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Awarding independence

Archaeology student recognized for self-directed learning

Teaching and Learning

By Jennifer Batten

A bachelor of arts (honours) student completing a major in archaeology, a minor in biology, and a diploma in applied ethics from the Department of Philosophy has been awarded the 2017 Memorial University Award for Outstanding Self-directed Learning.

The award was presented to Daniel Rees at a ceremony on the St. John’s campus last week.

Daniel Rees shares his self-directed learning experience.
Daniel Rees shares his self-directed learning experience during the awards ceremony.

Mr. Rees’s fellow students, faculty, mentors and supporters were in attendance, including Mr. Rees’s grandmother, who played a special role along the path that would eventually lead him to studying underwater archaeology.

As a child, Mr. Rees was intrigued by his grandmother’s stories about German U-boats torpedoing the iron-ore carriers anchored off Bell Island. The stories sparked in him an interest in underwater archaeology — an interest that demanded he become a self-directed learner.

Pursuing a diploma

There are no formal opportunities to study underwater archaeology at Memorial or in Newfoundland and Labrador, yet Mr. Rees was able to combine his interests in SCUBA diving with his formal studies in archaeology.

This summer, he plans to complete the requirements to receive a diploma in underwater archaeology from the Nautical Archaeology Society based in the U.K.

During the winter semester of his first year at Memorial, Mr. Rees was working towards a certification in open-water SCUBA diving. He subsequently learned of an opportunity to take an introductory course in underwater archaeology from the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That course, and the archaeology elective he had taken the semester before, confirmed his desire to become an underwater archaeologist.

Knowing that to become a competent underwater archaeologist, he would first have to become a competent SCUBA diver, Mr. Rees continued with his diving training. He is now a certified advanced open-water and rescue diver and is working towards dive master certification.

Continued education

To earn a diploma in underwater archaeology, Mr. Rees was required to identify and engage in a variety of educational and volunteer experiences related to underwater archaeology.

He began by completing an online course in shipwreck research from the University of Southampton. In the fall of his second year, Mr. Rees applied for and was offered one of eight positions at an underwater-archaeology field school in Cyprus, but political instability in the region prevented him from accepting.

Fortunately, while visiting his brother in North Carolina the following summer, Mr. Rees learned that nearby the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries was conducting a series of underwater-archaeology courses, including an opportunity to survey two early 20th-century shipwrecks.

He enrolled and spent six days with senior archaeologist, Joseph Hoyt, and his team. It was during his volunteer work on these wrecks that Mr. Rees became involved in and realized the importance of communicating the work to local passersby and vacationers.

“Daniel is committed to the study, protection and preservation of the shipwrecks in our waters.” — Dr. Noreen Golfman

Mr. Rees effectively engages the community in his work: he is now a member of the executive committee of the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In addition to co-ordinating presentations, training programs, and exploratory projects, he continues to be involved in speaking to communities about preserving the province’s underwater heritage.

“Daniel is committed to the study, protection and preservation of the shipwrecks in our waters. He has learned the value of community involvement and has developed skills in research, communication, teamwork and leadership,” said Dr. Noreen Golfman, provost and vice-president (academic), during the award presentation.

“For demonstrating initiative, persistence, creativity and hard work in forging his own learning path to becoming an underwater archaeologist, Daniel Rees is a most deserving recipient of the 2017 Memorial University Award for Outstanding Self-directed Learning.”

Curiosity, passion and drive

This summer, Mr. Rees will lead a team of researchers and volunteer divers in a project that involves applying concepts of battlefield archaeology in an underwater environment.

His curiosity, passion and drive have resulted in full funding from the J. R. Smallwood Foundation for investigating his own questions about how the German U-boats were able to navigate past Bell Island’s artillery and how the physical deterioration of the shipwrecks is affecting their long-term conservation.

The first of its kind at Memorial, the award celebrates undergraduate students with the qualities and skills that enable them to manage their own learning and successfully undertake self-directed learning projects during their formal studies.

Mr. Rees’s award submission essay is available online.

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