Virtual community engages students in PeaceTech this Spring

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

As the PeaceTech Living Learning Community (LLC) prepares to move online for Spring term, Grebel students are convinced that the need to integrate technology and peacebuilding is more pressing than ever. The PeaceTech LLC, a joint initiative of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement and the Conrad Grebel University College residence program, allows students from diverse academic backgrounds to consider the impact of technology and how it can be used to advance peace. The community meets on a bi-weekly basis to explore hot topics, listen to guest speakers, consider case studies, and venture out into the Waterloo Region’s vibrant innovation ecosystem.

Spring 2020 peer leaders Conrad Heidebrecht and Rebecca Koole are eager to bring their peers together in new ways throughout this time of physical distancing. While they acknowledge that the situation is not ideal, they are excited to explore the opportunities a virtual community can bring, which includes the potential for broader engagement.

ConradConrad Heidebrecht is a third year Systems Design Engineering student. Having previously worked at Demine Robotics, a start-up in the Epp Peace Incubator, he has first-hand PeaceTech experience. In light of current events, Heidebrecht sees this community holding a lot of value. “The world under COVID-19 presents an unprecedented opportunity to explore the impact of peace and technology on an unfolding crisis, in real time,” comments Heidebrecht. “The tech industry is changing so much in these times. With things like contact tracing and how Google and Apple are working together for the first time, there are many topics that would be super cool to explore as a group.”

Heidebrecht believes that the PeaceTech LLC has a role to play in shaping the ethics of aspiring techies. “It’s important for people in the tech industry to understand the impacts of what they’re building and focus on making technology that makes the world a better place,” he says.  

RebeccaRebecca Koole is a third year Arts and Business student, majoring in English. She believes in the power of tech, naming that “understanding technology is one of the most important ways to enact real change.”  Having worked at a tech start-up in Toronto where she was one of two females and the only non-engineer, she also recognizes the importance probing into some of the assumptions within the tech industry.  

Koole stresses the importance of having students with a non-tech background participate in the community, saying, “We want those people. We talk about social issues, psychology, and environmental issues, as they’re all interconnected.”

The PeaceTech LLC fits into a broad roster of opportunities affiliated with Grebel that provide students with interdisciplinary pathways into the innovation ecosystem. Some examples of these include the Epp Peace Incubator, the Map the System pitch competition, and courses such as PACS 315: Engineering and Peace.  To learn more about this community of students or any of the above opportunities, contact Michelle Jackett, Coordinator of the Centre for Peace Advancement.