Concordia’s Science College at 35: small class size, big commitment
Ask graduates to describe the Science College at Concordia, and there’s a good chance they’ll respond in glowing terms. This September, the college proudly celebrated three and a half decades of innovative education.
“Anniversaries are a time for reflection about what the Science College means,” says Paul Joyce, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a fellow of the college. “It was a great idea 35 years ago, and it still is today.”
The College was founded in 1979 as part of an initiative to respond to the needs of top science students. It provides an academic springboard for a variety of careers in research, teaching and medicine.
“For 35 years, the Science College has been a leader in training students to think differently and to engage meaningfully in problem-solving through research and hands-on experience,” says André Roy, dean of Arts and Science. “This mission is perhaps even more critical today than when the college was created.”
Academically, a key factor that sets the programme apart is its focus on research. Unlike many other science programs, students begin research projects in their first year and are expected to complete two research projects outside of their own discipline. The college also participates in Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education, and its students often go on an exchange to conduct research around the world.
“This hands-on approach is really important,” Joyce says. “It helps students understand what research is all about.”
Joyce’s former lab assistant Magali Merkx-Jacques agrees. “The Science College allowed me to discover parts of science that I wouldn’t have looked at otherwise,” she says. “It helped me figure out what I wanted to research.”
In its first year, the College had 12 students. The number has since grown to over 80, although the college remains small and competitive, accepting only 10 to 15 students a year.
Lillian Jackson, assistant to the principal, finds these students to be exceptionally talented — which shines through, she says, in the fact that for seven consecutive years, one of the university’s valedictorians has come from the Science College.
“I’ve been with the College for nearly half its life,” Jackson says. “I’m watching it grow and grow, as its name becomes renowned around the world.”
The Science College’s small size is intentional because it creates an intense learning experience in a supportive and interactive environment.
“We come away with great friends and great experiences because we are encouraged to interact so much. We got to discuss science and current research at a high level,” says alumna Nicola Smith, BSc (Biology) 13. “It was a truly motivating and supportive environment for learning. The staff go out of their way to help us succeed and to push us in the right direction.”
Jackson notes that the dedication of the college’s staff is crucial to its success. For more than 20 years, she has maintained an open-door policy: “I want the new students to know they have someone to assist them in every aspect of their lives,” she says.
The students also receive peer-to-peer support and tutoring: they are set up with a mentor in their first semester.
“Regardless of your program, there’s someone in every other year you can talk to,” says alumnus Cameron Tisshaw, BA (Psychology) 14. “When you’re young, you get mentored and then when you’re older, you get to mentor.”
To celebrate the past and look towards the future, the Science College has held reunions every five years since the institution turned twenty-five. Last month, the college commemorated its 35th birthday with a talk by voice-over internt protocol pioneer Rubin Gruber and a wine-and-cheese event for staff, faculty, students and alumni at the Loyola Jesuit Hall and Conference Centre (RF).
A recurring theme at the 2014 reunion was how exciting it has been to see the Science College develope over the years. Calvin Kalman, the current principal, was on the committee that considered its establishment back in 1979.
“I have been a fellow through the terms of the last three principals — 30 years in all — and frequently taught courses here before I became principal myself,” says Kalman. “The college is in my DNA!”