Semester at CityLAB

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CityLAB was created because we realize that complex challenges need different ways of approaching problems. We think that the best people to lead this change are young people who are given the support and guidance to test their ideas out in the real world. This course will be intense. It will challenge you personally as you learn more about yourself and your place in the world; it will challenge you socially as you navigate working with interdisciplinary teams, City staff members, and members of the broader community; and it will challenge you academically as you stretch beyond the limits of your disciplinary training and gain a deeper understanding of complex issues facing our city. You will learn that problems are not as easily solved as they might appear, that a positive attitude goes a long way, and that real success lies in collaboration.


A unique course is offering McMaster students from all Faculties an opportunity to team up with City and community partners to take action on climate change and other sustainability challenges in Hamilton.

Registration is now open for Semester@CityLAB, an immersive, 15-unit experiential learning course based in downtown Hamilton, and the only course of its kind at McMaster.

Working in interdisciplinary teams, students will have the chance to co-develop sustainability projects with City of Hamilton staff and collaborate with members of the broader community, while learning more about community engagement through lectures, workshops and field trips that take students into a range of urban community spaces.

Meet the 2018 Semester at CityLAB Cohort

Hear about their CityLAB stories and experiences.

Semester at CityLAB FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions…


Great question! The Semester at CityLAB courses are meant to be immersive experiences and will not necessarily fit everyone’s program requirements. Depending on your program, you may be able to use all or part of the credits towards your degree requirements, you should discuss this option as early as possible with the academic advisor within your Faculty.


The application deadline for the Fall 2019 program is May 21st. We will review applications and let you know if you have been accepted into the program before June 15th. McMaster students accepted into the program will be provided with course permission and will be able to register as usual using Mosaic after they have been accepted. Redeemer students are encouraged to meet with Kim Lammers, Registrar ( to discuss available options. Redeemer students need a 7.0 cumulative GPA (70 or B-) to be eligible. If you have difficulties with the application form, please email Jay Carter, Program Manager in the Office of Community Engagement at


Semester at CityLAB takes place downtown Hamilton in the newly renovated CityLAB innovation hub, right beside City Hall at 58 Jackson Street West. You will be right at the centre of the municipal action :)


Monday to Thursday will be spent downtown at CityLAB from approximately 9am-4pm. This will be our home base as well as our experimental lab where we develop ideas and interventions to make Hamilton a better place. On Fridays we will stretch our legs by exploring the city, conducting fieldwork, and taking part in the life of the city.


-       Arrive at CityLAB, gather, plan, and share

-       Instructor led workshops and discussions focused on project design and dialogue


-       Student hosted guest dialogue session (we invite a member from city staff or a community guest to talk to us about an issue of shared interest)

-       Meetings with city staff and time to work on projects


These classes are for passionate, motivated, and enthusiastic students who want to learn from the community, apply their studies to make change, and expand their personal and professional networks. Students in any faculty from McMaster or Redeemer are welcome to apply. We recommend that applicants speak with their academic advisors as soon as possible to see how they can incorporate the CityLAB courses into their program requirements.

Students who have the following qualities will thrive in this course:

·      Self-starter

·      Strong leadership and teamwork skills

·      Comfort with uncertainty

·      Willingness to experiment

·      Adaptable

·      Curious


Our core teaching team is made up of an interdisciplinary team of educators:

Dialogue Instructor - Anna Marie Pietrantonio, MSW;

Design Instructor - Brian W. Baetz, PhD, P.Eng;

Project Instructor – Dave Heidebrecht M.A.;


City of Hamilton staff submit a broad range of projects and challenges for students to work on throughout the year. We work with City staff and faculty to scope out appropriate projects for the September 2019 Semester in Residence program and a final list of approved projects will be available on July 30th.

The projects will be co-created between city staff, faculty members, and students, so they will change depending on specific interests, as long as they align with the City’s Strategic Priorities. By way of example, some of the challenges we have developed with city staff are as follows:

-       How can we help people choose healthy, local food?

-       How might we make recycling and green bin use more attractive for people living in multi-residential buildings?

-       How can we mitigate impacts of stormwater overflows?     

-       How might we encourage more cycle tourism/cycling in Hamilton? 

-       How can the city enact carbon reduction policies? 

-       How can the city address issues of accessibility related to unshoveled sidewalks?

WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIVEs of the semester in residence?

Subject to change, the objectives are:

1.     To develop a considerable awareness of the issues and complexities facing municipalities in the provision of equitable services and safe and resilient infrastructure for current and future citizens;

2.     To develop capacities to achieve effective dialogue between municipal governments and the citizens they serve; and to develop a greater awareness and understanding of community engagement, practices and skills;

3.     To develop a broader awareness of the qualitative knowledge and quantitative data that are needed to make effective decisions within a municipal context, along with an understanding of the complexity of community and the interconnectedness of local and global communities;

4.     To develop a capacity to use design thinking, principles and tools to generate solutions that incorporate sustainability, resiliency, equity and cost-effectiveness goals;

5.     To develop a greater awareness within individual students of their full potential as downstream citizens and engaged professionals;

6.     To develop and improve skills for effective project completion, including but not limited to:

a)    Effective and purposeful communication

b)    Observation and research

c)     Understanding of municipal structure and jurisdictional constraints

d)    Critical reflection

e)    Team work and group decision-making

f)     Collaborative planning

g)     Conflict resolution

h)    Organizational skills

i)     Use of creativity and imagination


Students will be assessed in a variety of ways throughout the course, including completion of mini design projects, personal reflections, final project design and installation, public communication of their work and active class and group participation. Since this is an interdisciplinary experience, assessments will take a range of forms. Students should be prepared to work outside of their usual discipline in order to be successful in the courses. As an example, some students may be more comfortable writing papers or reflections while others will be more used to lab reports or design assignments. Students in the Semester at CityLAB courses are not expected to be experts in all areas, but they are expected to be willing to learn new skills and adapt to changes and needs as the projects develop.