In chemistry professor Ruel McKnight's office, among the textbooks and papers strewn about, there hangs a large, colorful poster of Jamaica. This work environment perfectly reflects the persona of the man who inhabits it. McKnight is an enthusiastic teacher with a strong dedication to both his students and his homeland.
Before coming to Geneseo, McKnight grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and went on to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of the West Indies at the Mona, Jamaica campus. His experiences at this college later contributed to the development of a new study abroad program available to Geneseo students that was finalized in January. McKnight acted as the liaison between the College and the University of the West Indies, accompanying both the provost and the president on separate trips to meet the University's administrators and faculty.
"I miss Jamaica," McKnight admitted. "I'm trying to get students to go down there. Someone who is looking for a very different experience than that of Geneseo - they'll get it there!" Though the program was originally created for chemistry or biochemistry students because of the strong science facilities there, it is now available to all majors. McKnight acknowledged that a subject like chemistry has a fairly structured way of being taught around the world. Areas such as the social sciences or liberal arts, however, have greater diversity in the content and manner in which they are taught, providing a radically different experience and greatly benefiting the student. "I find it astounding that so many students from this area have never even been to Canada," McKnight noted. "You have to look around, find out what other people are doing."
As a professor, McKnight encourages his students to focus more on acquiring knowledge and emphasizes its importance beyond a grade point average. "You tend to miss the important things when you are only focused on getting As," he said. McKnight described an experience as an undergraduate student in Jamaica, when the University was conducting research on the Aki fruit, a native plant of the country. "I was so focused on my textbooks that I didn't even notice this interesting study," he recalled.
McKnight also emphasizes the value of research. "Students separate learning and research, but it is the same thing," he explained. "I have seen research students mature immensely over one or two semesters that eight semesters of [traditional] teaching couldn't accomplish!" McKnight is currently involved in a study that looks at the way certain drugs interact with the DNA in one's cells.
Though McKnight is committed to his position at Geneseo, he is very much involved with Jamaican culture. Along with English, McKnight also speaks Patois, a language spoken in Jamaica, which he described as "broken English," combining elements of French, Spanish and African languages. Though it is currently associated with being poor or uneducated, McKnight noted that there is a group of people in Jamaica who are trying to make it an official second language of the country. "It is derived from our history," McKnight said. "It is only spoken in Jamaica; it is our language." He also follows sports closely, citing soccer, football, basketball and track and field as his favorites. One Jamaican athlete he admires is 100 meter world record holder Asafa Powell. "He is a world record holder and this is a 150-mile long country! I am proud of that," he exclaimed.
McKnight's experiences in both the United States and Jamaica have contributed to his passion for education and for exploration of the world, a zeal that he wishes to impart to his students.