From the barnyard to the courtroom

Photo by Travis Fortnum

Virginia Harwood has been a pillar in the School of Justice and Emergency Services since 2002. She uses the expertise gained through a 17-year career as a law clerk to inspire future generations.

Durham College faculty member Virginia Harwood has learned a thing or two about hard work. With a 17-year legal career and diplomas from Durham College, UOIT, Brock University and the University of Windsor, Harwood now teaches in the school of Justice and Emergency Services. She spends her free time furthering her research and maintaining a farm.

What is your role on campus?

I teach in the Law Clerk Advanced and the Law Clerk Fast-Track program. I teach in the Office Administration Legal program and I also teach in the Mediation-Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) graduate certificate program.

Did you come up with the idea for that program yourself?

Yes, I created the program. The program had its inaugural year in 2010. It was the first Mediation-ADR program in a community college in Ontario. Mediation is sort of a complimentary skill to many different programs. Human Resources, even Nursing, Justice programing and Business programing. We then took that program and had it approved by the ADR Institute of Ontario, which is the organizing body for mediators in Ontario. We’re the first college curriculum to be approved by the ADR Institute.

What other projects you are involved in?

Last year a colleague and I, Nicole Doyle, we did more Ad Hoc research. It was an innovation fund project through the Centre for Academic Faculty Enrichment. We wrote a proposal and we were funded. We used a software called Top Hat, it’s actually a web-based response system where students use their mobile devices. So that was sort of a scholarship of teaching and learning project we did. How can we use mobile technology in the classroom? I’m also doing a literature review on mentoring. It’s sort of an extension of my Masters work that I did. I’m going to be researching frameworks for graduates mentoring our law clerk students. Then I’m going to take that and hopefully in the next couple years think about frameworks for mentoring programs and what that would look like in our program at Durham College. It’s not pure science research, it’s literature review and framework. In my Masters, I was researching faculty mentorships. I have an interest in mentoring.

You also started something on campus, correct? Campus Conflict Resolution?

Yeah, it’s a mediation program. That was a huge project and I’m very proud of the work that we put into that. So when we started the Mediation-ADR grad certificate we wanted to build in experiential learning. How can our students get experience and also spread the word of mediation? So we started Campus Conflict Resolution Services. It’s student run with our supervision. They do mediation and they also do mediation education, so we dispatch them to classrooms. We would actually sit with students who are about to embark on group work and help them figure out some pre-planning around how to avoid conflict. We’re available for all students on campus.

What makes your topic of research relevant?

Conflict happens everywhere, every day. I think in terms of all students on campus, knowing how to recognize and deal with conflict is now an essential employability skill in every workplace.

Did you grow up in Oshawa?

Actually no, I grew up on a working dairy farm in Prince Edward county, which is about three hours east of here. My brother and my dad still work the farm. It’s not dairy it’s a cash crop operation and I spent part of my summer harvesting wheat. I have a 40-acre hobby farm. I have horses, so I do a lot of equestrian work and I love agriculture so I do a lot of gardening and I grow and process my own. I just won the red ribbon at the Orono fair for my jam.

In her happy place. Harwood has a love for equestrian life.
Photo provided by Virginia Harwood In her happy place. Harwood has a love for equestrian life.

What’s the most important thing in your field that you think people should know?

It’s about learning how to manage conflict, and it’s about preserving relationships. If we can help people, if they can spread the word and we can provide people with some knowledge and skills and attitudes around that, then we’ve done a really good job.

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced in your research?

I think the toughest part for me is knowing when to stop. For me, research is more curiosity and questions. This year it’s the lit review and I’m sure it’s going to take me down the path of different frameworks and promote me to ask even more questions. It’s knowing when to stop.

Previous articleLest We Forget – Remembrance Day 2016
Next articleCampus Food Centre eases hunger pangs for students
Travis Fortnum is a second-year journalism student. He has a love for politics and is passionate about covering campus news, community events, and sports. Aside from the Chronicle, his stories have been featured in the Oshawa This Week, Brooklin Town Crier, Whitby Snap'd and on