Drs. Elaine and Rod Day.

Alumni, History, Linguistics

Alumni Profile: Rod and Elaine Day

June 20, 2017
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A job offer brought Rod and Elaine Day to Vancouver in 1966; the growing sense of community has kept them here ever since. Rod, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History, enjoyed a thirty-four year teaching career recognized by an SFU Excellence in Teaching Award in 2000. Elaine (nee Mellen), took her M.A. in the Department of Modern Languages (now Linguistics)in 1977, and received her PhD in the Faculty of Education in 2002. Their sons are both SFU alumni: Stephen, a teacher and professional musician, graduated with a BA in Economics (1997), while Andrew received his PhD in Resource and Environmental Management (2003) before becoming Vice President Research at the Vancouver Aquarium and Executive Director of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute (CORI).

Rod began teaching at SFU in the fall of 1966 after hearing about the “brand new university” from his students at Foothill College (California) where he taught for two years after completing his doctorate at Harvard in 1964. He interviewed for a position at SFU in Modern European and French History – recalling “hitting it off very well in the interview” – and shortly thereafter accepted a job offer as an assistant professor in the Department of History, where he was promoted to full professor in 1987.

Professor Rod Day in 1966.

During his teaching career, Rod authored three books, Education for the Industrial World, The Ecoles d’Arts et Métiers and the Rise of French Industrial Engineering (1987), Les Ecoles d’Arts et Métiers, L’enseignement technique en France, XIXe-XXe siècle(1991), and Schools and Work, Technical and Vocational Education in France since the Third Republic (2001), and numerous scholarly articles. He became well-known for his engaging instructional style: the citation for his Excellence in Teaching Award notes his popular course on the French Revolution, History 416. As he recalls, “It was organized around a debate between Danton and Robespierre as to who betrayed the ideas of the revolution, with the loser going to the guillotine. The students really got into their roles. It helped to bring history alive for them. It was a decidedly cooperative approach to learning – for the students, and for me. Every year, I learn(ed) something from their presentations.”

Elaine Day upon receiving her PhD 2002.

SFU was also a family affair. Rod says that he and Elaine found Vancouver “a lovely community and a nice place to raise children” so they bought a house in West Vancouver, where they still live fifty years later.  He says, “the University was new and our colleagues were mostly young, many of who had children the same age as ours, so we had a lively and agreeable group of friends. Once I had tenure, we decided to stay in Vancouver, and took out Canadian citizenship, losing our American citizenship in the process” (the U.S.A. did not then allow dual citizenship).

Elaine (BA, Radcliffe College, Magna Cum Laude) took courses at SFU while raising the couple’s children, earning her MA and PhD. A specialist in English as a Second Language education, her research resulted in two published books: Studies in Immersion Education (with Stan Shapson, 1996) and Identity and the Young English Language Learner (2002). She also taught French, and worked as a research associate at SFU. Rod says the culture of the University was a good fit for the whole family: “Elaine, Stephen and Andrew attended SFU because it was open and informal; it was possible to attend university part-time while working or raising children. There was a relaxed atmosphere that suited us all. The many friends we had made at SFU over the years added to its attractiveness.”

When he wasn’t busy with teaching and research, Rod became involved in local politics: “in theory,” he says, “I should have avoided this at all costs as academic promotion and advancement depend almost exclusively on research and publishing, and teaching and civic duties sometimes get in the way of doing so.” But Rod, who grew up in California, says he was “deeply affected by the destruction of the California countryside” due to urban sprawl, and “was determined to prevent this from happening in West Vancouver, and in Vancouver generally.” In 1969 he founded the Citizens Planning Forum “to advocate for good town planning, the expansion of parks and the public waterfront, and the protection of green spaces.” In 1982 he was appointed to the West Vancouver Parks and Recreation Commission and then to the Advisory Planning Commission. “After that,” Rod says, “it was difficult to resist running for Council.”

The Days with three of their granddaughters in 2011.

When their sons left home for university, he decided to run: “I did not plan to serve more than four years, but one thing led to another, and I ended up serving as Councillor in West Vancouver for ten years, from 1987 to 1997.” Rod’s retirement from council, though, was short-lived: “when I was forced to retire from my post at SFU in 2001 (under the old system of compulsory retirement at age 65), I turned again to local politics. Some important issues arose, and I ran for election in 2002, serving two terms for another six years until 2008 when I decided to retire once and for all.”  Rod and Elaine now keep active seeing family and friends, looking after their four granddaughters, and travelling.

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