Q&A with Dr. Jean-Paul Boudreau
Just to be clear — the photograph on the cover of this issue of the Record is not in any way staged. Dr. Jean-Paul Boudreau, Mount Allison’ 15th President and Vice-Chancellor, and his Ferrari Red vintage Vespa, are becoming a very familiar sight on the streets of Sackville.
Boudreau appears to be indefatigable. Since he arrived at Mount Allison in July he has been getting to know the University and surrounding community, as well as the people who live, work, and study here, at an incredible pace. With the aim of better understanding the University and what its future holds, he has conducted a Discover MtA Listening Tour throughout the fall, meeting with students, faculty, and staff to hear their thoughts on issues that are important to them and to Mount Allison.
Over the summer we asked alumni via social media to send us questions they wanted to ask our new President. Earlier this fall we sat down with him to ask your questions.
Q How are you acclimatizing to life in Sackville after living in a big city?
Life in Sackville is beautiful. University communities are very special. They are places where you can stand on campus and feel young and youthful and you can see very far into the future. Our town is incredibly fortunate to have Mount Allison built within it and Mount Allison is very fortunate to have Sackville surrounding it.
The transition from Toronto to Sackville may sound like a big shift for many of our alumni, but it is not, given that I am from New Brunswick. Coming back to the province is also a milestone for my personal life in the region. And my acclimation to Sackville has been easy because it is a very engaging community, a very vibrant community, a culturally-engaged community that really sparks the intellectual, social, and cultural values of our University.
Q Okay, but it’s easy enough to live here in the summer — what are you going to do in the winter? (online exclusive)
I grew up with all of the seasons of New Brunswick and the Maritimes, so I know them all very well. As Canadians we need to make winter our friend and not treat it as something that is foreign to us because it is part of our climate and part of our culture in many ways. Readers may not know this, but I do like to run and my running regime takes me around all four seasons — I’m not a fair-weather runner. People keep telling me about the winds of the Tantramar region and to be honest I haven’t fully felt them yet, but I suspect January-February might be an opportunity for me to get acquainted with them!
Q What is the biggest challenge facing students today and what will Mount Allison do to ensure they can overcome it?
I think students today do have very different challenges than students 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago. We need to view students in the variety of contexts in which they come to us — cultural, geopolitical, mental health, social, and environmental.
I think we can’t assume that students want the same things they wanted not too many years ago. They are coming with different sets of questions than they were before. Of course they come with their interests, their passions, but they also come with an interest in how they can turn those passions into opportunities post-Mount Allison or post-graduation.
I think today we talk more with students about 21st century job-readiness skills and we may not have had that conversation in years past, but I think it is incumbent upon us as universities today to think more about these skills that students need to be prepared to face today’s rapidly-changing world. As a liberal arts university, we provide some very impressive job-readiness skills, from critical thinking to numeracy to literacy to problem solving to business plan development to marketing to intercultural communications. We provide a wide spectrum of important skills, but I think we can build on those skills and find appropriate ways to put them together in an interesting combination that is appealing to today’s employers. I think it is really about talking about workforce innovation and how the liberal arts universities help play a significant role in creating 21st century professionals for tomorrow. I think we are well placed to play a very important role in that regard.
Q What is your long-term vision for Mount Allison?
We are moving towards a very important anniversary at Mount Allison in 2039 — our 200th anniversary. I think in order to look toward that date, we need to start thinking now about what we want to look like in 2039.
I think equally important is our sustainability as an institution and that is true for Mount Allison, it is true for every university in Canada. Demographics are shifting and changing and there are enrolment pressures on universities. We need to think differently about how we envision the future of our university.
Sustainability speaks to enrolment, program differentiation, and alternative sources of revenue for the University. Those are going to be important elements in my long-term vision for the University — sustainability and ensuring the excellent education that our alumni have received continues to be available for future generations.
Q What can Mount Allison alumni do to help raise and maintain Mount Allison’s profile? We all know it’s special but how do we keep getting the word out?
Before I came to Mount Allison, [Alumni Board Vice-President] Anna Abbott (’04) noticed me in a French bistro in Toronto and introduced herself to me and I had a nice chat with her. Then we had a follow-up conversation on Twitter because I said, ‘Oh, isn’t Toronto a small town? I ran into somebody from Mount Allison today,’ and another alumni responded to the tweet saying, ‘It’s not that Toronto is a small town, it’s that the alumni are everywhere.’ Which was a lovely reminder of the global impact that our alumni carry.
We need our alumni across the globe to help celebrate the story of Mount Allison. I’m really putting a call and a challenge out to our alumni. We need that alumni engagement. It’s not just about pride and place, which of course is very important, but it’s accelerating that relationship with the world. Each of our alumni is an important storyteller and we need them to help us tell and share our story.
Q You are known for having a really unique style. What is your favourite accessory and why?
I can connect this to my own area of science and research — I’m a developmental psychologist. I believe in the power of movement and in the concept of body cognition — that within our bodies we embody our thoughts and that the body can tell a story about our thinking.
I do a lot of running and I spend a lot of time — I think we all do — looking at my feet, so I think one should accessorize one’s feet with interesting shoes. I’m passionate about footwear because a) it gets me somewhere and b) it is often a good conversation starter with friends, alumni, and community members.
Q Do you have a favourite pair of shoes?
I do have a favourite pair, by Vancouver designer John Fluevog. He is known for adding colour and giving, men especially, a bit more colour than they normally get. As you move about the world, you can carry a message and I try to use the shoes as a bit of a metaphor for where my feet are carrying me. I need to spend a lot of time putting in some mileage on this campus, so I hope to burn through a lot of shoes as I get out in the community!
Photo captions: 1) President Boudreau with his Ferrari Red vintage Vespa on campus. 2) President Boudreau on campus by the Wallace McCain Student Centre. 3) David Booth ('84), Morgan Lundin ('21), Betty-Jo Booth, and Dr. Boudreau at Homecoming 2018. 3) President Boudreau on the dance floor with his partner Irene Gammel (left) and his mother Évangeline Boudreau (right) during the Community Celebration 'Kitchen Party' for his Installation on Oct. 19.
Online Exclusive: Extended Q&A
Q How can Mount Allison create great learning experiences for students from our small corner of New Brunswick compared to other larger and more "conveniently" located institutions?
That small community that we are talking about is also an opportunity to think about this institution as being a kind of social laboratory for innovation, for engagement, for thinking of new, interesting ways of engaging the world. We bring other cultures to our community — we’re very excited about having 30 different countries represented this year in our incoming class. That means 30 different cultures, 30 different ways of knowing here in Sackville at Mount Allison this year. Multiply that by every year that we bring in students and you end up with a very fascinating collection of ideas. In a small community, we can do more with our experiences: we can extrapolate, we can innovate, we can create more interesting pathways. I think the small is a huge advantage for this University and community.
Q What are your thoughts on how University Athletics fits in with the rest of Mount Allison? Do you plan to continue the trend of increased support for athletics during your tenure?
Athletics has always been a very proud tradition at Mount Allison University going back to our earliest days and it’s not coincidental — it’s printed in bronze letters on our Athletic Centre — the connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body. Those body-mind connections are important to a liberal arts university and I think we need to celebrate that. It also speaks loudly to the fact that the whole range of athletics, varsity, club sports, recreation, is an important part of well-being. And it is a great way to bring our community together.
I have met with the athletic director several times to talk about how I can be engaged with our student-athletes. I also spent some time with the football team and ran sprints with the women’s soccer team and I look forward to future engagement with all the teams and athletes. But most importantly I want to make sure we are talking to student-athletes about healthy mind and body, which is an important principle in ensuring the well-being of our students going forward.
Q What is your perspective on engagement and collaboration with the Town of Sackville? Where and how best can Mount Allison add more value into the community? And how best can Sackville add value into the Mount Allison community?
I think there is a really thoughtful and vibrant relationship between Sackville and Mount Allison University and we’re very proud of that relationship. I’ve met with the mayor of Sackville several times already to discuss ways in which we can continue to expand, build on, and accelerate the relationship between the Town and the University and I would also include our greater Tantramar region as well — Dorchester and Memramcook and the local First Nations community, Fort Folly. Those relationships are important.
We are an institution that creates talent and talent is a really important driver for economic and social innovation in our community. Our town is very supportive of innovative and creative approaches and I think that together we have the opportunity to broadly encourage entrepreneurial thinking across many different areas.
Dr. Jean-Paul Boudreau was officially installed as Mount Allison's President and Vice-Chancellor on Oct. 19, 2018. View his full installation address below.