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‘Geo citizen’

Scholarship recognizes passionate Earth Sciences alumnus and supporter

Student Life

By Kelly Foss

The newly established R.F. Blackwood Memorial Award in Geoscience recognizes the contributions and memory of one of the Department of Earth Sciences’ biggest and long-standing supporters.

Frank Blackwood was an alumnus of Memorial University’s Faculty of Science (B.Sc.’73; M.Sc.’76), the former director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador and a dedicated volunteer in the provincial and national geoscience communities.

He passed away in 2020.

‘Big fan of Memorial’

“Frank was a big fan of Memorial and a champion of geoscience generally,” said Dr. Greg Dunning (PhD’84), the head of the department.

Dr. Steve Piercey, (B.Sc.(Hons.)’96; M.Sc.’98) and a University Research Professor in Earth Sciences, says Mr. Blackwood was an outstanding “geo citizen” who lived a life of service. 

Dr. Piercey says Mr. Blackwood and the other Memorial graduates who went on to build the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador always had a strong connection to the department.

Two men standing in a field in front of a helicopter
Field season with field assistant Morris West in 1977.
Photo: Submitted

“In a sense, he felt this was his home and the place that made him who he was. He felt an obligation to give back through research grants and hiring and training students every year. In doing so, he helped create the next generation of geoscientists in our province.”

‘Deep and genuine interest’

Baxter Kean (B.Sc.(Hons.)’71; M.Sc.’73), a long-time friend of Mr. Blackwood and a former colleague at the Geological Survey, says Mr. Blackwood had a deep and genuine interest in his alma mater and its earth sciences students.

“At the Survey, it was an established principle that as many of these students as possible were hired for their projects,” he said.

A man in a canoe filled with gear.
Frank Blackwood moving field gear by canoe in 1981.
Photo: Submitted

Upon his passing, it was only natural a scholarship be established in the Earth Sciences department in Mr. Blackwood’s honour and memory.

“Frank was also a person of strong moral character, work ethic and integrity,” said Mr. Kean. “In establishing the R. F. Blackwood Memorial Award in Geoscience, some of these values were incorporated in the qualification criteria.”

An archival photo from 1980 of Frank Blackwood working on maps at a desk.
Mapwork in the field, 1980
Photo: Submitted

The award is to be given annually to a full-time graduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences who is undertaking field-based geoscientific research as part of their thesis research.

While field-based studies are the main criteria of the award, service and contributions to the geoscience community and organizations will be considered.

The qualifying student must also demonstrate strong personal values, including a strong work ethic and high personal integrity.

Inaugural recipient

The award was presented for the first time in April 2023 during the Department of Earth Sciences’ annual scholarship and awards ceremony.

A group of six men and women standing in front of artwork.
From left are the family of Frank Blackwood: son Michael Blackwood and sisters Angela Blackwood Pike, Donna Blackwood and Marlene Browne, with Gabrielle Ledesma and her supervisor, Dr. Mike Babechuk.
Photo: Kelly Foss

Members of the family, including Mr. Blackwood’s son, Michael; and sisters, Angela Blackwood Pike, Donna Blackwood and Marlene Browne, attended.

Gabrielle Ledesma, a master’s student under the supervision of Dr. Michael Babechuk, is the award’s inaugural recipient.

“Frank would have been smiling ear to ear.” — Dr. Steve Piercey

Ms. Ledesma’s research involves understanding links between the geochemistry of surface waters and Newfoundland and Labrador bedrock geology, an approach that can help us better understand the inaccessible rocks below our feet and how the composition of these rocks combines with environmental factors to control the quality of our waters.

Dr. Babechuk says Ms. Ledesma “rallied” everyone together.

“Gabbie organized events and brought a lot of energy to the students at a time when, coming out of the pandemic, it was really needed. She also contributes her geospatial tool expertise to community science initiatives. So, she certainly matched the community service aspect of the award.”

Fall field trip to Gander. Frank Blackwood giving an address, 1976.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Piercey and Mr. Kean agree.

“She’s got the technical chops, but she also has the same streak of altruism that was in Frank,” said Dr. Piercey. “She’s the glue that brings people together and it made me really happy to see her win this award. Frank would have been smiling ear to ear, too. He would have loved to have met her.”

Many generous contributions

Frank Blackwood during field season in 1980.
Photo: Submitted

Valued at a portion of the income on the endowment, the award is made possible by generous contributions from friends, colleagues, the mineral resource industry and Mr. Blackwood’s family members.

Along with the many personal contributions from those who knew him, large donations from the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, N.L. branch, and the Geological Association of Canada, N.L. section, enabled the scholarship to be funded to a grantable level within a year.

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