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New schools, new deans

Grenfell Campus's new deans ready to begin new school year

special feature: Back to school

Part of a special feature coinciding with the beginning of a new academic year at Memorial University.

By Melanie Callahan

As students begin the new year of studies at Grenfell Campus this week, things look a little different.

At the helm at three new schools are three new deans: Students at Grenfell will now study in the School of Fine Arts, the School of Arts and Social Science or the School of Science and the Environment.

Prof. Todd Hennessey, dean of fine arts, began his career at Grenfell as a student three decades ago, while Dr. Laura Robinson, dean of arts and social science, and Dr. Michele Piercey-Normore, dean of science and the environment, moved to Corner Brook and their new positions on Aug. 1.

From left are Dr. Laura Robinson, Dr. Michele Piercey-Normore and Prof. Todd Hennessey.
From left are Dr. Laura Robinson, Dr. Michele Piercey-Normore and Prof. Todd Hennessey.


A Q&A with the three deans, ranging in topic from bringing a passion to work every day to academic career highlights to memorable teaching moments follows below.

MC: Prof. Hennessey, what do you see as the greatest challenge and the biggest for the School of Fine Arts?

TH: We have to stay focused on the fundamentals, but our students need to be knowledgeable in emerging technologies. The basics will stay the basics; we’re left figuring out how to deal with all the new technologies. Students want to know how to put film in camera and how to create digital effects in their plays — it’s definitely about striking a balance. And we have to be sure we are giving students the skills they need — be training in dance or teaching them some sense of how to operate a business.

MC: You began your career in theatre, what was the most impactful play you’ve been involved with here at Grenfell?

TH: That’s tough, but I think it comes down to a toss up between two: Peer Gynt and The Laramie Project. Peer Gynt might be the most personal of the plays that I’ve directed at Grenfell and The Laramie Project was the most emotional.

MC: Dr. Robinson, what’s your plan for the next few years?

LR: I strongly believe that academic governance should happen together and not be dictated by the administration. First, I care very much about people, so I want to ensure that I facilitate an environment where everyone feels their voice is being heard. Second, I am committed to community engagement and will be working with the Corner Brook community with my own research.  Third, I am so passionate about Grenfell and what it represents that I would like to work with Recruitment and Student Services to attract more students to our school and the campus as a whole.

MC: Your research has focused on the work of author Lucy Maud Montgomery, specifically Anne of Green Gables. What drew you to this character?

LR: I became interested in the popularity of girls’ stories, like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Because so many women love them, and many strong feminist writers and thinkers have cited them as an influence, I thought that there had to be more going on in these books then first meets the eye. And they are definitely about cloaked rebellion. Because the area of L.M. Montgomery studies was growing rapidly at the time I was working on my PhD, her work really started to take over my research focus. I am interested in the representation of girlhood, generally.

MC: Dr. Piercey-Normore, what excited you about being founding dean of the new School of Science and the Environment?

MPN: The concept of the school that has a strong foundation in applied research is exciting to me. The teaching has been very strong here for as long as I can remember; you need that in conjunction with the research. You need it together to take students to the breaking edge of discovery. Couple the strong teaching history with the applied growing research, and this school will be very strong.

MC: You’re a biologist with a focus on lichen. What’s been one of your academic career highlights?

MPN: One of my career highlights has been the discovery with one of my graduate students that the interaction between algae and fungi, which make up a lichen, has similarities to the interaction between a disease-causing fungus and its host plant. The cell structures and the genes used in both types of interactions are very similar. This has implications for further study on agriculture and forest diseases. I also curated a herbarium for lichens at the University of Manitoba. I started it from scratch and we built it up from very few lichens and it now has over 10,000 specimens of lichens. Groups for the community members from various museums across Canada have also visited it.

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