New leadership program at McMaster University aims to grow community engagement

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A leader in community building

Hamilton has long enjoyed a reputation as a city built on the strength of its community.

And McMaster University Centre for Continuing Education’s new Leadership in Community Engagement Certificate (LCE) will only help that sense of community grow.

Developed as a collaboration involving the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute, Hamilton Community Foundation, McMaster School of Social Work, and McMaster Faculty of Social Sciences, this academic certificate offers a unique professional development opportunity for community-builders working in a wide variety of fields from education to social work to municipal planning and more.

“The Hamilton community had been asking for targeted educational opportunities around collaborative leadership and community engagement,” says McMaster Centre for Continuing Education Director Lorraine Carter. “This program, developed through strong local partnerships and in response to research conducted in Hamilton, is our answer.”

Launched this October, the five- course academic program combines in-person and online learning with mentorship and opportunities for experiential learning.The curriculum covers topics such as communication and conflict management, the facilitation of collaborative leadership, and community-based project planning, taught with a focus on grassroots, anti- oppressive, collaborative leadership development within diverse urban communities.

The goal, says Sarah Glen of the Hamilton Community Foundation, is to help experienced community developers increase their knowledge and skill in engagement initiatives while building a strong professional network.

“We believe that leadership is a process, where the collective impact comes from working together for positive change,” she says.

Maria Antelo is one of 50 students who signed up for the LCE certificate program this fall. Employed as a community developer at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, she has 20 years of experience working with new immigrants and refugees in the Hamilton region.

Antelo says she is looking forward to enhancing her practical skills with theoretical knowledge.“It’s also important to be able to learn about what is being done in other place and to hear the perspectives of other participants doing similar work,” she notes.

Cole Gately is one of the instructors and developers of the Foundational Principles and Practices in Community Engagement course. He says he’s impressed by the wide range of professional backgrounds represented in this fall’s inaugural class.

“We have people who work for the City, the school board, the library, and the social planning and research council, as well as some from Ontario Works (social assistance). Some students are in management or leadership roles already, but not all are at the top of the hierarchy,” he says.

Gately has been a community activist since he moved to Hamilton to attend university in the late 1980s and has been working in the area of homelessness for almost 20 years.“As an educator who has also done a lot of work in the community, I’m able to straddle both worlds,” he says.

When it comes to community engagement, Gately says that Hamilton is ahead of the curve.“Hamilton is an urban centre but it’s also small enough for people to feel like they are part of the decision-making process,” he explains.

Being able to offer a professional development opportunity like LCE will only enhance the way community agencies work together to tackle common challenges.

“Hamilton will really benefit,” says Gately.“There will be people out there working in important roles in the community who will have a greater connection to each other and who will be working from a community engagement perspective.”

Glen couldn’t agree more.

“What we’ve learned over the past decade of doing community work in Hamilton is that relationships are central to any broader social change,” she says. “It is my hope that this certificate program will create an inspired, engaged, and self-reflective cohort of professionals engaging in a variety of community-building relationships that will move the dial forward so we can make real change.”

To learn more about the Leadership in Community Engagement Certificate visit

Win your first course! Tweet a 30-second video about why you love Hamilton to enter.

Share your response with @McMasterContEd with a short video clip and tweet it with the hashtag #loveHamOnt.You will be entered to win a free seat in one of the January Leadership in Community Engagement courses.

Applications are open now for courses starting in January 2017.