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Can’t quit, won’t quit

Spring biology graduate achieves academic goal – eight years later

special feature: Class of 2020

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Kelly Foss

Chris Hearn doesn’t give up.

Chris Hearn in his element in Doctor’s Cove on the Avalon Peninsula.
Photo: Submitted

It’s a trait that has served the new spring biology (ecology and conservation) graduate well over the eight – yes, eight – years it took him to complete his B.Sc.

His route to graduation may have been circuitous, but he says his extended path was typical to his general life approach.

One thing for certain

Mr. Hearn, who is from Bay Bulls, knew his love of the outdoors meant that one day he was going to have a career that allowed him to work outside.

After high school, he enrolled in a fish and wildlife technician program in Corner Brook.

Later, he decided it wasn’t for him.

“I always told myself I would go to Memorial University and get a degree like my sisters did.” — Chris Hearn

He says the program was “great” and that he loved the field experience.

“But – I always told myself I would go to Memorial University and get a degree like my sisters did. One is a social worker and the other is a nurse. I didn’t think I would be able to get through it, especially since I failed math in Grade 10 and struggled through high school.”

When he finally made up his mind to apply to Memorial, he was required to write the Math Placement Test.

“I needed a 55 per cent to get into Math 1090. I got 54,” he said. “I spoke to Harold Johnson in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and told him he had to put me in the course, and he did – and, I failed it.”

At the time, failing Math 1090 meant Mr. Hearn had to take a three-course foundational math program before he could redo the course and, subsequently, the Math 1000 course the program required.

“It really started to beat me down, but I kept at it.” — Chris Hearn

During that time, he also failed Chemistry 1011 – twice.

“I started to think, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t belong in this world.’ I felt so out of place. It really started to beat me down, but I kept at it.”

Opportunity knocks

One day, he was sitting in a class listening to a guest speaker from Operation Wallacea.

The organization designs and implements biodiversity and conservation management research expeditions for students. The speaker said they were looking for students to go to Peru.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I walked out of the class and called them right away, because I had to go. And I did.”

Chris Hearn spotted this stick insect from 30 feet away in the Peru’s Pacaya Samaria National Reserve in the Amazon rain forest.
Photo: Submitted

As part of the experience, Mr. Hearn spent two days steaming up the Amazon River in a boat.

“It was so remote and wonderful.”

In 2016 he took a semester off to backpack through parts of Europe.

“Most people wouldn’t take time out of their degree to do something like that, but I think not having that intense focus to finish in four years helped me in the long run,” he said.

He says he now hopes to find a career in conservation. He loves working in the field and in order to feel fulfilled, he wants a job that will allow him to make a difference.

Chris Hearn and a young visitor at La Manche Provincial Park.
Photo: Submitted

For the past six summers, he’s worked as a park ranger in La Manche Provincial Park.

In his spare time, he completed American eel, muskrat and flower bloom surveys.

He says, looking back, a part of him is happy he went through those early struggles.

“It was certainly character building and I know it has changed me as a person,” he said. “I feel much stronger because of it. I taught myself to walk on my hands recently. I kept trying and falling on my face, but I wouldn’t give up. Now I can actually walk down the hallway on my hands.

“I guess I’m stubborn. The goal is irrelevant. Once I start it, I have to do it. This degree was something I started, and I knew I had to finish it, or I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

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