St. Stephen – In the fall of 2017, Steve Robinson and his wife moved from Barrie, Ontario to St. Stephen. When they made the move Robinson didn’t expect to find himself, a couple of years later, sitting in the corner office historically reserved for the president of St. Stephen’s University (SSU).
Though neither he nor his wife had lived in New Brunswick before, they had connections to the area through Robinson’s father-in-law. “We would come out for visits, and we brought our kids here when they were younger, so we were familiar with the place,” he said.
Robinson has worked in a leadership position in colleges across the country, but in moving to New Brunswick he echoed what many have said on coming here, “A small town feel suits our personalities and our lifestyle. It’s a more connected and more authentic life.”
Though he has only been in his role as one half of SSU’s office of the president for two weeks, he already knows some of what he wants to accomplish during his tenure. His main goals are both practical and ambitious, spanning the everyday operations of the school, as well as the implementation of creative ways for the university to transition into a new era.
One of those ways is the university’s new community engagement program, which leverages the long focus on community that has been paramount to the identity of the school. And while Robinson sees that community as a strength, he wants to broaden it to better encompass the larger community of St. Stephen and surrounding areas.
That desire, “Comes from an acknowledgement that we do a better job of engaging students globally than we do here in our own backyard,” he said, referring to the travel study programs which the school operates, in which students spend two semesters abroad with their classmates.
Robinson said this insularity of the school is something he experienced on first moving here, and it was only removed after he began interviewing for the office that he now holds.
Coming from a post secondary education background, he was pleased to find there was a university in the small town he had chosen to call home, and he was interested in having some role there, but, “I had this kind of uncertain image in my head or idea of what the university was about.
“I didn’t know whether it was okay to walk up the hill and knock on the door or to just walk in one day. It seemed like this mystery to me. Was it an ivory tower? Or was it more of a reclusive kind of thing from a religious context?” The answer, he found, was neither.
After seeing the ad that the school had put out looking for a new president, Robinson applied and through the process of interviews came to understand the school better. That process exited him. “I had high hopes,” he said, “and what I’ve come to learn about the school, the people, and the culture, have surpassed those hopes.”
As he has come to better know the history of the school, Robinson acknowledged the institution has not always done the best job of opening itself up to the community, and he hopes the new program, which aims to integrate with businesses and organizations in the area, will begin to change that.
Robinson hopes to see SSU students involved in tangible projects in Charlotte County which “help to reduce things like income inequality, and food insecurity. Projects that address environmental issues and sustainable living practises. Those are the kinds of things that I hope that our students can get involved in – to make a positive impact.
“It’s the other end of the spectrum from the ivory tower.”
In the near future, the school is also hoping to create incentives for local students to enroll. “I don’t think we have a very good record at attracting local students,” he said.
“One of the things we want to do is have a diverse and well rounded student body – and that includes where they come from. So we’re looking at some financial incentives and scholarships which would be attractive to students from the area.”