Cover Story

Rediscovering Mount Allison

The University's new interim president returns to his alma mater and shares his memories and enthusiasm for Mount Allison
By: Shannon Wilmot

When Dr. Robert MacKinnon (’78) first arrived at Mount Allison in Fall 1975, it was with his identical twin brother, Richard, and the siblings-turned-roommates were moving into Hunton House.

Almost 50 years later, MacKinnon found himself walking to the office for his first official day as Mount Allison’s Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. It was September 1, move-in day, and on his way to Gracie’s for a morning coffee, MacKinnon stopped to talk to enthusiastic residence leaders waiting outside Hunton — his former home on campus — to greet new students.

It’s a wonderful return for MacKinnon.

“My time at Mount Allison as an undergraduate student was more than anything about the people — students, faculty, and staff all get to know you and they want to support you and see you succeed,” he says. “This is still true today and it’s the real strength of Mount Allison.”

One of MacKinnon’s favourite student memories is when geography professor Larry McCann encouraged him to apply for graduate school. The thought of further studies hadn’t occurred to MacKinnon as a kid from small town Cape Breton, and he says it was the confidence of Dr. McCann and other faculty in geography and Canadian studies that encouraged him to continue on and ultimately launch a 30-plus year career in academia and university administration.

MacKinnon earned his master’s degree at Memorial University and his PhD at the University of British Columbia. He worked at Thompson Rivers University and spent 20 years at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John as a professor of geography, dean of arts, and vice-president.

Since returning to his alma mater, MacKinnon continues to be impressed with the level and comprehensiveness of supports provided to students, including peer-to-peer mentorship.

“I attended several of the Orientation events including a wonderful session upper-year students gave to new students on preparation for labs and classes, time management and so on. My spouse, Karen (Dickison) (‘79) and I also went to the Karaoke BBQ on the football field where we met with parents and saw how welcoming second, third, and fourth-year students were to first-year students.”

As a professor of geography, MacKinnon is also eager to share his enthusiasm for Mount Allison and Sackville as a place.

“The campus environment is in my view such a strength for Mount Allison,” says MacKinnon. “It’s such a beautiful campus, a beautiful small town, and an immersive experience for students. The Sackville region is a living lab, an important area from an environmental point of view. There is also deep and important history in this region and you can see it when walking around campus and Sackville. I’m enjoying rediscovering this too and I’m excited to learn so many professors incorporate the region into their lessons.”

Learning about the type and quality of research, experiential learning, and internship opportunities available to today’s students is another aspect of Mount Allison that MacKinnon is enjoying.

“I think hands-on research and analysis is so beneficial to students,” says MacKinnon. “I love hearing about how these activities are happening right here in Sackville and with students researching, interning, and learning in plenty of other locations as well. I look forward to hearing more about these and other activities as my year as Interim President progresses.”

MacKinnon says his primary goal for the next year is to work closely with the University’s leadership team to ensure a positive transition to a permanent president, but he also stresses that this is not a year for standing still.

“I want to hear what’s on people’s minds,” he says. “I want to help ensure that key initiatives continue to progress. I want to meet supporters and donors and tell them why Mount A is important. I’m a very proud alum of Mount Allison and now as Interim President I’m honoured to be representing the University.”