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October 24, 2002 Art educators amazed by Chinese schools during visit




by Mirjana Vrbaski

A biologist and a mathematician may seem like an odd couple, but if you were at the third annual Science College Day on Jan. 31, you’d have left feeling that that’s exactly the kind of match necessary for effective research.

In fact, bringing together research-thirsty Concordia students from various departments and giving them a chance to collaborate on projects concurrently with their undergraduate studies is the basis of the Science College.

Population ecologist Dr. Edward Maly, one of the founding members of the Science College, emphasized the point in a talk he gave as part of the event.

“A lot of research is broader than people think and needs to be looked at from various perspectives,” Maly said. “In creating the College, our goal was to create a common ground equally suitable for physicists, geologists, chemists and other scientists. It’s all about bringing many different sciences and backgrounds together to look at one question.”

Michael von Grünau, the principal of the College, added later, “What makes the College unique is the chance for students to get a head start on real research before they’re at the graduate level. If you want to be a scientist, you have to get your hands dirty as early as possible.”

The Science College admits undergraduate science students who show greater than average interest in science and plan to pursue research. Traditionally, the College courses replaced honours degree electives.

However, the success of the Science College, together with student satisfaction, brought two major changes. First, enrolment increased significantly, from 12 students in 1979 to between 70 and 80 students today.

Second, the program is now offered as a minor in multidisciplinary studies in science. Its 30 credits include three research projects, various cross-disciplinary courses designed specially for the College, and a six-credit course in the history, philosophy and social aspects of science.
As Maly explained, the program exposes students to cross-disciplinary thinking and intensive student-to-student and student-to-faculty interaction.

What’s more, it gives them the opportunity to work with research scientists on actual projects in each year of their studies, either at Concordia or at other universities or research centres.

So far, students have found it extremely motivating to be able to work with bright peers from areas of science other than their own — not to mention the “coffee hours.” It’s a weekly tradition for students and faculty to meet over coffee and cookies and discuss anything from science to politics to potential research projects, Maly said.

The College also runs two annual public lectures. On March 27, Margaret Somerville will speak on “Whose Genes, Life, Pregnancy, Birth, Child, Death is It Anyway? Technoscience, ‘Intense’ Individualism and Social Values” at 8:30 p.m. in the Hall Building, H-110.

Initially housed in what’s now a “mail room and secretary office” in the Hall Building, the College has for several years now been in its own building at 2080 Mackay St., where students have 24-hour access to computers and study spaces. A move to the new Science Building on the Loyola Campus is scheduled for this summer.

Despite the changes and improvements over the years, the College mission remains intact: to ensure that once they leave the Science College, the students are equipped with a sharpened understanding of the basics of science, and experience of what to expect from a science career.