Les Kanat retires after 31 years at NVU

In all his 31 years at NVU, Les Kanat’s proudest achievements as a Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences all involved the successes of his students. Along with the successes of former students, Kanat said he was proud of the Student Transition, Achievement, Retention, and Teaching Scholarship (START) program which Kanat wrote to support STEM students.

“START allowed me to provide financial and academic support to 35 STEM students,” said Kanat. “All of us in the Department of Environmental and Health Sciences had six fantastic years of support, with fantastic students, conducting amazing research, and involved in the college community (science students ran the Student Government Association for many years). To know that these students graduated on time, without debt and have gone on to do amazing things, really makes me proud – as it does for all of the other science faculty who were part of the dynamic education and research team that enabled our students to be so successful.”

Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences Liz Dolci spoke highly of Kanat’s passion for his students’ success in an email after he announced his retirement. “Les always had students in his office – and I mean always,” wrote Dolci. “He was committed to our students and their learning. I will miss our conversations, laughs, and working together to create high impact learning experiences for our science majors.”

The focus of all that commitment, Kanat’s students, were saddened to hear of his departure but spoke fondly of his expertise and care as a professor. “

Another 2020 graduate in the Environmental Science program, Ashley Donahue, spoke of Kanat’s devotion to the success of his advisees and students: “From the first meeting and on, everything changed, and our relationship grew. He helped me to graduate on time, helped me get an awesome internship and challenged me in classes. I will always remember what he said in my first meeting: ‘I’m here as your advisor, and most importantly, your friend.’”

Kanat’s compassion was matched only by his academic and professorial excellence. “Few, if any, faculty have matched his contributions to the sciences at Johnson,” wrote Dolci. “Receipt of the NSF START grant (which he wrote and directed) provided the impetus for our undergraduates to seek out faculty-mentored research opportunities and travel throughout the U.S. and world to present their research findings.” Dolci added that the STARTERS excelled academically, and that many are successfully employed or are currently enrolled in graduate school.

“I have always appreciated Professor Kanat’s deep commitment to his discipline and his students,” NVU President Elaine Collins wrote in an email to Basement Medicine. “His legacy has been cemented in the history of NVU-Johnson as the PI for the START program that enriched countless student lives.  I will miss Professor Kanat’s solid presence, integrity, and generosity of spirit.  I wish him the very best as he begins the next chapter of his life with the same passion, quality, and sense of style that he brought to his work at NVU-Johnson.”

Kanat will be missed on many levels, according to NVU-Johnson Faculty Assembly chair and professor of writing and literature Tyrone Shaw.  Aside from his role in the START program and his successful efforts in attracting grants for the sciences, he has served on multiple committees.  “Here, there, everywhere…that’s been Les Kanat’s footprint here,” said Shaw. “He has served on just about every committee and done so with energy and creativity.  And much like Liz Dolci, he has had the gift of having great expectations and the patience and wisdom to bring his students along to meet them.  This is a big loss for us, and I sure will miss his spirit and wisdom.” 

Even as he looks to the future, Kanat said that he will miss the students most. “Without a doubt, I will miss seeing the evolution of individual student successes when they realize they can do a lot more than they thought possible. One can see it in the eyes of students, something clicks, and then there is no stopping them from pursuing their goals. I just love it.”

“I decided that it was time for me to move on and to help others,” he wrote, adding that he has no regrets for his time at Johnson. “I will use my skills as an educator, communicator, and facilitator in other venues.”

Kanat with one of his ENV classes (Courtesy of Ashley Donahue)

“I am looking forward to hearing about the continued successes of those who I have had an opportunity to work with, and my future role that will involve helping others succeed.”

Never one to pass up a teaching opportunity, Kanat added that he hopes that readers take a lesson from COVID-19. “We will move beyond this pandemic,” he wrote, “and there will be other zoonotic pandemics, yet the larger and more daunting problem that humanity faces is the climate crisis.

“We are now entering a stage in the evolution of society where individual actions are extremely important,” he wrote. “Now is the time to act. Now, while we are at home, we have time to learn. Learn what needs to be done to preserve the quality of life that we want to see for all people. Learn about an issue, then make a decision to take action on your convictions. Drifting is not an option – do something good, be creative, be helpful.”