Acadia University – A Solid Commitment to Innovation and Community

The Annapolis Valley is known for many things, its amazing views of the Bay of Fundy, its apple orchards and for being one of the best wine regions in Canada.   It is also known for having one of the best universities in Canada, Acadia University, which plays an important part in the exposure and growth of the Annapolis Valley’s economy.  Spotlight on Business Magazine talks with Marcel Falkenham, Leigh Huestis and Amit Batra of Acadia University about the university’s commitment to innovation and the community and how they look to continue to grow together.


Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. has become ground zero for innovation and a symbiotic partnership with the community around it.

Things only ramped up with the renovation of the science complex, which was completed in September 2018.

The David Huestis Innovation Pavilion was an addition to existing Elliott Hall and Huggins Hall, and it includes new classroom and meeting space as well as four fully equipped science labs.

“This was a three-part project. The chemistry building, Elliott Hall, was at the end of its life inside and needed a comprehensive gutting. We worked on demolition and refitting,” said Marcel Falkenham, director of facilities at the university.

“From a teaching perspective, the finished structure and rebuild was amazing. We added proper ventilation, increased our fume hood count and allowed for geothermal cooling.”

Nearby Huggins Hall, attached to Elliott, needed work on its exterior.

“With Huggins, our problem was the exterior of the structure. There were extreme aesthetic challenges and brutalist architecture. The thermal inefficiencies were cruel, with little insulation,” he said.

“We added 15,000 square feet, and the exterior frame from before became the new interior frame. We installed a curtain wall assembly and brickwork, and though it’s still neoclassical, it’s more modern and fits better with our campus.”

He said seeing students in Huggins with additional common space is amazing, and the original six-foot corridors have been nearly doubled.

“People can gather and study, and this entire pavilion really has become a hub for our staff and students,” he said.

Work was done to improve accessibility between Huggins and Elliott, and the pavilion allowed for four industry partner labs, more teaching space and a common area.

This is now a 150,000 square foot complex. It has been well received, and we always see it full of students.

“We have facilities and labs as resources, and we can work on partnerships in the community without sending staff and students to Halifax or out of province,” he said.

“There are researchers available and there are so many ideas and partnerships created. It’s so amazing.”

The work Acadia does with industry partners is important to the school and critical to the area, according to Falkenham.

“There are great things happening locally, especially with the wine industry in the area. We also deal with traditional agricultural products, but we have space for wine analytics testing,” he said.

“This multi-level instrumentation work for testing wasn’t available before. This hub for research is huge, and it’s good for the valley and Acadia. It’s good for Nova Scotia, frankly.”

The construction was done on a tight timeline, between April and September, and the 150,000 square feet infrastructure work was a $26 million project.

“We were working largely around occupied facilities, and we had great opportunities to get input and have people identify issues in the building. In the end we produced something so many were happy with.”

Acadia University works with funding agencies like Springboard Atlantic and NSERC to make innovation and partnerships possible. They are the leading small university in attracting research funding.

“I work on industry engagement, and attempt to find partners Acadia can work with,” says lawyer and director of the Office of Industry and Community Engagement Leigh Huestis.

Her work as a lawyer allows her to work with intellectual property, patents and contracts with those she’s involved in, and she sees Acadia as having great economic impact in the community.

“Companies, government or community organizations may want to do research, and we can help facilitate that work,” she said.

“We find the right expertise, faculty, students, infrastructure and facilities to help with the needs of industry partners.”

For Huestis, she says there’s an idea that universities are seen as “up on the hill,” and inaccessible to some, but she says Acadia is an open community.

“We want that connection with researchers, and it’s not all about deep, dark labs. It’s about marketing and helping Wolfville become a better community. It’s unbelievable what we can achieve,” she said.

Acadia incorporates research into education. When students work with industry partners, do co-ops and provide such value to the community, it makes them so attractive to employers.

The university has more than doubled its applied research industry funding in seven years and wants to play an even bigger role. That’s just one of the things Amit Batra, director of student recruitment, says brings students to Acadia over other schools.

“With these incredible new buildings, we find a good fit for students interested in research and help others who have an interest in professional studies. On top of this, there are 26 programs that offer co-op,” he said.

“For Acadia, what stands out is that we’re a small university accomplishing so much. Our campus and community have huge appeal, and students want to have an impact in the community. Acadia is so tied into Wolfville.”

Programs run outside the classroom, and he said that increasingly students want to have a global impact.

“The threads are huge in the investment faculty make in students, and we’re drawing the best out of those who go to our school,” he said.

“Students are allowed to think and deliberate and consider the impact they want to have.”

Students, he says, are the lifeblood of the area, and Wolfville doubles in size when they come back to school.

“The experience at Acadia is beyond your regular experience. For instance, two political science students started an organic farm on campus a decade ago,” he said.

“Now students volunteer on the farm, the food is biked to the dining hall, and the local impact we’re able to have here is a real difference maker.”

With Bay of Fundy nearby for research opportunities, partnerships with wineries and a biomechanics lab, there’s something for everyone.

“We have a professor who does research with Adidas related to knee injuries. We’re a small university but have so much to do with what happens in our community and beyond,” he said.

“Arts students do co-ops in Germany, and students looking into law can have hands-on experience. There is so much value here.”

Finally, he says with enrolment and recruitment, there are tons of things to keep in mind.

“We try to keep our numbers at a healthy level, but not too big that it affects the student experience. There’s nothing better than meeting someone who doesn’t know about all the amazing things happening at Acadia and telling them about it,” he said.

“When Acadia comes up, we can tell them how innovative we are, and how many opportunities there are for students. This is a college town, no question.”

It is also interesting to see how many students fall in love with the community, stay in the area and start businesses of their own in the Town of Wolfville and other communities throughout the Annapolis Valley.

by Jamie Barrie