Capilano University professor Cam Sylvester is more interested in “social capital” and support networks than in creating cookie-cutter capitalists with aspirations to fire Donald Trump.
The 51-year-old East Vancouver resident also told the Georgia Straight he’s not looking for a high grade-point average when screening applicants interested in his popular two-year global-stewardship program, which is aimed at students looking to work in international nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International.
“We don’t even look at that [GPA] until after we’ve looked at their letters of recommendation and their letter for why they want to get into the program,” Sylvester said by phone. “If at that point we like what we see, we interview them. We interview everybody coming into the program.”
That doesn’t mean Sylvester is eschewing excellence.
“What we’re looking for is leadership,” he explained. “People come with different talents, and when you start using simplistic evaluations like GPA”¦well, that can be problematic. However, many students do come with a very high GPA.”
Now in its sixth year, the global-stewardship program is the result of Sylvester’s decision to move away from teaching postgraduate students and toward the undergraduate arena. What he liked were the synergies created by bringing through 35 students who work “in cohort” and “create this little pack of dogs”. He said this is in contrast to leaving university students feeling alienated and lacking the necessary supports if they are not academically endowed.
Sylvester is especially proud of a student called Amanda Earle, who went through his program after having worked as a first-aid officer on the oil rigs in northern Alberta.
“This is a woman that probably wouldn’t have even thought of coming to university except for this program, and she came in and organized a group of 15 kids who went down to Guatemala and built a whole new kindergarten down there for an orphanage,” Sylvester said.
Now she’s gone on to work on other projects in Uruguay, Sylvester said.
“This is a student who wouldn’t have got As in high school, but there are different types of intelligence, and we want to tap into that,” he noted.
Sylvester isn’t sure whether this is in his nature or whether it has more to do with the nurturing of his Catholic upbringing, which he called “the Catholicism of social justice, rather than Catholicism of following rules”. He was one of five kids, he added, and his dad “required that we talk every night about important values and issues at the dinner table”.
In terms of role models, Sylvester hails Mahatma Gandhi, but he insists many have wrongly cast India’s iconoclastic freedom fighter as a pacifist.
“He wasn’t idealistic; he knew full well he was going to get smacked in the face,” he said. “You can dismiss Martin Luther King or Gandhi as idealists, but they were realists in the sense that they were pragmatists. They knew what they were doing. They went into it with open eyes. It wasn’t like somebody sticking a daisy in a gun and saying, ”˜The world will be a better place if I do this.’ You don’t understand power if you do that. You really have to understand power to make change.”