Last summer, I was given the wonderful opportunity to assume the role of Vice-President, Grenfell Campus — to lead its operations as part of the Memorial network.
My wife and I had visited Newfoundland several years ago but, like many people, only the Avalon Peninsula. The “best coast” was unknown. As we read more about Grenfell, and this incredible part of Canada, our enthusiasm quickly grew.
In June, I successfully interviewed for the job. The campus was striking with its telescope and stunning Arts and Science atrium. Corner Brook and the surrounding area was visually stunning.
In October, our then 13-year son, Jacob, and I left Calgary for a cross-country drive; it was truly a special experience. We arrived at North Sydney on a windy Saturday night, and watched the Leafs win on TV as the boat rocked across the strait.
We got through Wreckhouse on Sunday morning and arrived at our new home on Raymond Heights, where we enjoy an awe-inspiring view of the Bay of Islands.
After finally selling our house in the low-oil-price-plagued Calgary market, my wife Deborah, our 18-year-old daughter Maddie, with our 14-year-old dog Sasha in tow, arrived at Deer Lake on the red-eye through Toronto and then smack into a snowstorm as they approached Corner Brook. But they made it in time for the family to celebrate the holidays in our new home.
Corner Brook has been incredibly inviting, a place we are thrilled to call home. There is so much here that one does not find in larger places — where we had always lived — and things we do not miss like grid-locked traffic, the endless sea of shopping malls, or the absence of nature. Here there is a strong sense of connection, a genuine feeling that we can work together to accomplish things that make a tangible, positive difference to our community.
Since arriving, I’ve tried to be out there visiting not only in Corner Brook, but also throughout western Newfoundland and into Labrador. To me, universities must be immersed in their communities. Students learn not only through books and theory, but by applying both to real-life situations to gain invaluable experience. At their core, universities are about improving the world in which we live, whether through the research we conduct or the lessons and values we seek to encourage through teaching, mentorship and other interactions with students.
Grenfell must be seen as Corner Brook’s university and as an indispensable resource to western Newfoundland and Labrador. Our priorities and major projects speak to that mission. We are working with First Peoples to make Grenfell a place that reflects our location on traditional Mi’kmaq land and to respond meaningfully and respectfully to the calls to action from the recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We are working with our incredibly supportive municipal government through the City Studio initiative — as well as with the Corner Brook Port Corporation — to have students lead projects that will improve life in Corner Brook.
In partnership with College of the North Atlantic and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Ltd., we are exploring the potential to establish an innovation hub to provide training, product development and entrepreneurial mentorship.
We are working with potential partners from across the province, and governments, to make Grenfell a research centre to enhance agricultural production and food security on the island and in Labrador.
I, too, have made it a priority to be outward focused, such as by establishing an external community advisory board; by connecting with potential students and their families from across the province; by sharing my own research as a historian; or by even, along with my son, selling 50-50 tickets at the Royals’ games.
Grenfell should never be seen as a place perched on the hill, separate in any way from the community in which it must thrive. Its employees are deeply invested in making Corner Brook succeed.
I am always keen to connect to provide information on the numerous opportunities Grenfell offers. Just write me. I look forward to meeting many more people to share my enthusiasm for and incredible pride in this exceptional campus.
Jeff Keshen is vice-president of Grenfell Campus, Memorial University.