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Canada focuses on experiential learning, first-gen success as chancellor

Alumni Jan 11, 2023
A man wearing academic robes speaks into a microphone
A man wearing academic robes speaks into a microphone

KOKOMO, Ind. – Meet Mark Canada.

Although he became chancellor August 15, he’s no stranger to the campus, having served as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs since 2015.

“I am thrilled to be leading this institution, where I have come to know the faculty, staff, and many of the students over the last seven years,” he said. “This new position gives me the opportunity to work with a number of colleagues outside of the academic sphere, and I’m already working with them to enhance the educational experience in athletics, community engagement, and other parts of the university.”

 Canada’s goal is to bring more visibility to IU Kokomo, which he called an extraordinary place.

“It’s a gem, but it’s been a hidden gem, and I want us to no longer be hidden,” he said. “One of my key goals is to elevate our profile, so people all over our region and beyond appreciate us as a destination campus, and a place where they can get an extraordinary educational experience that is also affordable.”

As executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, he received the William M. Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Affairs from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. It was given in honor of his collaborative work with colleagues to create the Mind Over Chatter curriculum, a program freely available online to teach students how to find, identify, evaluate, and use information found on the Internet.

Chancellor Canada came to IU Kokomo with experience as a professor of English, chair of his department, and associate dean and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He has written extensively on American literature and other subjects.

As chancellor, Canada’s focus is on student success through the Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) experiential learning program, projects dedicated to supporting first-generation college students, and promoting education in sustainable living.

Canada was formally installed as chancellor in an October 21 ceremony led by IU President Pamela Whitten.

In his previous role, Canada collaborated with faculty and staff to create the campus’s distinctive KEY program, which has provided hundreds of students with hands-on learning experiences through simulations, retreats, competitions, internships, and educational travel to destinations including Nashville, Yellowstone National Park, Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, and more.

With faculty empowered to create their plans, KEY experiences are tied closely to each area of study, so biology students’ experiential learning isn’t providing the same as those in business or education. It also created a sense of ownership in KEY.

“I often refer to myself as the conductor of the orchestra, with the faculty playing the instruments,” Canada said. “Out of that came not only a powerful educational experience, but also a strong sense of collaboration around a single goal. “What I look forward to doing as chancellor is building on that foundation, so we all can collaborate on additional ways to enhance the experience for our students and community partners. KEY is not just an educational initiative that has transformed our campus and hundreds of students lives. It’s also a model we can use to move forward in a number of other realms.”

One of the other advantages of KEY, especially on a campus where many students live at home or in apartments rather than residence halls, is that it helps students find people to support them and build community around themselves. This is especially crucial for first-generation students, who may have trouble seeing college as a place where they belong.

“KEY provides an opportunity to travel together and to work in groups,” he said. “All of these experiences help build a sense of belonging.”

Canada’s own experience as a first-generation college student on the Bloomington campus, as well as his career at institutions that serve a great number of first-generation students, informs his mission of making sure IU Kokomo supports them from admission to graduation.

“I believe the success of this country going forward is dependent on how we serve these students, and how we empower them to realize their potential,” he said. “IU helped me realize what I was capable of as a first-generation student. I know many of my colleagues and I embrace the opportunity to do the same for our students.”

Their success is critical, as the good jobs that used to be available without higher education are disappearing because of globalization and automation.

“It’s no longer safe for people to depend on those jobs,” he said. “I would encourage students who have even a glimmer of interest in college to explore it as an option, because it will open doors for them. Getting a college education will prepare them for a multitude of jobs.”

Preparing students for careers is important, of course, but they also must be educated as citizens who are critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and empathetic individuals.

“Sustainability, diversity, inclusion, and citizenship are critical areas of knowledge we would want them to take with them, in addition to whatever expertise they develop in their majors,” he said. “We want them to leave with the skills and knowledge to succeed in their careers, but if that’s all we do, we haven’t succeeded in our vision. We want to produce graduates who can succeed professionally, and as citizens.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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