The pervasive impact of gifts from the Harrison McCain Foundation


by Suzanne Robicheau

The ripple effect of gifts from the Harrison McCain Foundation to Acadia University will be felt far into the future. Just as alumnus Harrison McCain (’49) made a transformative mark on Acadia’s student government, the Harrison McCain Foundation is effecting lasting change by amplifying opportunities for world-class research and improving access for talented students.

A Harrison McCain Foundation Emerging Scholar award – one of three categories of faculty awards established by the Foundation – allows Dr. Hassan Sarhadi, Assistant Professor of Operations Management in Acadia’s Fred C. Manning School of Business Administration, to address issues related to marine transportation, including the design of emergency response networks for marine oil-spills. “Marine patrolling operations are key tools in reducing the risk of accidents and illegal activities on the sea,” he says. “Increasing their effectiveness will lead to a safer environment for marine-related activities, which would eventually benefit the whole economy.”   

Dr. Sarhadi credits Emerging Scholar awards with providing recognition for early career scholars, helping to motivate them and demonstrating that new researchers are welcomed into the research community. “These awards also help researchers gain access to more resources, which, in turn, facilitates their progress,” he says.

Dr. Cynthia Bruce, an instructor in Acadia’s School of Education, also notes the critical importance of her Emerging Scholar award in leveraging additional support for research activities. “Major government granting agencies want you to demonstrate a track record of obtaining research funding as part of your application package,” she explains. “My award helps me establish that record.”

Even more important, says Dr. Bruce, is that the Emerging Scholar award allowed her to create a coherent research program to study activist efforts leading to the 2017 passage of the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act – a topic of fundamental importance to her program and community. “I am really appreciative of this award,” she says. “Disabled voices are rarely considered when making policy decisions that affect our lives. The more we can bring the lived experiences of disability into research as valued evidence, the more we can shape policies and programs that provide the kind of support we need and want as disabled people.”

New ways of teaching

Nancy Handrigan (’92), Vice-President, Advancement (Interim), sees the research conducted by professors such as Dr. Sarhadi and Dr. Bruce as critical to attracting and retaining leading faculty – and to helping Acadia maintain its place as one of Canada’s leading primarily undergraduate universities. “Since their establishment in 2010 by the Harrison McCain Foundation, Emerging Scholar awards, Visiting Professorships and Visitorships have encouraged dozens of Acadia faculty members to engage in meaningful research and explore new ways of teaching,” she says.

Handrigan says that the Harrison McCain Foundation faculty awards are also a factor in attracting top students, in part as a testament to the quality of professors, and in part because they often involve stipends for student research assistants. “Harrison McCain Scholar-Bursaries are also a significant recruitment draw,” she says. “Since 1997, these generous awards of up to $16,000 have attracted more than 100 high achievers to Acadia.”

For Pearse Johnson, a fourth-year student completing his Bachelor of Science with an Honours in Psychology, the Harrison McCain Scholar-Bursary has made it possible to have “the best four years” of his life at Acadia. In addition to conducting real world research and making the Dean’s list, he was also able to participate “in every intramural sport one could imagine”, and volunteer with the Acadia Psychology Association and Acadia’s Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience (S.M.I.L.E.), a physical activity program for people with disabilities.

In order to contribute to his own education, Johnson has held a number of jobs in the Wolfville community, including a contract last summer with the Town’s Parks and Recreation team. “I am forever grateful that scholarships look to those who are in financial need,” says Johnson, who is the first in his family to attend university. “Since COVID-19, I have been laid off multiple times, but with the help of my scholar-bursary, I was able to remain at Acadia.”

Key factor

Financial support through this award is also a key factor in the success of Emma Kaye, a fourth-year Nutrition major who will soon begin a year-long practicum at Acadia in preparation for becoming a Registered Dietitian. “Back in high school, I decided that the only way I could go to Acadia was if I got the Harrison McCain Scholar-Bursary,” recalls the 22-year-old from Hartland, New Brunswick. “I remember my high school guidance counsellor telling me I had been chosen to receive the award. I called my mom right away and she was very emotional.”

Thanks to the generosity of the Harrison McCain Foundation, Kaye was able to commit to her studies and get involved in extra-curricular activities, such as her current role as President of Canada’s Atlantic Foodservice Partners (CAFP) Nutrition Group. She was also able to gain a unique perspective on food production by participating in research for Acadia’s Growcer unit, a repurposed shipping container equipped with hydroponic growing equipment. “My scholar-bursary has been a major support system throughout my time at Acadia,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without it.”

Harrison McCain’s daughter, Ann McCain Evans, C.M., a former member of Acadia’s Board of Governors, believes her father would be happy to have contributed to the successes of Emma Kaye, Pearse Johnson, Dr. Cynthia Bruce and Dr. Hassan Sarhadi.

“Acadia University was very important to my father,” she says. “Throughout his career, he focused on people, so it seems quite appropriate for the Foundation to help emerging faculty and student-scholars take their academic and research interests to a higher level.”


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