Bringing together diverse voices and experiences through dialogue can play a critical role in our understanding of ourselves, each other and the world in which we live. It can also propel the ideas and collaborative action needed to drive meaningful change.
Since 2002, SFU’s Semester in Dialogue has inspired students with a sense of civic responsibility and encouraged their passion for becoming active citizens. The immersive one-semester, full-time program bridges the university and the community, creating space for students to reflect on what they are doing and why it matters.
Now, through the new SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue Staff Award for Promising Future Dialogue Practitioners, annually at least two undergraduate students enrolled in the Semester in Dialogue program will receive financial support for their studies.
The award was established in 2021 by SFU staff members Shahriar Pedram, Brenda Tang and Robin Prest as a way to make the unique program more accessible to students who would normally have to juggle work and classes at the same time.
“These are difficult times—many young people are struggling and don’t have any security,” says Tang. “At the end of the day, we come from a place of privilege and are in a position to give back to people in need and to a program that transforms lives.”
The combined gift grew from the trio’s conversations about creating a culture of philanthropy in their workplace. In their respective roles at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue—Tang is associate director, Pedram is senior associate director, advancement, and Prest is program director—they have had the opportunity to interact with Semester in Dialogue participants, and decided to donate equally to support future changemakers who can contribute to building the type of world they want to live in.
“The program appeals to young people who want to solve complex societal problems and ‘do good,’” says Pedram. “They are committed to social justice, to equity, diversity and inclusion, to activism. They are truly awe-inspiring young people who are coming up with brilliant ideas and projects.”
Each Semester in Dialogue explores current issues relevant to society. Past topics include urban sustainability, social enterprise, energy, health, food systems and social change. Twenty students from diverse departments and faculties across SFU are selected through a rigorous application process.
Prest, a past participant, credits the program for launching his own career in dialogue-based engagement.
“The Semester in Dialogue program was a major turning point in my life,” he explains. “It provided mentorship opportunities to help students think through next steps for their future and exposed us to a range of experiences and perspectives. Our assignments had meaning and purpose, and sometimes aimed to have real-world impact rather than being something that would just go into the recycling bin afterwards.”