Writing Samples


Helping students spark the next big thing
Dal News: Dr. Mary Kilfoil (2014)

Listening to Dr. Mary Kilfoil is a bit like getting a guided tour of the most up-and-coming parts of town from the coolest kid in the neighbourhood. You lean out the car window as she points out innovative companies and stellar startups. Her ideas and plans come faster than you can take them in. At the same time, you know she’s always listening, always learning, watching for the next big thing.

As the winner of the national Startup Canada Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year Award, she knows what works to get new ventures off the ground. Dr. Kilfoil won the Startup Entrepreneurship Educator Award for Atlantic Canada in May, and went on to receive the national honour at a gala event at the CN Tower on June 12.

She’s thrilled to be the winner, but what really gets her fired up is talking about her students.

“Working with people who are passionate about something and enabling them – That to me is very empowering. When I see a team working together that would not normally be together, it just makes me smile.”

Dr. Kilfoil is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration and Academic Lead for the Starting Lean Initiative at the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship. The Initiative helps committed students start their entrepreneurial journey off right. The recognition she received from Startup Canada stems from two foundational courses in the program – Starting Lean and Innovation.

“Both courses involve experiential learning. It seems so easy – if you’re trying to develop something, why wouldn’t you talk to the end user? Often, we don’t have the opportunity to think, listen, translate what we’re hearing. I say tell someone a little bit about your idea, then stop talking and listen to the person who’s ultimately going to be using it. It really helps them become critical thinkers – it’s something that differentiates our graduates.”

One of the special things about Starting Lean Initiative is that it’s open to all faculties, attracting students from the arts, sciences, nursing, computer science, engineering, law, ocean studies, management, and architecture. Students work in interdisciplinary teams with mentor entrepreneurs and develop collaborative, real-world skills. Whether or not they carry on to start a business is up to them.

But back to that national award.

“I was blown away by it, because it was really stiff competition! I was blown away when I got the regional award… but national! This is a win for all of us: for the faculty, for Dalhousie, for the Newman Centre.”

Startup Canada is a non-profit organization devoted to advancing entrepreneurship. The Award recognizes Dr. Kilfoil for her excellence in teaching and for inspiring students through hands-on experiences and community connections. She practices design thinking and uses the lean business model canvas to show, not tell, students what it takes to solve difficult problems.

“None of this is new, of course, design thinking, but it’s applying it in different ways. It’s very human-centric – it means designing in a way that helps you understand what you’re taking to market, and making sure you have that customer validation up front.”

As for the future of entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia, for a long time Dr. Kilfoil worried about her graduating students. “They would feel they couldn’t stay here. To whatever extent I can help change that, I am happy to do it.”

“Dr. Kilfoil helped us think like innovators and entrepreneurs, and most importantly to get out of the building and talk to potential customers,” says student Justin Javorek. Fellow student Cameron Sieffert agrees. “Dr. Kilfoil has given us a skill set that allows us to take our ideas beyond the blackboard.”

Starting Lean really works, and the startups that spring from it do, too. Sage Mixology just signed a major distribution deal with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Spring Loaded Technology developed a new knee brace that builds the strength and power of leg muscles, revolutionizing the way some knee injuries are treated. AnalyzeRe, which helps reinsurance companies analyze risk, just signed a deal with Nova Scotia Business Inc. that will create as many as 50 jobs in the next few years.

Like all cool kids, Dr. Kilfoil seems to understand innately what sparks success. Are her students lucky to have this award-winner as their tour guide? She laughs. “I’m the lucky one. I’m very privileged, and I’m just one of many. I’m part of something much, much bigger than me.”

Complete Streets: Everyone Wins (2014)

Imagine a street where you can do your shopping by bike, jump off the bus and grab a coffee with your friend, or stroll with your toddler, all without worrying about fast cars or dangerous crossings. “Complete Streets” planning and design focuses on safety and comfort for walkers, bicyclists, public transit riders, and drivers. Streets are set up so people of all ages and abilities can enjoy them. They include bike lanes, resting places, traffic calming, wider sidewalks, green space, and accessibility features. Complete streets can be found from North America to Europe to Australia and Asia, each with their own cultural and community character.

In the US, almost thirty states have Complete Streets laws or policies in place or in progress. Minnesota passed a CS law in 2010, and it’s not just new roadways that benefit: Several historic downtowns have been retrofitted with narrower streets, centre medians, and signals to improve pedestrian safety. New Jersey’s CS policy is complemented by Context-Sensitive Design (CSD), which considers a community’s culture, history, and natural environment, and how a street will actually be used by the people who live there. It’s easy to see how these models might apply to cities and small towns in Nova Scotia, where highways often run through the heart of the community.

Closer to home, Halifax, Moncton and Charlottetown have plans to design complete streets. In 2008, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) created an Active Transportation (AT) Plan that emphasizes biking, pathways, and school walking routes. George Street in Sydney has wide sidewalks, bike lanes and racks, trees, rest areas, good lighting, and stretches from downtown to residential areas. There were “immediate changes in the downtown sidewalks’ walkability when a local man who uses a wheelchair took the downtown councilor for a walk and showed him the challenges of sidewalk infrastructure,” says Stephanie Johnstone-Laurette from the Ecology Action Centre. She describes CBRM as a “community of communities” with unique needs. “There’s been a lot of work done by some dedicated people to find ways to tie all this together,” she says.

A complete street is a street where people want to be: To walk, work, shop, live, and meet their neighbours and friends. Everyone is included, and everyone wins.

Mills Grand Opening (2013)

It’s Kath from Mills!

Celebrate with us during our Grand Opening from September 28th to October 4th. We’re bringing you a week of high fashion downtown: Appearances by top designers, trunk shows, makeovers, and great giveaways.

The store is full of fall must haves, fresh from our buying trips to Las Vegas, New York, Toronto, and Montreal.

The best brands and pampering service – I can’t wait to shop!

Visit Mills in Spring Garden Place, or millshalifax.com.

See you at the Grand Opening!

From Labour Market Information in Canada (2012)

This environmental scan focuses specifically on the products and services created and used by provincial and federal government agencies in Canada related to the sharing of labour market information (LMI). LMI is the knowledge needed by governments, agencies, employers, and individuals to make decisions about employment and education policy; training, education and employment services; wages and compensation; and recruitment and immigration.

This report provides a rapid environmental scan and review of LMI supplied by the Government of Canada and government departments and agencies of each province and territory. The search is broken down into information for general purposes, then information for employers, workers, and youth. The report wraps up with some observations and conclusions about how this province is doing compared to other provinces in its provision of timely and relevant labour market information.

While the province does reasonably well in providing labour market information and knowledge, much could be done to improve both the quality of and access to LMI. Attention is due to the variety of users of LMI, the quality and currency of the LMI on offer, and the accessibility and searchability of the information. As noted in the Drummond report, Working Together to Build a Better Labour Market Information System for Canada, the lack of consistency in collecting, analyzing, and sharing labour market data and information is a national issue (Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information, 2009). Making the labour market resources, information and data we do have more accessible and relevant will help turn that LMI into knowledge we can use to support the our prosperity.

From Sharing Our Gifts: A Family Literacy Scrapbook (2010)

What are essential skills?

“Essential” means necessary. If something is essential, you can’t do without it.

There are 9 basic or “essential” skills we all must learn in order to learn all other skills and participate fully in today’s world. We need them to achieve our goals and develop our knowledge and potential.

When our essential skills are strong, we are more ready for school, relationships, parenting, jobs, and can take a more active part in the community.

This scrapbook will help each person in your family learn and practice their essential skills while doing fun and interesting things.

From Re-thinking the Writing Centre (2010)

The University has a focus on writing across the curriculum and has experienced rapid expansion in the past decade. Addressing the growing writing support needs of an increasingly diverse student body is critical to the effectiveness of student recruitment, retention, and engagement strategies. Equally crucial is that faculty, staff, and writing mentors have the professional development they need to strengthen students’ writing and critical thinking skills.

Communication skills are critical not only to academic success. Economic growth is now driven by knowledge and technology, and students must possess the essential skills to succeed in the labour market and as responsible citizens. An intentional marriage of knowledge, technology, and learning is necessary to create a more strategic and less ad hoc approach to e-learning and social networking. The institution has a commitment to life-long learning initiatives, leadership in rural development, addressing barriers to higher education, and the economic and cultural resiliency of our communities, both urban and rural.

Communication is a master skill that includes writing, reading, presenting, talking, and forming relationships. We write to learn, to demonstrate our learning, and to share knowledge and ideas. We write to think. We write to create community. We must approach writing – and all forms of communication – as a process, not an isolated event in the form of an assignment or exam. We must harness the expertise and energy of faculty and staff members and collaborate across campus to ensure that all scholars understand the purpose and context of writing and its corollary skills. The job of the Writing Centre is to break down barriers: Barriers amongst students, faculty and staff, barriers to community involvement, and barriers to effective communication. The expansion of the Writing Centre is critical to the success of all our students: traditional, mature, graduate, and international.

From Inside Out: Ethical Practice with Rural Students in the Writing Centre (2013)

A qualitative research method in the ethnography family, the term autoethnography is best broken down to its constituent parts: auto (self), ethnos (culture), and graphy (research, writing, performance) (Chang, 2008; Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Wall, 2006; Reed-Danahay, 2007; Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011). The specific works of different researchers and authors place emphasis on different elements of the whole, focusing more on reflexivity, on ethnographic concerns, or on how the research findings are conveyed. This choice depends upon the preferences of the researcher and how that researcher feels called to interpret the data (Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Chang, 2008). Chang (2008) defines autoethnography as “a research method that utilizes the researchers’ autobiographical data to analyze and interpret their cultural assumptions” (p. 9), a description that leaves plenty of room for interpretation, but she also exhorts researchers to do more than narrate a life and to maintain a focus that is “ethnographic in its methodological orientation, cultural in its interpretive orientation, and autobiographical in its content orientation” (p. 48). This can be contrasted somewhat with the work of leading scholar Carolyn Ellis (1998), who turns her gaze more to the evocative, emotional, highly personal, and even therapeutic aspects of autoethnography, to “what is heard and felt as much as what is seen” (p. 49) while agreeing with the foundational principal that autoethnography ought to connect the personal to the social to make meaning of our lives.

Most of the current discussion about autoethnography falls into the ‘evocative’ category (Muncey, 2010), which connects “the practices of social science with the living of life” (p. 35) in vulnerable and emotional ways. Other forms include ‘analytical’ autoethnography, which takes as its main purpose an analytic research agenda aimed at theorizing broader social phenomena, and ‘performance’ autoethnography, which encompasses a wide range of artistic, active, and poetic ways of knowing (Muncey, 2010). These three types of autoethnography closely mirror the divisions between ‘auto’, ‘ethnos’, and ‘graphy’, and perhaps where a researcher falls on these three axes determines in large part what kind of autoethnographer she considers herself to be. Like any emergent method, the nature of what constitutes ‘good’ autoethnography is a matter of debate, the method itself resisting attempts to define it.


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