This week, Dr. Vianne Timmons’ epic summer road trip rolled into Forteau, Labrador.
Memorial’s president had a specific question for Memorial’s Labrador students: How can we do better?
A group of students had plenty of answers to her question, sharing their time and thoughts to help Dr. Timmons get a clearer picture of the specific experiences of students from Labrador.
Eager to share
The group of a dozen or so students met Dr. Timmons at a lunch event organized by the local community youth network. There were several academic disciplines represented, from theatre arts to education to science, and more, with students based at the St. John’s and Grenfell campuses.
“This is my first experience seeing Memorial leaders in Labrador,” said Amelia Jones, with a smile. “I think this is the first time I’ve even been aware of who the university president is!”
The third-year neuroscience and biology student grew up in Forteau, and spent the spring and summer in her home community as a result of the pandemic.
She was particularly excited to share her thoughts about how Memorial is serving Labradorians, both what is going well and what could be improved.
“We go away to school and find friends, relationships and then we don’t return.”
She was also happy to hear that the Labrador Institute in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will be the first academic, degree-granting unit of the university in Labrador.
Kristen Pike, a fourth-year kinesiology student, says that she would “definitely” have looked into enrolling in classes at what is now known as the School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies and thinks many others would, too.
Ms. Pike also says the option to complete a degree in Happy Valley-Goose Bay may lead to more students staying in Labrador after graduation.
“Only four people that I graduated with went to university and only one has come back now and is planning to work here. We go away to school and find friends, relationships and then we don’t return.”
While it’s nice to hear about successes, Dr. Timmons was also looking for straight talk about things that aren’t going so well.
For both students, the lack of reliable high speed internet and the negative impact it has on rural students, especially when it comes to online learning, is the main concern.
Ms. Jones is heading back to St. John’s at the end of the month, primarily because she doesn’t trust the local service to be reliable enough for her to complete her course work.
“I don’t want to run the risk of not being able to excel at my courses because of that, and I know I’m not the only one.”
Ms. Pike agreed.
“I’ve been doing full time school all summer, and the internet is really bad,” she said. “I started uploading a video project at 9 p.m., and it took until 2:30 a.m. to finish.”
Dr. Timmons said on Twitter that having lunch with the students was her favourite #talesfromtheroadMUN meeting yet.
This is my favourite #talesfromtheroadMUN meeting an amazing group of students from the Labrador Straits. Thank you for choosing @MemorialU @grenfellcampus as your university. pic.twitter.com/pEb8WBbDWo
— Vianne Timmons (@vianne_timmons) August 3, 2020
“I’ve met some amazing people on this road trip, but talking with these students was a real highlight,” she said. “They were open and engaging, and honest about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why I hit the road in the first place – to learn the good and the bad. These students are definitely the good.”
According to Ms. Jones and Ms. Pike, the feeling is mutual.
“The opportunity to speak with Dr. Timmons is an experience that I don’t think any student in this region has experienced,” said Ms. Jones. “Just her interest meant a lot to me and students like me. Despite the pandemic, it’s given us a sense of unity that we’re all in this together.”