Alumnus of the Month - Greg Knott

A passionate Newfoundlander, Greg Knott has been involved in community development for much of the past decade. He has spent most of his professional life working and volunteering with organizations focused on community development and youth issues at both the provincial and national level, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Advisory Committee, Emerging Leaders (Canadian Community Economic Development Network), Global Citizenship Initiative, and Futures in Newfoundland and Labrador Youth (FINALY). Originally from Norris Point on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland, the former journalist is currently based in St. John’s as the manager, revenue development and Social Enterprise with the Autism Society, Newfoundland Labrador.

Greg holds a BA in political science and a journalism diploma from the College of the North Atlantic. Currently, he is working on a Masters of Arts in Community Development from the University of Victoria.

His passions include photography, literacy, ultimate Frisbee, food, reading books and things, and the environment, in no particular order. He is also a big fan of his family which mainly live on the west coast of Newfoundland in Gros Morne National Park, the greatest place on earth.

Suck it Disney.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your degree?

I wanted to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador to pursue my education. I think we have a world class institution and I’m proud to be a Memorial alumnus. At the time when I had to think about, ‘what next,’ there was really no other option in my mind.

It was the benefit of studying at an exceptional institution and being close to home. I did my first year of studies at the Grenfell Campus in Corner Brok. I grew up an hour or so from Corner Brook, my older brother was finishing his degree there when I started, and I had friends attending the campus as well. It was a great first year and introduction to university life. I decided halfway through that first year I wanted to move to the St. John’s campus. I loved Grenfell, but the studies I wanted to pursue were only offered in St. John’s.

What drew you to do a degree in political science?

I’ve always been interested in politics, but also in systems and how the world operates. Studying political systems gave me a greater understanding of the world, how people, governments, and various sectors operate.

Do any particular memories stand out from your time here as an undergraduate/graduate student?

During my first year at Grenfell, I did a couple of economics courses. My professor was the most colourful individual I’d met up to that point in my life. There is a significant difference between some university courses and high school courses. Introductory economics had a steep learning curve. This professor pushed students to be the best they could. If he saw you worked hard, he worked with you. At the beginning of the course he explained that at the beginning of every class he would draw one student’s name from a bag and that student would have to solve a problem in front of the rest of the class. I spent the first five minutes of every class completely terrified my name was going to be drawn. I was a shy kid that had come from a small town and had to solve an unknown problem to a class about three times the size of my high school graduating class.

One day at the end of class, the professor called out to me and asked me to stick around for a few minutes. It was at that moment I realized the names being drawn wasn’t purely a consequence of chance. He told me that my name would be drawn at the beginning of next class. He also gave me the problem and set up a meeting with him the day before the next class. I went to his office with my solution and he worked through it with me again. My name was drawn and I solved the problem in front of the class perfectly. I know I wasn’t the only one he did this with as several classmates recounted to me similar stories. That was my first presentation in university and did wonders for my self-confidence. I worked my butt off in that course after that and got a very good final mark.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

My parents have given me a lot of great advice throughout my life. I’m apprehensive to give written confirmation that I’ve actually listened to them and shatter the myth that I don’t pay attention.

At times when I’ve been stressed out, anxious, physically or mentally tired, and don’t know what to do next or how to address something, my mother has told me that a change is sometimes as good as a break. And that doesn’t always mean a physical or location change, but also a mental change and to start to think about or look at a situation or problem differently.

You’re currently the manager of revenue development and social enterprise for the Autism Society, Newfoundland Labrador. Can you explain how you got started working in the non-profit sector and tell us a bit about your role there?

I had always volunteered with non-profits and really enjoyed the work that was being done. I had been working out in western Canada, travelling around the country, and paying down some student loans when I decided it was time to come home. I wanted to pursue a career in the non-profit sector and started looking for jobs that fit my interests back on the island. That was in 2009. I’ve been working in the non-profit sector ever since.
Every morning I wake up and go to work and feel like the work I do daily is having an impact on the lives of individuals in the community. It’s a powerful feeling to see the results of your work.

With the Autism Society, Newfoundland Labrador (ASNL) I am in charge of all of the fundraising initiatives including events, grant writing, annual giving, partnership development, etc. Recently, I‘ve taken on the role of growing some of the small social enterprise activities which occur on our site at the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism. We’ve had a number of small initiatives that have grown out of our programs; such as the manufacture of window flower boxes, birdhouses, jam and jelly production, a greenhouse operation, and a community garden. This year we’re looking at how we can solidify and grow these initiatives for the financial benefit of the organization and social benefit for our clients.

If you could wave a magic wand, what should NL do right now to improve the lives of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

There are two things that my magic wand would accomplish.
One would be that the provincial government would address the discriminatory policy of basing care on an individual’s IQ. At the age of 18 (or 21 if pursuing post-secondary studies) an individual with ASD is provided or denied certain types of care based on having an IQ above or below 70. As an example, some individuals with ASD may have an IQ well above 70, but have difficulty dressing themselves or brushing their teeth and desperately need support and care. This type of care comes at a significant financial cost which is often more than some families can afford.

The other issue my wand would address would be the idea that the employment of people with disabilities comes at too much of a financial cost for businesses to bare. The cost (if it even exists) is negligible in most cases. Any cost incurred do to extra support is often negated by the productivity of the individual. Most people with ASD want to work and have the opportunity to become a valuable and contributing part of the community. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that practices what it preaches. Right now we have three young adults with ASD working with us as employers. My coworkers that are on the autism spectrum are some of the hardest working people I know. They were given an opportunity, they’re thriving, and proud of their accomplishments. We all remember our first pay cheque and how proud we were. They want the same opportunity.

In what ways has studying humanities and social sciences affected your world view? What do you say to those who question the value of an arts degree?

Studying social sciences has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the world and systems that exist around me and the interactions between them.

I did a job interview a few years ago and the interviewer asked what was the most important thing I had learned from my degree. I told her I learned how to learn. She laughed. When an interviewer laughs it throws you off a bit. But she qualified her amusement by saying she agreed with me and had used the same justification for her arts degree just a few days before my interview.

Anyone that knows me, know that I’m not afraid of an argument. And I’ve had this argument many times. An arts degree is a very important base of knowledge and practice. The facts, figures, theories and stats you learn from an arts degree are wonderful, but I believe just as important, is learning how to learn constructively, how to be critical and understand the world around you. The intangible skills you gain from an arts degree are important and (I believe) something you don’t get to the same degree as in other disciplines. Most people that pursue an arts degree don’t stop at an undergraduate anymore. They move into graduate studies, using the arts degree as a foundation of knowledge to pursue a professional degree or diploma.

I find a lot of the arguments come from comparisons of an arts degree to other degrees. I don’t believe it’s fair to compare an arts degree to a professional degree such as education, nursing or engineering, etc. They are different. Different doesn’t mean less or more, it simply means not the same. It’s about where you want to go with an arts agree. My philosophy is, an arts degree is part of a journey, and a professional degree is more of a destination.

You are also an amazing photographer (Greg’s photos can be viewed at www.knottypictures.org). Can you talk a bit about what sort of subjects attract you and why you are drawn to this art form?

About five years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare eye condition that threatened my vision. I'd just went for a regular eye check-up and left finding out that if action wasn't taken I could have a significant loss of vision. It's all been addressed now, but for weeks after the diagnosis, I was shaken. I remember leaving home to go to work one morning and I caught myself focusing on the colours in the grass, the sunrise on the brick building I lived in, and I realized I was paying more attention to a sense I had taken for granted my whole life. This happened around the same time that I really began to discover my talent as a photographer. At that point, photography became more personal for me. It became more than just a hobby and was a way for me to capture and hold onto the sights of the world around me.

I would say people are my favorite subject to photograph. People have great faces and they tell so much. But I also really enjoy taking photos of places, buildings, things that are unique to the place I'm in. Every town has unique landmarks or attractions that give it flavour. Lots of places around this island have fishing stages or sheds or boats and it's all beautiful and tells a certain story, but I really enjoying finding the local takeout, or chip van, or monument, or historical whatsit, or old abandoned thingamajig, and using that to capture the essence of the town.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?

I love reality television. Not the game show or competition type reality TV like Survivor or Big Brother, but shows like Pawn Stars or Swamp People. My body could go numb from inactivity during a Swamp People marathon. I know some of these shows have some loose scripting to them, but I still love the characters and getting a slight insight into the lives of people, situations, and locations so far removed from my own.

I also listen to Top 40 music pretty often. Especially on the radio in my car. There’s only so much hipster indie rock you can listen to before your breath begins to smells like plaid, pomade, and Blundstones.

What are you reading and listening to these days?

I’ve just started a masters program in community development from the University of Victoria. So my reading these days is mostly course reading and online postings from my classmates. It’s left little time for reading anything else. But I have been slowly reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It’s hilariously beautiful, touching and sad. One of the best novels I’ve read in years.

What I’m listening to is always very eclectic. At this very moment, I am listening to the East Coast Music Hour with David Myles on CBC Radio 2. In my car, Sherman Downey’s latest album is in the CD player. Last night while cooking dinner, there was a Supertramp album on the record player. It made my chicken dinner very funky.

What are you most looking forward to within the next year?

I am travelling to Victoria, BC in July for a study period/vacation. I’ve never spent any time in BC and I’m very excited. Everyone that I know that has spent time there has fallen in love with the city. I love being on the move and travelling. The act of traveling, not just the destination, excites me. I love airports and flying.

Later this summer I’m also going on a mini vacation with my family to a cousin’s wedding. My immediate family all live on the west coast of the island and my father is a tradesperson that works away on projects, so our schedules don’t always jive for us to be in the same postal code at the same time. We’re a very close family, so I’m looking forward to spending some time with them.