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Spring interviewing session a working

Attending Memorial might very well be the way for students to become but for some faculty members an initiative of the Academic Advising Centre has been a transforming experience in and of itself.

Nearly 30 years ago what was then the General Studies Junior Division began to send young faculty members to every nook and cranny of the province to meet the students they were going to be teaching. Van loads of professors would travel for up to a week at a time to isolated communities to answer questions about Memorial University and de-mystify the academic process for new students.

Fast forward three decades or so and although the program has evolved to meet changing times and demographics, upwards of 130 faculty and staff members from the St. John’s and Grenfell campuses still fan out across the province in April of every year to visit 150 schools and interview on average 2300 students annually. From Gonzaga High School with over 100 students destined for Memorial in any given year, to small schools in remote outports with just one graduating student, 95 percent of the province’s schools are visited each spring.

Involvement in the program has been simply “a joy” to biochemistry professor Philip Davis, who joined the interviewing team shortly after beginning his faculty appointment at Memorial in 1986. Dr. Davis remembers vividly covering the Baie Verte peninsula to Grand Falls with his team in less than a week and the time he found himself doing on-the-spot academic advising in a Mary Brown’s Fried Chicken.

“It was pure serendipity,” he said. “I was waiting for my order and got to talking to the woman behind the counter. Her kids were growing up and she was interested in doing a business degree. While speaking to her an RCMP officer dropped in and, lo and behold, she was interested in attending Memorial as well.”

In his travels around the province, Dr. Davis has had his share of (mis)adventures including having the transmission fall out of a vehicle (“it was one of the old MUN vans that we used to commandeer”), doing a series of interviews single-handed when his colleagues were marooned on Fogo Island due to ice, and “sitting on the dock of the bay” waiting for the ferry after completing his single interview in Gaultois. He also fondly remembers meeting the woman who had been providing the home made soup and sandwiches he had been eating for lunch every year when visiting the school on Little Bay Island.

Both Dr. Davis and Peter Ayres, another long-time participant in the program, agree that a huge benefit to interviewers is the informal partnerships with other faculty members.

“It has been incredibly beneficial in terms of getting insight into other units of the university,” said the associate dean of undergraduate studies, Faculty of Arts. “I met all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with.”

Mr. Ayres also acknowledges that interviewers don’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of the university to be effective advisors to potential students. “What we do is to help focus them. The process is especially helpful for those who haven’t yet decided on a program,” he said.

The Academic Advising Centre prepares interviewers well ahead of time with an extensive Guide to First Year and comprehensive orientation sessions.

Ron O’Neill, coordinator, university liaison, works closely with Grenfell’s academic advisor Derek Jackman and guidance counsellors across the province to iron out the logistics.

“Grenfell takes the western side of the province and the straits of Labrador and we cover everything else, including the rest of Labrador,” said Mr. O’Neill.

Mr. O’Neill credits the high school guidance counsellors and the faculty and staff participants for their “tremendous” contribution.

“This program opens up lines of communication with students, gives them pertinent information and gets them on track to their degree,” he said.

And it seems by all accounts that Memorial is the only university in Canada making this extraordinary effort.

And so a program that began out of necessity in order to educate and inform students about the university experience continues to provide personal contact in the electronic age. Peter Ayres tells the story of a young female student who, when asked if she had any other questions, queried if he knew what bus would take her from Memorial to the Avalon Mall.

“The students are the real heroes,” said Dr. Davis. “They really put the zing in you for another year.”