Q&A: Dr. Paul Beaudin, Vice President of Academic Affairs
In his four-decade career as an educator, Dr. Paul Beaudin has served as a principal and teacher in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, superintendent of a school district in the Bronx, and as a college professor and dean at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.
Most recently, he was vice president for academic affairs and interim vice president for student affairs, at Suffolk County Community College, part of the State University of New York (SUNY).
In this interview, Dr. Beaudin shares what excites him about his new position at Northern Essex, the biggest challenge of his professional career, and how he likes to de-stress.
Dr. Beaudin replaces Dr. Bill Heineman, who left the college on July 1 to become president of North Shore Community College. He joined the college community at the September 7 Convocation.
What excites you most about your new position at NECC?
There are two things that really excite me about this position.
First of all, Northern Essex has an amazing reputation for innovation and creativity not only in Massachusetts, but nationally. While I held the same position at the largest community college in the New York (SUNY) system, I really wanted to work at an institution where I would be stretched to grow as a leader in new ways, where I would be a learning practitioner and where my own knowledge base and work ethic would complement what I would learn from Dr. Glenn and the cabinet at NECC.
Secondly, knowing that NECC was co-located in Haverhill and Lawrence was key to my decision to apply. Lawrence is the home of my grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles. To be able to give back to that community and to work for the students of the Merrimack Valley who walk the same streets and endure some of the same challenges as my parents who grew up in extreme poverty in St. Anne’s Parish and, later, on the corner of Bennington and Park Streets, allows me to honor my parents’ legacy. It is a rare opportunity for children to be able to do that in their lives and I find that very exciting.
What are your initial impressions of the college?
The college as a structure is respectful. The two campuses are well maintained and, while very different as suburban and urban centers, the care of the facilities reflects an incredible reverence for the students, faculty, and employees. The team at both locations is deserving of much praise for how they incarnate the student-centric mission of NECC.
The college as a community is equally respectful. The men and women who I have met over the past ten weeks or so could not be more welcoming. The zeal for student success that is exhibited by the faculty, staff, and administrators bespeaks the same commitment to our students and to the wider Essex County community.
My initial impressions have nurtured my sense of gratitude for having been invited to be here.
What will you focus on first in your new position?
It is my experience that leaders often come into a new position at a new institution and forget that they are truly pilgrims who are called to learn new things about self and others. I think that, too often, they do not spend enough time simply listening to those pilgrims who came before them and who have dedicated years of their lives to the community. So, the first thing that I will focus on is listening and learning and respecting the work of my colleagues.
Most of my life has been committed to the transformation of the economic conditions of others through quality education marked by high expectations and engaging learning experiences. These create opportunities for students and their families. That is part of who I am. I believe that here I will listen and hear that is engrained in so many of the pilgrims who continue to labor at NECC.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It is collaborative, honest, and based on an ethic of care. Leadership is not about control, but rather about epitomizing doing the right thing no matter how challenging and always hoping that these acts will attract followers. Leadership must be rooted in a strong sense of courage and has a certain tireless quality that inspires others to join in what ultimately needs to be an adventure in self-giving. I think that good leaders tell stories and ground our most meaningful experiences in literature, or art, or religion, or philosophy. That is the leader who I aspire to be and, perhaps, on a good day, I have some confidence that I am becoming.
What would you like faculty and staff to know most about you?
That’s an easy one. I would want them to know that I am a teacher at heart. I was fortunate early in my career to teach middle school and high school before becoming a school leader, a professor, and a higher ed administrator. I love the classroom. I love getting my hands dirty with chalk. I love creating AHA moments in the lives of students. I love seeing new light emerge in the eyes of children, adolescents, and college students. This love of teaching and learning has allowed me to engage many thousands of educators in workshops across the nation and to help to craft student learning materials in mathematics and language arts.
What would you like students to know most about you?
This is the eighth institution where I have worked. I hope that the students here will come to know what students at the other seven have found: that I care, that I expect excellence, that I support faculty, and that most decisions are not binary even though we think they are. There is always a solution which can leave every person feeling honored. I want them to come to know that I am motivated by the belief that all learning should train the hands, expand the mind, and feed the soul and that those who engage in this great work will ultimately transform society, one graduate at a time.
What was the biggest challenge in your professional career and why? How did you approach it?
This month we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the events of September 11th. At that day, I was an Associate Superintendent working in Manhattan. I saw the smoke, witnessed tens of thousands of people rushing up First Avenue to get home to Queens, Westchester, and the Bronx on foot. Children in schools that I worked with had to evacuate the area south of New York’s Houston Street. For months, the trauma of that event consumed my principals, teachers, and their students. The stench in the air, the tanks, and the barricades were daily reminders in Manhattan and served to remind all of us that safety could not be taken for granted. In retrospect, I approached it by “showing up.” The rest of that year required me to simply be present to the educators and listening to those who were doing the direct work with children who became orphans or homeless or were sickened by the dust that was everywhere. I think that experience prepared me well for working through the pandemic and the fears of our current age.
You come from a family of Lawrence millworkers, and were raised in upstate New York. How has the connection to Lawrence shaped you? Did you visit often while growing up?
I grew up in Plattsburgh, NY because my father made a career out of the Air Force. That decision allowed us to escape poverty. We moved a great deal before he retired and entered civilian service working for the Department of Defense at Plattsburgh Air Force Base. All of my relatives remained in Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill, and Dracut. We regularly drove down 89 to visit family on Bennington and Bruce Streets in Lawrence, and Peter’s Pond in Dracut and attend weddings at the Assumption, funerals at St. Anne’s, and day trips to Hampton or Salisbury. It was a simple life surrounded by French Canadian relatives who shared their drink, their food, and their air mattresses spread out on tenement floors with us visitors from New York.
What do you like to do to de-stress?
I do not find the work stressful. I suppose that my stress is caused by a desire to get everything done in a day rather than a week. When I carve out time I do so to refinish furniture, garden, and walk the beach off season.
What is the last book that you read?
I am now reading Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education. The perspective of Cockell and McArthur-Blair is important to our work here at Northern Essex. The last book that I read was DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Part of my equity work at my previous college was the participation in a book club with other faculty and administrators.
Can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
Perhaps that I have taught, over the course of my career, children in third grade through doctoral students. While I have amazing respect for professors who can mentor students through a doctoral dissertation, I have even greater respect for the teacher who can get 25 eight-year-olds to line up quietly and bring them down to the cafeteria without a problem.