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First Alumnus President Calls COA 'Greatest Educational Experiment in Recent History'
Sunday, October 9, 2011 - COA Campus
Calling College of the Atlantic, "the greatest educational experiment in recent history," President Darron Collins, PhD, COA's first alumnus leader, was inaugurated on Sunday, Oct. 9.
Led by a lone bagpiper, alumni, trustees, and faculty wound their way across the college campus and into a large white tent where some 600 members of the larger COA community gathered to celebrate the experimental college during its fortieth year of classes.
Among other innovations, COA is distinguished by its unity of focus: while taking individual paths, all students study toward one degree, human ecology. Collins, a 1992 alumnus, described this pursuit as "the acquisition and application of inspired creativity." The process, he added, involves the synchronization of brain and body, along with "smart risk taking."
Collins also launched a distant but dramatic possibility: to consider working toward a tuition-free college. He acknowledged, however, that this goal "isn't likely to happen within one decade or even two."
In keeping with COA's commitment to academic egalitarianism, no caps and gowns were worn. As Collins noted, "COA was founded on egalitarianism. There were and are no high priests of human ecology."
The ceremonies included a statement by Collins' daughters Maggie and Molly, both in elementary school. They declared their father perfect for the job because, "he is very smart and loves kids."
Other talks came from COA classmates who noted that in choosing an alumnus as president, the college truly comes of age.
Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, where Collins had been working until he took the COA position, gave the keynote address. Rogers spoke of the importance of leadership by those who, like Collins, "have the ability to bridge ideas," who can think in terms of science, ecology, culture, and the arts.
A special interlude was offered by the premiere of "The Fragile Soul," a jazz piece was written by composer John Cooper, COA faculty member in music, in honor of his former student and current president. It was performed by current student Nathaniel Hilliard, alumnus Zach Soares, and Cooper.
Collins, a first-generation college graduate, holds a PhD in anthropology from Tulane University. As a COA student, Collins developed a passion for rivers, which led him to create and co-teach a course in river travel, science, and policy for his senior project. He honed this passion through a coveted Watson Fellowship, which funded a year of travel after his graduation. At WWF, Collins designed, implemented, and raised the funds for conservation programs throughout Latin America and in the Russian Far East; many of the programs were centered on river watersheds. He later became a senior advisor to Rogers.
Collins' presidency follows that of Andrew Griffiths who served as interim president upon the retirement of David Hales in 2010. Previous presidents were Steven Katona, a founding COA faculty member who also founded Allied Whale, the college's marine mammal research arm; Louis Rabineau; Judith Swazey; and Edward Kaelber, founding president.
Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Acadia National Park on Maine's Mount Desert Island, College of the Atlantic is deliberately small, intensive, and interdisciplinary. The college's one major in human ecology encourages students to apply skills, knowledge, conscience, and passion from the arts, sciences, humanities, and practical experience to every endeavor. It was founded in 1969 and held its first classes in 1972.
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