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From classroom to the cosmos:

MUN and GEO unite

by Heidi Wicks

Dr. Alice Collins and Paul Dean. Photo by Chris HammondThe remainder of 2008 and into 2009 is the International Year of Planet Earth, an international observance including 70 countries and UNESCO.

It’s a global union of the geological sciences connecting to honour the contributions of earth sciences to society.

Memorial is playing an important role in Newfoundland and Labrador’s involvement in the commemoration, through its new partnership with the Johnson GEO Centre in St. John’s.

“We are sponsoring a number of exciting events in partnership with scientific and geological agencies. We look forward to marking Earth Day with a number of activities and we hope the public will drop by and celebrate the day with us,” said Dr. Alice Collins, chair of the Johnson GEO Board who is also dean of Education at Memorial.

Three GEO events have already unfolded.

A travelling exhibit exploring how crystals become gems premiered in January, and will sparkle on until the end of June. February unveiled a public viewing of an episode of CBC’s The Nature of Things, on the uniquely phenomenal geology of Labrador. Dr. Derek Wilton of Memorial’s Department of Earth Sciences led a discussion following the presentation. In March there was a public lecture talking about Newfoundland as the eighth geological wonder of the world.

Special events will continue monthly, up until early 2009. However, April’s big bang is Earth Day, to be celebrated on the 22nd of this month.

“We’ll be having an open house day, where the public can visit the Johnson GEO Centre for free, and our hours are extended until 9 p.m.,” said Paul Dean, executive director of the GEO Centre. “We have also purchased the rights to a documentary series on the geology of Canada, entitled Geologic Journey, so we’ll be showing that throughout the day.”

Mr. Dean is thrilled about the facility’s new partnership with Memorial, which came together in August 2007 when Dr. Axel Meisen, former president of the university, and Dr. Paul Johnson, an honorary degree recipient, came to an agreement to develop a five-year partnership between Memorial and the GEO Centre.

“The Johnson GEO Centre has been talking about developing this partnership for the last several years,” he said.

“Great things are proposed. The university has appointed new members to the board,” he added, “which gives us a new governance structure, and also allows us to develop new partnerships in terms of public outreach, student employment, research opportunities and working outside the conventional classroom.”

Other board members are Ray Gosine, Jeremy Hall, Gerry Pike and Victoria Collins.

Numerous other benefits come with this new partnership, including free admission during regular hours for students, staff and faculty of Memorial who simply need to just present their identification cards to staff for admittance.

The GEO Centre also provides the university an outside venue for faculty retreats, planning events, special lectures or training.

“Another advantage is that the university will help build our profile in the community,” Mr. Dean added. “They have expertise that we don’t have, and will likely increase our visitation.”

From one educational institution to another, the Johnson GEO Centre and Memorial University are exemplifying the assets gained in bridging community with education.