Selkirk College to Honour Forestry Icon at Grad 2014 Ceremony

Selkirk College to Honour Forestry Icon at Grad 2014 Ceremony

Apr 18 2014
John Adams spent an incredible 33 years at Selkirk College and is one of the builders of the highly respected Forest Technology Program. At the Graduation 2014 Ceremony in Castlegar, Adams will be honoured with the Distinguished Educator Award.

Selkirk College will honour post-secondary pioneer and legend John Adams at its Grad 2014 Ceremony this Friday.

As the third person hired by Selkirk College during its germination in 1966, Adams was tasked with creating the now renowned Forest Technology Program. His 33-year career as an educator and department leader touched hundreds of lives and made an important impact on an industry that’s vital to British Columbia’s foundation.

John Adams started the Selkirk College Forest Technology Program in 1966, the first year of the college.

Retired since 1999, the 75-year-old Adams will be presented with the Distinguished Educator Award at the Castlegar Campus ceremony that will include the graduation of current Selkirk College students in all programs.

“I’m very honoured and surprised by the award,” the ever-humble Adams said earlier this week from his back deck overlooking south Castlegar. “It was fun… I didn’t know how else to do it. It was just the best job in the world. You don’t think about the impact your career has, I was just happy to be in such a beautiful place and have total freedom to establish such an important program.”

Finding His Way Home

Adams grew up near Summerland on a small mixed farm where his parents primarily earned income from selling raw milk. His love of the outdoors pushed him towards studying forestry at the University of British Columbia where he graduated with a Bachelors of Science in 1962.

Shortly after graduation he was hired by the Canadian Forest Service as a forest fire research officer. Adams was told he would spend a year in Ottawa and then be moved back west. After the first 12 months were up, he was transferred to Winnipeg.

“I was thinking BC, but Ottawa’s version of west is a little different than ours so apparently anything beyond Lake Superior is considered west,” he said with a chuckle.

Adams traveled around Manitoba and Saskatchewan doing forest fire management work. Not long after he took a nine-month leave and headed to the University of California, Berkley where he earned a Master’s Degree. As part of the deal, Adams had to fulfil at least nine months with the Canadian Forest Service in exchange. When that commitment ended, Adams began looking for other opportunities to bring his young family back to British Columbia.

In 1966, Selkirk College Principal Andy Soles traveled to Winnipeg to interview Adams with hopes of signing the young professional forester on to head up a program that was seen as a missing link the education chain.

“The technical people were missing in the forestry spectrum and that’s why we started this program,” said Adams.

Building the Foundation of Selkirk College

When Adams arrived back in his beloved BC, Selkirk College’s ambition had not yet matched its physical buildings. With the main campus in Castlegar still under construction, the first semester of that first school year was held in temporary trailers at the nearby Celgar Pulp Mill.

Charged with creating the curriculum for a program that came out of the blocks in high demand was a challenge, but Adams was up to the task. With vital input from an advisory board of regional forestry experts, Adams sat down with academic calendars from across Canada and the United States to draw up the plan.  

“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” he admits today. “I had never taught and was only three years out of university.”

With only one other similar program in the province at BCIT, the Selkirk College offering was popular in that first year. It was baptism under fire for Adams as the first Forest Technology Program class had 20 full time students and 20 others enrolled part time as they worked on their academic upgrading to qualify for entrance into the two-year diploma program. Adams was the lone instructor.

Staff and students moved to the main Castlegar Campus after that first semester and Adams continued to build the program piece-by-piece.

Expanding Opportunities, Training the Future

Adams’ passion for teaching ensured that the Forest Technology Program quickly established a solid reputation in the industry. In the second year more staff was added to the department, more students were accepted and a steady stream of Selkirk College trained technologists began to populate forests across the country.

The lands that surround the Castlegar Campus provides an outdoor classroom for Forest Technology students.

“The main criteria to be a Forest Technologist are you have to love the outdoors and love being the outdoors,” Adams said of the students that have gone through the program. “Not just in a recreational way, but this is where you are working.”

Over his 33-year career Adams continued to lead the Department of Renewable Resources, helped create the Wildland Recreation Technology Program (now known as Recreation, Fish and Wildlife) and never lost the tenacity to always improve.

Proof of Adams Impact

Perhaps the best test of Adams’ legacy is in the words of those he has touched over the years.

“John took an active role in the first year of my teaching, attending classes on a few occasions and sitting down with me to review my lecture, its strengths and areas where I could add to the quality of experience for students,” said Rhys Andrews, who was hired by Adams in 1991 and is currently a Selkirk College Instructional Dean. “I remember him suggesting I bring actual samples, pictures and really letting the students see, touch and examine what it was I was teaching about.”

Andrews said that Adams’ impact on the college went well beyond the classroom.

“He was also a fixture on the Castlegar Campus, participating in college events and being an accessible person with a strong character and an enduring commitment to the college,” said Andrews.

Former student Pete Schroder entered the Forest Technology Program in 1986 and has since gone on to a successful career in the industry. He said Adams’ approach is what contributed to the program becoming such a success.

“John had a distinct work ethic and while not professed in words, it showed through in many ways from engaging in a program advisory committee to informed curriculum and managing the school and faculty,” said Schroder. “What struck me most is his willingness to pick up a saw or shovel and get into the work himself. I am proud to say his work ethic is an example I try to aspire to in my own endeavors.”

Deeply Planted Roots

Adams is responsible for helping establish the outdoor classroom that surrounds the Castlegar Campus. On the trails that wind through the forested areas stand many trees that have been planted by students over the years as part of their Selkirk education.

Last year the Forest Technology Program planted its 1,000,000th tree in British Columbia. As tribute to Adams’ contribution to the program he was asked to dig in the shovel himself and a plaque was placed beside the tree. 

The lands that surround the Castlegar Campus provides an outdoor classroom for Forest Technology students.

On a recent stroll through the forest where the tree is planted, Adams had the opportunity to check on the small fir tree. Though the tiny branches look modest amongst the large trunks that surround it, like the Forest Technology Program, Adams’ hand in planting it is sure to guarantee its long-term success. 

“Selkirk College was a great place to work because it was small,” said Adams. “You can really see the difference you are making for your students. Also the location is incredible, you don’t have to go far to get the students into the trees to teach them.”

And thanks in part to John Adams, the fate of generations of forested land in British Columbia and across Canada remains in good hands.

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