The 1970s were a tumultuous time with the Vietnam War, Watergate scandal and the energy crisis making news headlines. The decade was also a time of calm, steady growth at NAIT where, under the leadership of its third president George Carter, the school found solid footing in Alberta's post-secondary community.
Carter, who led NAIT from 1971 to '79, passed away recently - two months shy of his 98th birthday.
Carter's legacy began before the school was built. In 1960 he was hired by the polytechnic's first principal (later to become president), Jack Mitchell, to plan NAIT's business school.
Over a cup of coffee, Mitchell shared his vision with Carter on a paper napkin. During an interview in 2012 as part of NAIT's 50th anniversary celebrations, Carter recalled Mitchell's words: "Your job will be to develop and install an entirely new department for technical institutions - business and vocational training."
Business was clearly among Carter's passions. "He was well regarded by all colleagues and he was a real gentleman," says Dr. Stan Souch, who succeeded Carter as president. Carter's trademark calm demeanor was rarely shaken. One exception was when the newly opened Grant MacEwan Community College petitioned to take over business programs from NAIT and Alberta Vocational College.Dr. Krishan Kamra, also one of NAIT's original staff, was a colleague of Carter's.
"He was a relatively low-key person and when he became president in 1971 he told me he wasn't keen on applying for that job. It was really Jack who persuaded him, almost begged him to apply for the job - and of course he was immediately selected," says Kamra.
"That was the only time I'd seen him get angry."
"That was the only time I'd seen him get angry," Souch says. "He opposed it with great vigour."
During Carter's time as president, a construction boom changed the face of Edmonton with projects such as the James MacDonald Bridge, Fort Edmonton Park, Muttart Conservatory, Commonwealth Stadium, the LRT and the Edmonton Coliseum (now Rexall Place) taking shape.
NAIT grew, too. In 1973, the Activities Centre was built and the parkade opened with room for 1,025 vehicles - making it the largest self-contained parking garage in Alberta. The Patricia Campus buildings (now home to several trades programs including plumbing and pipe trades) were leased in 1975. On Main Campus, Plaza 2 and 3 (formerly Simpson Sears buildings) were purchased and turned into teaching and administrative spaces.
Student numbers grew steadily with approximately 1,900 students graduating in 1979 compared to 1,134 in 1971. Tuition also rose that decade to $275 a year, up from $74.
Today, decades after Carter established it, the JR Shaw School of Business is one of Western Canada's largest business schools, with more than 4,000 students enrolled in full- or part-time studies, taught by more than 100 full-time faculty members.
"They were a good 20 years," Carter said in 2012. "They were exhausting and they were stressful but they were also very satisfying."