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Ron Gilkie’s Dedication to Learning and Teaching
Dr. Ronald Gilkie (BSc’60, BEng’62, MEng’64) has much to look back on and a lot to be proud of. Throughout his life with hard work and dedication, support from family and professors, a little bit of luck, and a push in the teaching direction, Ron Gilkie made a name for himself in the world of Engineering.
Ron is the first of five generations in his family to not be the lighthouse keeper on Sambro Island, NS, but his interest to pursue an engineering degree comes from the line of family work. Ron grew up in a boatyard that his family had bought in the 1920s and describes it as an environment of ‘always being around practical things and practical people’.
Ron’s own father by the age of 18, with a grade 10 education, helped his father build two boats with no formal training. Ron believes his father would have been an even better engineer than him. “He had an innate ability to think things through and find solutions” says Ron.
Ron’s father, beyond instilling a technical and practical mind, helped and encouraged Ron a lot as well. Even going so far as to convert his attic workshop in their small house to a quiet study space for Ron to use.
When Ron was 10 years old, his grandfather started training him for future work in the boatyard, and Ron hoped to be a boat builder growing up. He had his first job there at 25 cents an hour painting a boat— he still remembers the colours he painted it, white top-sides, a green boot-top, and red-lead bottom paint.
During his teenage years, Ron sailed with Vinnie Vaughan, a professor at the Nova Scotia Technical College (now Dalhousie University). Ron credits this interaction as just one of the influences that encouraged him to apply to Engineering. Little did young Ron know, he would one day go on to inherit Professor Vaughn’s office after his retirement as Ron continued to teach and do research at NSTC.
Ron’s student life
Ron Gilkie has many fond memories of his university days, from spending lots of time in the library in first year to the camaraderie of the classes, talent shows on Monroe Day, and his extracurriculars like volleyball and hockey.
He can even recall the price of taking a date out on a Friday night. There was a weekly dance on a Friday night at the Dal Gym, he used to allow himself a weekly budget of $3.00; $1.50 for gas, 50 cents each for him and his date to go to the dance and 25 cents each for half of a cantaloupe and ice cream at the Colonial Grill on Quinpool Road.
Professors at Tech (Nova Scotia Technical College) were a major influence on Ron, not only on his time during university but in influencing subsequent education and eventually a career path.
“It was really wonderful when we got down to Tech”, he said. “We noticed the professors treated us more like equals than students. The door was always open. If you were going by and wanted to talk to one of the professors, they would say come on in”.
One of his favourite professors was Dr. Stan Mazur, who also took an interest in Ron, asking him to help cover tutorials when he himself could not make a class. The professor kept finding opportunities for Ron to help with teaching throughout his senior year. “He somehow sensed that teaching might be something that I could do,” added Ron of Dr. Mazur.
After graduation Ron was planning to work in design at a consulting firm. Dr. Mazur stepped in and encouraged Ron to apply to a Master’s degree program, into which he was accepted and with a scholarship. After completing his Masters in 1964, Ron again was ready to go to work in the engineering industry and Dr. Mazur suggested he look at a Doctorate in England. Ron believes this professor always planned on pushing him gently towards the path of teaching.
Ron went on to have a very successful 40 year long teaching career.
“There is very, very little in my life that I would want to change. Absolutely nothing on the teaching side, I loved the students, I loved it in the classroom, didn’t like the administrative aspects at times or chasing money for research, but to be in the classroom with the students was the absolute best.” Ron said of his love of teaching.
Advice for the next generation
For Ron, teaching and learning have always been closely intertwined.
“If you’re going to university, form a group. If you’re having difficulties it is highly unlikely everyone in the group is running into the same problems. Get together in a group and help each other.”
Ron also found from his own time as a student, when he showed another student how to do something, he learned it even better than he thought he knew it.
“There is no better way to learn something than to teach it to somebody.”
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