Saint Paul University at 175 – A Saint Paul Professor’s Experience Teaching with Discovery University

Audrey Pridham

Working together with the Ottawa Mission, Saint Paul University brings free, non-credit university courses to those who haven’t had the opportunity to pursue their formal education due to financial barriers or life circumstances.

philosophy at Saint Paul University (SPU) and conducts research in ethics and the philosophy of math, physics, science, and literature. During the fall of 2017, he was contacted by the dean of Discovery University to help teach some courses at SPU’s campus. Since then, he has gained many valuable opportunities to teach those who are unable to attend university due to financial barriers.

Photo from Saint Paul University Website

Photo from Saint Paul University Website

Discovery University is led by the Ottawa Mission and brings free, noncredit university-level courses to those who want to experience it. Carleton University and the University of Ottawa are also involved with the program along with SPU. Many of their courses are focused primarily in the social sciences and humanities, as well as hands-on courses. According to Dr. Feist, the courses consist of mostly readings and class discussions, and don’t include assignments or exams in order not to add pressure on the students.

“At The Ottawa Mission, we meet many people who have had to cut their formal education short due to life circumstances. Many have not had the opportunity to set or obtain educational goals, whether they are in pursuit of a career, or simply for the joy of learning,” the Mission states on their website.

After teaching courses with Discovery University, Dr. Feist decided to join the board of directors, a perch from which he currently oversees the types of courses that the program offers, informing clients at the Mission about the program, and recruiting professors at SPU. Currently, he is also teaching a course with the program about artificial intelligence.

“It’s to give people a chance to be exposed to this knowledge and also to help people that have various challenges to be in an educational, pedagogical, atmosphere, and it helps bring people a little bit out of their shell,” he said.

Dr. Feist explained that the application process for Discovery University is fairly simple, and that the main restriction is that you have to be over 18 years of age. He said that the program doesn’t look for proof of prior education, and that most classes are capped at around 17-18 students.

“You get a large cross-section of people. You get people who are very well educated, and some people who have very little education. It’s quite a spread in the class when you’re running a course.” Dr. Feist also said that some students that he had taught have gone on to continue their education by taking courses as a special student to get the full taste of a what a standard university course is like.

“They’re not full-blown university courses in that sense. They serve as introductions, helping people become more acclimatized to what a university course kind of in principle looks like.”

The one challenge that Discovery University faces is that it’s hard for them to maintain funding. Dr. Feist said that all the professors are paid and that it’s not voluntary, and that each university has to kick in some funding. However, he mentioned that the Ottawa Mission does help by organizing fundraisers along with SPU.

After having taught with Discovery University for the past six years, Dr. Feist finds it “incredibly satisfying as an educator” to see his students grow in the classroom environment and be introduced to new concepts. He recounted how some of his students go to these classes to realize how the course material connects to them and how it’s meaningful.

“It’s giving people who normally might not ever get a chance to be exposed to certain kinds of philosophical ideas, to watch them live with those ideas for a few weeks and see how that changes how they see things,” he said.

Giving low-income individuals the chance to learn at a university level also allows Dr. Feist to personally connect with his students and learn more about their backgrounds.

“When you don’t really have contact with the community, you don’t know individuals in the community. When [I] go and work with them, I see more individuals – you get to know people and get to know their names. That’s been a good thing for me, just understanding different levels of society.”

Applications for the fall for Discovery University are now closed. More information about the program and the courses that are offered can be found on the Ottawa Mission’s website.

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