VIEW FROM ACADIA
When I first came to Acadia to teach in 1982, I really was venturing into the unknown. Not only had I never heard of Acadia until I saw the job posting, but neither had I any concept of what a small school education was like. My first two universities, Aberdeen and Queens, both had undergraduate enrolments of around 10,000, and the University of Calgary, where I completed my Ph.D., was even larger. At the time I was part of a Geology graduate program of about 70 candidates - there were more students researching in the area of metamorphic petrology than there were graduate students at Acadia when I arrived! I clearly recall sitting in the lounge at the U of C when the Acadia position was posted, and a friend telling me I should apply. She knew a little about eastern Canadian schools and told me that Acadia had a great reputation. Still suspicious that I would be dealing with a two-bit junior college, I tried to find out whose position I might be taking over - who was the departing metamorphic petrologist? That was when I discovered that not only was there no metamorphic petrologist leaving, neither had there ever been one on staff and, worse, metamorphic petrology had up to then only been taught in alternate years. You can appreciate that, having lived and breathed metamorphic rocks for the previous six years, I was appalled. How can a university be a university (or at least a Geology department be a Geology department) without a metamorphic petrology course in its core?
After I got over the shock of the rapid response to my application and the invitation to interview, my first thoughts about Acadia were that they must be pretty desperate to bring someone without teaching experience from the other side of the country to examine. It was only after I arrived here that I realized that part of the rush was for me to have an opportunity to meet the students. Acadia may be a small school, but one of its greatest assets is the student body. We see it every year at Homecoming and Reunion times, when the class of 19-something returns for a weekend of reliving old times (see the article on page 10 about the class of 1996, for example). The friendships, experiences, and camaraderie of belonging to a "Class of [Year X]" seem to provide a lifetime of connections and memories. This is probably even more intense in Geology, as the program is relatively small, and there are long hours spent in each other's company - sometimes even days on end in very close company on field trips and at field school. Many students choose to study in the department, and I rarely go by Huggins without seeing some lights burning at night. Life in the labs and on field trips also involves the faculty, and I feel privileged to be a part of the Class of so many different Years.
Each Class has its own character. Some are more skilled academically, others more so on the social side. Some have a keen drive to experience as much field work as possible, others are more bookish. As the years go by, it gets more and more difficult to recall which Class was which, but mention one member of the Class, and the whole Class character comes flooding back. I hesitate to give examples, but I recall the classes of the mid-80's as being very enthusiastic about field trips. Two van-loads of students would head off for 5 days in western Newfoundland, or a bus would be hired to take people on the end-of-winter petrology trip to Shelburne and Yarmouth. Groups of students would organize a trip to the Prospectors and Developers conference in Toronto in March (sometimes to the detriment of end of term assignments and classes). Classes of the late 90's in contrast were much more focused on surviving the term - maybe we pile more work on the students these days? Certainly we seem to be giving more tests and assignments than we used to. Or maybe money is tighter, with too many students working weekends and unable to participate in such ventures? Even so, the Class spirit still seems to be strong, and is well exemplified by the Class of 2002, currently entering its last term here. Ever since this class entered second year, it established itself as one that will not easily be forgotten. Enlivened by a group of Newfoundland and Labrador students, this class has been particularly dynamic - sometimes a bit tough to reign in to get through a lecture, but without fail eager and highly participatory (or at times downright talkative!)
Having now taught nearly 20 years at Acadia, my impressions on the role of small universities have been totally overhauled. I used to think "bigger is better" when it comes to universities, but now I realize that the closeness of contacts that comes with a small school is a huge advantage to the student. These contacts develop with fellow students, with graduate students who assist in teaching labs, and with the teaching faculty, and some of them will last a lifetime. The difference between a big school and a small school is not in the size of the class (Acadia is right in the middle of the ranking of the numbers of majors in Geology programs across Canada), but in the size and commitment of the faculty. At a small school students take several courses, instead of one or two, from individual faculty members, and really get to know, respect, and appreciate their professors. The corollary is that the professors get the same opportunity to interact with the students, and in many cases become mentors and even personal friends with the people in their classes. At this point of year, the end of the fall term, this is evident from the greetings we receive from alumni all over the world.