At 90, special adviser has no plans to quit

September 23, 2004, vol. 31, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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Thelma Finlayson retired from SFU 25 years ago with an impressive career in the field of pest management, a graduate program she helped establish at the university.

But she has continued to make the trek to campus ever since that retirement, for science and for her students.

Finlayson is a special adviser to students experiencing academic difficulty. Now 90 years old, she has no plans to stop the job she considers crucial to students who may be at the make-or-break point in their academic careers.

“I've done a lot of research in my day, but by far my most worthwhile work has been with these students,” says Finlayson, who on average counsels half a dozen students weekly.

Finlayson became involved with academic counselling more than 30 years ago, helping students to devise academic programs to best suit their needs and abilities.

Her advice now focuses on helping students in academic difficulty figure out their options, such as how to apply for retroactive withdrawal if there are extenuating circumstances. She even offers to edit the letters they are required to write.

“It's all spelled out in the calendar, but it's better to have an empathetic person who can help sort through it,” says Finlayson, who no longer receives a salary. “I help them to survive.”

“Mostly,” she concedes, “I listen. I ask a few general questions and look at their transcripts to see if maybe there is a pattern related to their grades dropping. I give them my full attention. That can sometimes make all the difference.”

Finlayson, who was awarded an honorary degree from SFU in 1996, has a small research project to complete and still has an office in biology. “I should just finish it off,” she concedes, “but my time is better spent with students,” says the former biology professor.

Finlayson says students will sometimes return to let her know how her help paid off. Last Christmas, one student sent a dozen red roses. “I love to help people,” she says. “I'll keep doing it, with enthusiasm, for as long as they'll let me.”

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