SFU’s Vancouver campus celebrates 30 years of community engagement

SFU president Andrew Petter

When Simon Fraser University decided to expand into downtown Vancouver 30 years ago, the idea was considered revolutionary for B.C.

“Universities were more commonly situated as far away as possible from urban areas: on the top of mountains or the end of peninsulas,” says SFU president Andrew Petter. “The apparent conception of universities at the time was that they should be self-contained and undisturbed.”

“As I understand it, the original impetus for SFU to come to downtown Vancouver was a desire to bring Continuing Studies programs into the city to better connect with lifelong learners,” says Petter. “It was a bold decision that was opposed by many in the university community. Yet the benefits of that decision are now apparent for all to see.”

Three decades later, SFU draws 70,000 people annually to its nine Vancouver locations. It is by far the largest post-secondary institution in the downtown, and has been celebrated for being “the intellectual heart of the city.”

“The decision to move downtown has resulted in a proliferation of programs that have benefited the university as well as the community,” says Petter. “It also set the stage for SFU’s vision and commitment to be Canada’s most community-engaged research university.”

The university has forged relationships with and gained support from the Vancouver community as it has expanded its downtown facilities and programs. In addition to its educational offerings, the campus supports research, business development and social innovation. It also plays a major role providing community forums and dialogues, and delivering cultural programs and events that include plays, films, exhibitions, dance performances and festivals.

The school continues to pride itself on breaking moulds by embracing unconventional ideas.

“RADIUS, our ground-breaking social innovation centre, stands for ‘RADical Ideas Useful to Society’ – one of my favourite acronyms at SFU,” says Petter. “It’s about taking student and community ideas for social betterment and figuring out how to convert these into business opportunities, for the benefit of the community in areas such as environmental sustainability, food security and affordable housing.”

SFU is also helping to turn innovative ideas into business opportunities at SFU VentureLabs, a world-class science and technology accelerator occupying two floors of the Harbour Centre tower. Ranked North America’s top university-based business incubator, VentureLabs is also British Columbia’s leading accelerator for job creation, revenue growth and capital formation.

“We’re engaged very directly in building this city and helping to make it better,” says Petter. “When you think SFU, think community builder, because that’s very much what we are.”

SFU’s Vancouver campus turned 30 years old on May 5, 2019. A yearlong series of 30 events will showcase the campus’ innovative programming, research and community engagement.

For details, visit: www.sfu.ca/van30