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Innovation, opportunity attracted new
Academic Affairs vice president to CCRI
Aug. 30, 2013
Dr. Greg Lamontagne may have already come a long way in his career, but in some ways, he’s still very close to home.
The 51-year-old started his tenure as vice president for Academic Affairs at the Community College of Rhode Island in July. Lamontagne has spent the bulk of his career as an administrator working at community colleges in Massachusetts and New York. But his involvement with community colleges stretches back to a much earlier time, beginning when he was a student at John Abbott College, a two-year institution in his hometown of Montreal.
“Community college made a major difference in my life,” said Lamontagne, who was the first in his family to pursue a college education. “I still remember some of the names of the faculty from my first year who taught me things like calculus and 19th century art and creative writing. They were transformational figures in my life, and prominent in my psyche. I think it’s very exciting to be a part of that – to help students make that change and help them begin to achieve their dreams.”
Lamontagne credits his time at John Abbott College with helping him achieve his own dreams by exposing him to the field of linguistics, which he would then go on to pursue in graduate school and in visiting professorships before moving into administration. Seemingly equal parts left- and right-brained, Lamontagne enjoyed the marriage of scientific principles with the creativity of language. The overlapping yet sometimes disparate worlds of academia and administration provided the same type of challenge for Lamontagne, who said that his current work allows him to make a difference in the lives of students in new and exciting ways.
It was just this bent toward innovation and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a changing institution that attracted Lamontagne to CCRI, he said. “You could see a lot of fantastic initiatives starting,” he said of the college. “CCRI was on the verge of implementing a new strategic plan, on the verge of a [New England Association of Schools and Colleges 10-year accreditation] self-study, and I got the picture that it was a very engaged community which was very open in discussing a lot of the opportunities and challenges in higher education today.”
Lamontagne’s purview includes areas such as academic planning, academic vision and “looking at the college’s strategic plan and nesting the academic vision of where the college wants to go as an institution into the goals of the strategic plan.”
He shared that, for CCRI, this inevitably would mean harnessing innovation and developments in new technology, enhancing best practices when responding to some of the challenges that students might face regarding completing their studies in a timely fashion and continuing to develop a secure, nurturing space for students looking to better prepare themselves to enter four-year institutions.
His own experience as a first-generation college student gave Lamontagne an intimate understanding of what many of CCRI’s students go through upon starting their new paths. While he praises the support he got from his parents – a homemaker and a small business owner – he admitted that he was somewhat at a loss for how to really harness those first opportunities. “My parents and I knew that college was a good thing, and I knew I wanted to go on to that level. But that road, in terms of how you go on, was foggy, for me.”
Now that he’s installed at CCRI, Lamontagne said he’s looking forward to putting his firsthand experience and empathy to good use, and loves the high-level overview that being an administrator can bring. While being a professor had its own rewards, Lamontagne said that he delighted in having a greater understanding of how a college functions as a whole.
“When I started in administration, I was meeting all of these dynamic people that I’d never been exposed to: information technology, admissions and student services. It’s great to see all of these creative people working together on one common mission. And one of the really rewarding experiences is getting to see the college open in September when those thousands of students come in.”
Lamontagne, said he’s looking forward to exploring the greater Rhode Island community as well. An avid poet who gleaned some publishing credits while in college, he said he found the small state’s landscape beautiful and inspiring. There’s more than a touch of the Renaissance man in Lamontagne, who hopes to become involved with environmental conservation efforts here once he’s a little more settled. “I’m interested in community gardening, wind power, alternative energy and sustainability,” he said, noting that he’s followed the activities of other community colleges in this regard online.
Social media is another one of the innovations that excite Lamontagne, he said, pointing to the revolutionary potential of Web 2.0. He seemed specifically fascinated by the social networking platform Twitter, on which he holds an active presence.
Unsurprisingly, the autodidact is interested in exploring the implications for education and access to information that social media holds, and takes advantage of that constant stream of material throughout his day. “It’s a fascinating frontier with a lot of potential,” he said, peppering in a few anecdotes of far-flung conferences that he was able to follow on his lunch hour. “You can feel engaged and a part of this diverse notion of journalism. It’s a breath of fresh air. And in the classroom, you’re starting to see people use these platforms in certain ways to interact inside and outside of classes. It really opens up a way for educators to interact with their students and each other.”
Offline (and off campus), Lamontagne has made his new home in East Greenwich with his wife, Joanna Gonsalves, a professor of psychology at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. The couple, who met in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has two daughters; their eldest, Rebecca Gonsalves-Lamontagne, is entering her sophomore year at University of Massachusetts-Lowell as a biochemical engineering major and their youngest, Renee Gonsalves-Lamontagne, is finishing up her senior year of high school in Massachusetts.