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Honouring our roots: A 2012 Welcome from Dr. Fleurette Sweeney

Welcome from Dr. Fleurette Sweeney

The following was originally published in 2012. From New Dawn to SelfDesign® to the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning (GIFTLearning),  this is a part of our journey.

Brent Cameron presented at TED-X

Brent Cameron, founder, executive director and principal of SelfDesign® Learning Community, asked me as Chair of the Board of SelfDesign® Learning Foundation to write a letter welcoming you to explore the SelfDesign® Graduate Institute—a task I happily perform.

Brent’s request could not have come at a better time. I am riding the crest of an exultant wave of excitement and gratitude after participating in the first session of the first course attended by the first cohort of learners registered in our newly approved SDGI.  January 4, 2012 was an historic day.

It is difficult to express the significance of this to me personally for it is now more than six and a half years since I invited a group of thirty-nine folks—academics, professionals, youth and others—to explore the possibility of designing an alternative university.  We gathered in residence for a three and a half-day Syntegration™[1] around the question: What is required to create New Dawn University (our working title at the time) as a self-renewing learning community of care and what will I contribute to bringing this about? Although the name ‘New Dawn’ has since morphed into ‘SelfDesign Graduate Institute’ the inspiration generated during those days has sustained us during what turned out to be intervening years of searching out every possible way of bringing our imaginings to life. Wednesday, January 4, 2012, was that day of actualization!

If as you are reading this the thought has occurred to you that you might like to become involved, what can you expect from SDGI as a self-renewing learning community of care?

You can expect that the knowledge you bring to our ‘table of conversation’ whatever the source of your knowledge—that of a professional experienced in the field, an activist, a parent, a concerned citizen—that knowledge will be listened to and respected.

You can expect to find from among those already listed either as registered learners or mentors (and there are many more mentors still to come!) a rich spread of diverse experience, wonderful resources for you to tap into. Thanks to the technology available to us, no matter where you are, you can expect to participate in a variety of learning communities of conversation. Gradually, as friendships form and opportunities to explore different modes of academic inquiry are shared, the design of a form best suited to express your particular insights will reveal itself to you. This ongoing support will be available equally to those registered as learners or mentors of learning. The organizational structure of SDGI is designed to be flexible enough to embrace diversity. For me, assuring that this flexibility is sustained is essential to our continuing to be a learning community of care.

Fleurette Sweeney, 2015

There is one remaining aspect of engagement you can expect. All of us are learners — those registered as learners or mentors, those gathering and processing administrative data, those attending to the management of finances, those responsible for developing policies, those in conversation with accrediting agencies and government — all of us can expect to engage regularly in reflective conversation in order to ensure that the expression of our commitment to self-renewal is continually revised. As circumstances change whether cultural, economic, political; as places and the local bio-regions of our learners become more diverse; as the varieties of voices of those with whom we interact are heard; expect to take seriously our mandate to continue to become a self-renewing learning community of care.

Before bringing this letter of welcome to a close I share an as yet unfulfilled imagining. As SDGI grows you can expect to given opportunities to engage in conversation with members of a Council of Elders.  There is so much untapped wisdom gleaned from a lived history and long experience lying in the hearts and minds of the elders in our communities. They may be less able to engage physically in the day by day workings of a learning community but they are there waiting to hear our dreams, waiting to help us connect with persons whose experience can support our engagement in the learning process. These Elders are not yet listed on our web site, but we are developing our own SDGI version of Tuesdays With Morrie.[2] Our ‘Morries’ are beginning to gather, first of whom is Dr. Margaret Fulton[3]. She’s in her apartment on Salt Spring Island waiting to receive your telephone call!

In closing, I quote loosely from Earth’s Imagination, the work of the mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme. Brian says that what we imagine today brings the energy of the future into the present. I extrapolate further from Brian. He reminds us that “…The children are not our future.  We are the children’s future!” Our commitment at SelfDesign® Graduate Institute is to imagine a future of generosity, integrity and care “…for the sake of the children—all children, and our glorious planet Earth, their home.”

Fleurette Sweeney teaching circleDo you still want to join the conversation?


Fleurette Sweeney, SCH, PhD
Chair of the Board, SelfDesign Learning Foundation
Vancouver, BC

[1]  A Syntegration™is a non-hierarchical model of group conversation for solving problems in a team environment. It was developed by the British theorist Sir Stafford Beer in the late 1990’s.

[2] See a Random House Inc. description of the non-fiction novel Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom, 1997. “…Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it..For Mitch Albom that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.”

[3] See:

ABOUT Fleurette Sweeney

Dr. Fleurette Sweeney, former Chair of the Board of the SelfDesign® Learning Foundation, is an inspiring force behind the development of the Graduate Institute.

Having done her doctoral work at the University of British Columbia (2002) after retirement, she was inspired by how the experiences of mature students could be brought forth to enrich the academy.

For years, Dr. Sweeney has promoted the vision of an alternate graduate institution that would give academic voice to the knowledge and wisdom of those working effectively in professions of community service, such as education, health care, and community-serving small businesses. It is her vision—that those who have been totally involved in hands-on service need access to what the academy can offer, namely the skills for conducting and sharing research, while at the same time society needs access to the practical, experience-based wisdom and knowledge of those who are providing the hands-on service—that has lead to the development of the SelfDesign® Graduate Institute (later called the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning, 2019). As she says:

“We dream of the day when those who actually meet the needs of those they serve can have their practical knowledge circulate through the academy and into the community at large, much as capillary action moves nourishment throughout a healthy plant. At the present time, more often than not, if those working in the service fields succeed in meeting the needs of those they serve, it is not so much because of the policies imposed on them by governing agencies, but more often in spite of those policies. It is a situation causing enormous societal stress especially among those in education and health care.”

The development of the Graduate Institute has a lineage of meetings and discussions extending for several years as to how we can create a self-renewing learning community of care.  Coupled with the co-inspirational vision it grew from, this carefully nurtured and timely vision is now ready to be realized.

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