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‘Students should be exposed to science from the very first day’: Concordia’s Science College celebrates 40 years

Alumni hold top positions in science and medicine in Canada and abroad
May 1, 2019
By Richard Burnett

Science College

Concordia's Science College was founded in 1979 by a group of Concordia University professors headed by Elaine Newman at a time when Concordia was encouraging the formation of small academic units.

As the Science College was preparing for its 40th anniversary celebrations, college principal Wayne Brake admits he was amazed when archival research dug up black and white photos of Loyola campus back when it was Loyola College.

“The campus was in the middle of a farm field,” says Brake. “That really blew my mind! Some of my colleagues were around then – and how young they look in those photos!”

Science College will celebrate its 40th anniversary with commemorative events and a student conference on multidisciplinary research, on May 3 and 4.

“We were very stoked when we started planning for it, we had to dig deep into the archives just to get some of our founding documents to see how far we have evolved from the what the founders intended,” Brake explains. “What we discovered is that the basic core values are exactly the same as the first day: hands-on research and experience, cross-disciplinary experience, and science as a way of thinking. That is exactly what we still are today.

“As universities grow larger, students can sometimes get lost in classes of 100 or more students,” says Brake, who has been principal at Science College for a year, and before that a fellow at the college for a decade.

“At Science College we welcome really exceptional students and give them a space where they can talk to each other across disciplines. Scientists often don’t talk across fields, and we want to foster more dialogue and cross-communication between disciplines.”

Science College pamphlets Examples of early Science College pamphlets

“The idea of its founding members was to have a smaller, more intimate educational facility that emphasizes that science really isn’t only one discipline, but something you have to study across disciplines,” says Brake. “The other important aspect was that students should be exposed to science from the very first day. Students at Science College are in a lab from Day 1.”

In 1979, there were 12 students compared to some 80 students today. They are enrolled in one of Concordia’s science programs.

“Students apply for our minor in multi-disciplinary sciences and entry to the college and we accept about 20 to 25 students per calendar year,” Brake says. “We keep it small and intimate. We are a physical space where students can come in to study together and excel together. We also have an in-house library where students can consult papers and projects.”

Brake is proud of Science College’s “sterling reputation” for educating Science College alumni who hold top positions in science and medicine in Canada and abroad.

Many grads are returning for Science College’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Says Brake, “I’m excited to welcome back alumni who have been extremely successful in their careers – such as Dr. Anita Brown-Johnson of the Montreal General Hospital; Dr Onyenyechukwu Nnorom, Associate Program Director, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto; and Dr. Majid Fotuhi, medical director of NeuroGrow Brain Fitness Center at John Hopkins Medicine, who will present ‘How can we reverse the effects of aging on memory?,’ a free lecture open to everyone.”

Fotuhi’s May 3 lecture at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall is part of Science College’s inaugural Bold Science conference for undergraduate and CEGEP students, being held at Loyola Campus on May 3 and 4.

Science College’s 40th anniversary will also be commemorated by visiting alumni, former professors and industry professionals at a May 4 anniversary gala dinner at the Omni Mont-Royal Hotel.

Lillian Jackson, longtime assistant to the College's Principal, will receive a special honour at the May 4 gala, via a new bursary​ that has been created in her name and will live in perpetuity. 

Jackson began her tenure at the College in 1994, and has helped hundreds of students over the years.

“I am humbled and profoundly grateful to the College for creating this bursary in my name,” says Jackson. 

“I am confident that the students of the College who will benefit from this bursary will go on to great things. I am extremely proud to have known so many of the great achievers who are alumni of the College. Our students continue to be our best ambassadors. 

It is my hope that all graduates of the College will remain close to this institution throughout their lives.”

— with files from Elisabeth Faure

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