Gay Hansen Ornithology Lab dedicated to long-time teacher and mentor 

22 Oct 2021
Student award also established in late lab instructor’s honour 

Gay Hansen was a true teacher, mentor, and naturalist. A lab instructor in Mount Allison University’s Biology department for 39 years (1979-2018), Hansen taught thousands of biology students in labs including animal biology, parasitology, ecology, coastal marine biology, and — her particular passion — ornithology.

Hansen’s legacy and mentorship for Mount Allison students is continuing with the dedication of the Gay Hansen Ornithology Lab, announced this fall.

Hansen’s family, including partner Thaddeus Holownia, visited the lab for the dedication.

“Gay spent a lot of time with students of all academic abilities over her career. Her enthusiasm for and commitment to learning were contagious, and helped many students find their place over the course of their studies,” says Holownia. “She made things real for people, evident in her extensive bird collection housed in this lab. We are pleased to see her legacy live on for future Mount Allison students and researchers.”

Gay Hansen

The Gay Hansen Ornithology Lab

The Gay Hansen Ornithology Lab, where Hansen spent much of her career, houses over 1,000 specimens including bird mounts, study skins, nests, and eggs — a remarkable collection for a small undergraduate university. And much of the collection came directly from Hansen, who was also a talented crafter and taxidermist.

With Hansen’s words, “I love learning and I love helping others learn. Teaching gives me extra incentive to expand my own knowledge and to share it with others who are interested” now displayed in the lab, students for generations to come will continue to learn from her legacy and passion for teaching and the environment.

One of many specimens in the Gay Hansen Ornithology Lab

Dr. Diana Hamilton, Biology department head, worked with Hansen from 2005-2018. Hamilton, whose research focuses on migratory birds, says Hansen’s contributions to the department and her impact on students were and continue to be significant.

“Gay’s teaching had an incredible and long-lasting effect on so many students, the kind of teaching that can influence the course of peoples’ lives. She brought her lessons to life, demonstrating how life systems worked through real-world examples, all in her quiet, no-nonsense way,” says Hamilton. “These sorts of influences are some of the most important things we can do as university instructors, and Gay excelled at it.”

In addition to the Ornithology Lab, the first Gay Hansen Award was also announced this fall. The award is presented annually to a third-year student who shows a love and appreciation for biology and learning. The recipient is selected by biology lab instructors.

Thaddeus Holownia presents the first Gay Hansen Award in Biology to third-year student Janie Brooks

Third-year student Janie Brooks is the inaugural recipient of the award. Brooks says she is honoured to receive such a meaningful award.

“I was so surprised to get this news, it really is life-changing,” she says. “To know my lab instructors, who have taught me so much, selected me is truly humbling. I’m honoured to receive this award named for someone who was such an amazing teacher at Mount Allison.”

Brooks, who is from Maine, is hoping to pursue a career in research. At Mount Allison she worked as a researcher with biology professor Dr. Emily Austen this past summer in the area of pollination ecology as well as volunteering and working in the field banding birds, through Hamilton’s research program focusing on shorebirds.

Those interested in supporting the Gay Hansen Award at Mount Allison University can do so at


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