Most people know about Nova Scotia's Fundy tides, which rise and fall 16 metres or more daily, making them the highest in the world. But did you also know that the town of Wolfville experiences its own "tidal" effect? Every September, the town's population nearly doubles when more than 3,000 students from around the world come rushing into Acadia University.
While the tides are drawn in by the power of the moon and Nova Scotia's unique geographic formation, the students are drawn to Acadia's reputation as a premier undergraduate university - one that has the distinction of being the only Canadian university to be inducted into the Smithsonian Institution.
Acadia won the Computerworld Smithsonian Award for the visionary program it started in 1996, the Acadia Advantage, which equipped every student with a new notebook computer, customized software, and support as part of tuition.
In September 2008, the university will move to a student-owned notebook computer version of the Acadia Advantage. Students will be able to choose from a variety of laptop makes and models, own the laptop, and choose the level of support. User support and innovative classroom applications will continue to be offered as part of the curriculum.
That pioneering spirit to include technology as an integral part of its learning and teaching environments isn't the only advantage Acadia's students receive. In fact, it's just one in a long list of innovative accomplishments and firsts for the university that Dr. Gail Dinter-Gottlieb, Acadia's president and vice-chancellor, describes as "small, but very mighty."
Mighty indeed. Consider this: Acadia is the only university to have placed first in all four categories (best overall, highest quality, most innovative, and leaders of tomorrow) in Maclean's magazine annual reputation survey. In the 16 years that Maclean's has been conducting this influential survey, Acadia has ranked first in the most innovative undergraduate institution category 15 times.
There's more: the university has been awarded seven Canadian Research Chairs. Several major research centres can be found on Acadia's picturesque campus, including the Organizational and Research Development Centre, the Centre for the Study of Ethnocultural Diversity, the Digital Culture Observatory, and the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre.
It's not all study and no fun, though. "We focus on the whole student," says Dr. Dinter-Gottlieb, "giving them an enriching experience that enables them to learn, grow, and discover in a supportive educational environment."
Part of that enriching environment is sport - and once again Acadia excels. Their men's and women's varsity teams (called the Axemen and Axewomen, in homage to the local men who chopped the first trees to build the university) routinely cut down the competition and have brought home more conference and national championships than any other institution in Atlantic University Sport. More than one-third of these athletes do so while maintaining a minimum average of 80 per cent, thus receiving the Academic All-Canadian designation through Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Even the campus itself sets new standards for student enrichment. The recently renovated dining hall offers students breathtaking views of Nova Scotia's Cape Blomidon along with another first for a Canadian university: Chartwell's Pulse on Dining program, which invites students to participate in their own nutrition, rather than push a tray along a counter to load up with pizza, fries, and burgers that result in the "freshman 15" (a reference to weight gain).
And when it comes to going green, Acadia is going for the gold. Their newest biology complex (set for completion December 2007) is designed to meet gold LEED® standards through the Canada Green Building Council. It will be the first such designation for an academic science building in Atlantic Canada. All other buildings on campus are also being greened to reduce Acadia's greenhouse gas emissions and save on operational costs.
Perhaps one of Acadia's greatest "advantages" is being located in Nova Scotia. Along with the world's highest tides, this rare setting features some of the region's richest farmlands and a charming community all just an hour's drive from the provincial capital city of Halifax and its international airport. It's a spot where nature, research, and technology come together in a harmonious blend - one that the ever-resourceful minds at Acadia have turned into a living classroom.
This classroom includes the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, a gift to the university from the Irving family. All plants in this 6-acre conservation area are species native to the region, giving Acadia students an unprecedented opportunity to study environmental sustainability, or just to enjoy a peaceful walk along a woodland trail.
The surrounding farmlands of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley provide another natural study environment for Acadia's students, who are helping the economy by researching how cultivated varieties of hay react to global warming scenarios.
And the Fundy tides are themselves a source of research, as the university is undertaking a tidal energy project through the Natural Sciences and Environmental Research Council and studying the diverse ecosystems in the region.
Acadia was built on the belief that everyone had a right to higher education no matter what their class, belief, gender, or race. That sense of fairness extends far beyond the university's ivy-covered walls to the town that surrounds it: Wolfville - Canada's first fair trade town. Their definition of fair trade starts with supporting local farmers and moves on to include coffee, chocolate, and other good from developing countries.
"I love Wolfville and feel part of a safe community here," says third-year mathematics student Megan Lickley from Sudbury, Ontario, recipient of the prestigious Killam Fellowship and president of the Environmental Society on campus.
Megan isn't alone in her admiration for the community. All Acadia students are concerned with environmental issues and community responsibility, and that spirit resulted in another Canadian first for university: the annual Dump and Run. Now, at the end of the school year, Acadia students do not discard old furniture, clothing and books they no longer need. Instead, they donate them to the Dump and Run, which sells the goods to generate funds for local not-for-profit groups. It's a giant yard sale of sorts that benefits the town and spares the local landfill.
Looking back on Acadia's vast achievements to date, it's hard to believe it all started with some local women knitting mittens for a fundraiser, and local men felling trees to build the early structures. But more than 150 years later, the world is feeling the influence of this mighty, yet small university - one whose visionary approach to academic excellence is setting a new high-tide mark around the world.