"It's important to feel welcome."

Mapping A Strong Future

The 34th University president is getting to know his new post through connection and collaboration.

By Suzanne Robicheau | fall 2015

Robert Summerby-Murray doesn’t skip a beat when asked to describe a daily incident that encapsulates the special qualities of Saint Mary’s University.

“I have these moments every day,” says Saint Mary’s 34th President. “Recently, I stopped to chat with two young women who were walking across campus. One had a babe in her arms and was very excited to be here from Antigua to study. It was a powerful reminder that Saint Mary’s remains true to the kind of accessibility and inclusivity that have defined us for more than 200 years.”

Not surprising, given his own reputation for being personable and approachable—and teaching awards that include a 3M National Teaching Fellowship—Dr. Summerby-Murray sparked another of these evocative incidents when he walked a new Chinese student to her classroom. “I hear it created a bit of a Twitter buzz,” he says, laughing warmly. “She couldn’t believe the University president would take the time to escort her to class.”

In truth, there was nothing unusual about Dr. Summerby-Murray extending a helping hand. As the parents of three sons—David, Iain, and James—he and his wife Susan have both devoted large chunks of time to supporting international students, including through homestay programs with Rotary International. As well, he has often loaned his talents as an accomplished choral director, organist, and pianist to student performances and workshops. 

In this way, there was nothing unusual about Dr. Summerby-Murray going the
extra mile for an international student. In addition to valuing a diverse campus and making a commitment to enhance Saint Mary’s reputation for internationalization, he knows how it feels to be far from home. Born and raised in New Zealand, he travelled to Canada in 1986 to complete his PhD in Geography and commence a distinguished academic career that includes senior academic roles at two Canadian universities.

“It’s important to feel welcome,” he observes, “and my welcome at Saint Mary’s has been fantastic. I find it very gratifying to have so many students, faculty, and staff members approach me to introduce themselves.” 

Although Dr. Summerby-Murray wasn’t installed as President and Vice-Chancellor until September 2015, his tenure began at the beginning of May with a transition period as President-Elect. “I really appreciate having those months to learn as much as I could from, and about, the people who make Saint Mary’s unique,” he says. “Colin Dodds was extremely generous with his time and made the most of that lead-in period with his encouragement and guidance.”

Dr. Summerby-Murray is also quick to extend his appreciation to the Saint Mary’s University Board of Governors for providing him this preliminary period of engagement and connection. 

“The time I had prior to my formal installation was invaluable,” he says. 

“This kind of a lead-in could be written into best practices as part of a leadership transition.”

Campus Notes: “I give because I believe in Saint Mary’s University.”

Featured Articles: James Curleigh: The Rock Star CEO

Alumni News: Getting Back to the Classroom