Pit Stop #21: College of the Atlantic

This afternoon was visit #21 and by now, you’d think we’d be getting a little tired of the whole road trip thing. Truth be told, we were tired and the day turned cold and rainy, with the forecast of snow overnight. It was still October for heaven’s sake! Welcome to New England, I guess. So, dragging just a bit, we headed up the road from “downtown” Bar Harbor to visit Darron Collins, President of College of the Atlantic, or COA as it is colloquially known.

COA Natural History Museum
COA’s Natural History Museum — the original office of the co-founder of Acadia National Park, George B. Dorr– moved on site!

I’d actually met Darron’s father in Guatemala many years ago. He had started a non-profit there, building houses for indigenous people and for a time, I would see him when I traveled with Oglethorpe students on service trips to Guatemala. I first met Darron through his dad, and in the strangest of coincidences, Darron went on to teach a few courses at Oglethorpe. So, despite the weather and a bit of blog exhaustion, I was really looking forward to seeing President Collins again.

Larry & Darron
Two intrepid explorers!

Darron has been the president of his alma mater for nearly a decade now. That’s a feat all by itself, but when he told me he also helps to plow snow, build classroom furniture, and that the college has had zero Covid cases, despite almost all the students returning, I’d say that’s approaching miracle status. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with his campus as my feet got soaked, my bones got chilled, and Betty kept yelling at me to cover her with our one shared umbrella as she took some great shots between the rain drops.

ocean garden at COA

COA sits on 38 gorgeous acres perched over the Atlantic that was acquired fifty years ago for $5,000. Yep, you read that right, and it just might be the deal of the century. There has been plenty of growth for College of the Atlantic since its first students (33 of them) arrived on campus in 1972, but it remains intentionally small: 365 students from 45 states and 55 countries.

shrine & vase at COA
A shrine from the old religious order, beloved by all 70s alums.

We had the chance to walk through the very-much-under-construction Center for Human Ecology that is scheduled to open in a few months. It is a stunner.

map of the new Center for Human Ecology
A work in progress

Students from COA all graduate with the same major in Human Ecology, although each has a self-designed focus. And of course, there are no departments at this unique institution. With COA earning the ranking of #1 Green College in America five years in a row by Princeton Review, you can imagine how energy-efficient this building will be, and with a view of the Atlantic from virtually every window, it’s extraordinarily beautiful to boot.

foggy ocean view from COA
This is what COA students will soon get to gaze out at from the classroom.

All of the $13 million required to build the Center for Human Ecology has already been raised and is tucked away safely in the bank. While no one would mistake College of the Atlantic for a wealthy place, with a $68 million dollar endowment and a net tuition per student of $17,500, it appears to be a very good steward of the resources they have been gifted with. 

moose statue on COA campus

As you might be able to tell, I could go on and on about COA. I’m a fan and I’ve pledged to return — in the summer of course.

canoes on COA's pier
When it’s time to paddle again, I’ll be back.

But I’ll stop here and invite you to listen to President Collins. He is a joy. 

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