BRANDON – Students from Brandon University (BU) and Minot State University (MSU) are meeting today at the International Peace Garden to renew a tradition that dates back to the college days for both institutions.
More than 35 students and five faculty members are taking part in the 65th annual political science conference between BU and MSU, presenting on this year’s topic of Canada and the United States: Then and Now. Brandon University is being represented by 23 students and four faculty member. Each year the session is opened by professors from each university before the students break into panels to present and discuss their papers.
“I presented last year and I found it very beneficial for gaining experience presenting and learning how to accept analysis from others,” said Veronica Sweeting, President of the BU Politics Society, a club for Brandon University students.
“It is not only the presenting that is important but the participation with other students and creating a network outside of our own institution.”
Heath Macquarrie, an instructor and the head of the International Relations Club at Brandon College helped to organize the first conference with representatives from Minot State Teacher’s College. Macquarrie went on to serve Canada as a Member of Parliament for 22 years and a Senator for another 15 years. Norma Walmsley, a Professor of Political Science at Brandon College from 1955 to 1967, followed Macquarrie as another key organizer in the early years of the event. Brandon College later became BU when it received its charter in 1967, and MSU gained university status in 1987, but the international ties between the institutions remained strong, and the conference has benefitted generations of students.
Dr. Rick Baker, an Assistant Professor in Political Science at BU, took part in the conference himself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before going to earn a Master of Arts in Politics from Brock University and a PhD in Political Science from Carleton University.
“The conference was genuinely a pivotal moment in my development as a student and as an academic,” said Baker, who was a key organizer of the student-driven event in 1991. “Presenting my paper and engaging with peers from both BU and MSU in that formal setting gave me the confidence to move forward after graduation and get my MA in Political Science. It’s so gratifying to see that exact same dynamic still playing out now, more than 25 years later.”
As an educator, Baker also sees the social experience of the conference benefitting the students in their learning environment.
“Like all of the events that we help organize as a department, the Peace Gardens conference represents an amazing opportunity to build community for our students,” Baker said. “It provides them with a common experience that brings them closer together as a group, and we can see the positive impact this has in terms of their academic engagement and success.”
Sweeting says that the diversities of view, both within the universities and across the border, are one of the strengths of the event.
“I found it helpful in assessing ideas to gain different perspectives from people in different areas such as the students from Minot State,” Sweeting said. “The cultural differences are not outwardly projected at first glance but when the students of both academic institutions gather and share ideas, it can be very insightful.”