, and most responsible for student issues,” Guppy remembered. “She and I constructed and implemented what is now the SDS seminar.”

The SDS program is an extension of UBC’s Directed Studies program, which allows students to work one-on-one with a professor doing research in a narrow field. SDS courses are designed and directed by students with the assistance of a volunteer faculty member. The SDS Advisory Committee reviews and approves final course outlines before they are offered for registration. Guppy has served as chair on the SDS Advisory Committee for the past six years.

Proposed classes must be on a topic that is not offered at UBC, and have a minimum registration requirement of eight. Students in third year and above are encouraged to submit applications by the deadline. Past courses have included: Think Globally, Act Locally: Citizenship in Vancouver; Chick Lit: Making (Over) a Context; Lifting the Veil: Representations of Middle-Eastern Women; and Graphic Novels: Legitimizing the Genre. SDS courses can span across all faculties and departments.

“We did it as an alternative way for students to engage with topics that weren’t in the UBC curriculum.” Guppy said, explaining that students flourish when they are given the chance to pursue topics they are passionate about. “I believe it’s been tremendously successful. Students are very engaged with learning in the program.”

“My favourite example is the concluding workshop that students had in a hotel in the Downtown Eastside, where they had been exploring alternative ways of representing social change. It was just a very moving, very involved, very passionate three hours of presentation and debate and dialogue with 40 or 50 members of the Downtown Eastside community.”

“Like Imagine UBC, which I was also very involved with when it started, it happened because a student at the University had a really good idea and we were able to jointly implement it,” he said.

“Many of our students have had many good ideas and have been able to push and work them in ways that are beneficial to generations after them.”

By Meghan Roberts (BA 2008, English Literature and International Relations).

(Article originally featured on the Faculty of Arts website,  Thank you for sharing it with us).

Post Comment

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

Center for Student Involvement & Careers
Brock Hall
1002-1874 East Mall,
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1, Canada
Tel: 604.822.9805
Tlell Elviss
Centre for Student Involvement & Careers
1002-1874 East Mall (Brock Hall),
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1, Canada

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC  | © Copyright The University of British Columbia