Sally Nelson, a part of Dawson’s history

Linda Dydyk’s film tribute to Dawson’s oldest faculty member

by Hani Kaddah

Dawson faculty members gathered in large numbers at the auditorium last Thursday night at 6 p.m. to view the documentary, Sally Todd Nelson: Making the Yellow Brick Road: The Story of Dawson College 1968-2008, in tribute to Dawson’s oldest founding member Sally Todd Nelson.
Linda Dydyk, an English teacher at Dawson, directed the documentary on Nelson who, in 1968, graduated from McGill University and was asked to be a student representative of a committee that overviewed the creation of the CEGEP system.
Nelson applied to work at Dawson College as early as 1970 and she became among the first faculty members of Dawson.
Nelson actively discussed with her former colleagues what should be taught to students and together they devised several experimental programs because CEGEP was a new educational system. In fact, the freedom that Dawson has in creating courses is because of important decisions made in the founding days of the college.
The core classes that all Dawson students must take (first language, second language, humanities and gym) were decided early on in the creation of the curriculum.
The CEGEP system was born when the province of Québec was seeing many changes during the Quiet Revolution, Nelson explained in th film. Teachers created the curriculum with an open-mind frame that was typical of the times. They were also influenced by the global events of 1968, a revolutionary year for social movements.
CEGEP was free which made it accessible to all children.
“CEGEP is a miracle of the time. Up until then, there were few children that had access to post-secondary education. The opening of CEGEPs meant that more students had further opportunities,” Nelson said, addressing the small crowd after the screening of Dydyk’s film.
“CEGEP was not high school and it wasn’t university. It was in between and served to slow down the process of learning to allow students to fully develop their intellectual area to continue on to the University level,” Nelson said.
Dawson was an institution for “second chances” as Nelson put it, and students who were unable to afford higher education had the opportunity to continue their studies. The CEGEP system provided an education to the children of Quebec’s working class.
Initially CEGEP was supposed to offer more professional than pre-university programs. However students were simply more interested in the university stream.
“We taught students to think for themselves, to have their own ideas,” Nelson said.
The screening of Sally Todd Nelson: Making the Yellow Brick Road: The Story of Dawson College 1968-2008 reminded those present that with Nelson’s retirement Dawson is not only losing a dedicated colleague and dear friend, but they are risking forgetting losing a lot of their own history.

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