Archived Interviews

Volume 3: John Risley
Volume 4: Peter Conlon
Volume 5: Dianne Swinemar





Colin Dodds

Colin: You see, if you look at the demographic challenges, Atlantic Canada has a declining population. At the same time, we have segments of the population that are unemployed and underemployed. This includes what used to be called learning disabilities and other segments of the population who come to university, for whatever reason, not prepared for university level education. We see it as learning or physical challenges, not just for the student but more importantly for our university. This is why we had developed different types of learning tools and methods. For example, we have software that converts braille to text and text to braille, but it's the bigger cohort of students that have different learning challenges, which is why we have this technology in some of our classes, where, as the professor speaks, it's taped and it’s converted to text. Then it's put on a secure portal and all of our students have access. It's called Liberated Learning.

Brad: Am I correct in thinking that Saint Mary's is one of the most advanced universities in the world that does this? When you say any student, do you mean it doesn't have to be a student that has one of these challenges; is it available to all students?

Colin: Yes. For example, say you're in a history class and somebody has a problem taking notes. Let's say it's a class of 30 history students. When the professor is speaking into a microphone, everything is recorded. A copy editor will go through it and post it. All 30 students in that class will get access to it. It's a complete record. Then the students can search it for key names, just as you would search your e-mails for key names. You said we will have 23 people to do the work of 50 people in 2031. There is no doubt that technology will make a significant difference, but as importantly our human capital has to be used as effectively and efficiently as possible – and that means all our human capital including students with learning and physical challenges, our international students, and potential students who have not been as successful as they could be because of discrimination. As I said earlier, that is Saint Mary’s raison d’etre. I am very proud of that and see no reason for stopping now.

Brad: Are there others examples at Saint Mary’s as an Academic Entrepreneurship?


Colin: Years ago libraries and the number of books held in their libraries was important, but we were part of Novanet. Novanet is a system where our students and faculty can log onto any computer and get access to books anywhere in Nova Scotia. There is also the vast amount of information that is available on the Internet and that is a real game changer as well.  

Now we're transforming the third floor of our library to a "Sandbox." With the Internet and the fact that all of the libraries in Nova Scotia are connected Novanet, we turned the underutilized space of the third floor into a sandbox. Traditionally a sandbox is where kids play. In our case and that of other universities and private sector organizations such as Google, a sandbox is like an incubator, where ideas are tested. Also, if you look at the results from our last capital campaign, we built the Atrium and it completely opened up the library. Students sit there with their laptops. That is an area where students congregate and you can see the collaboration. It's a social space, as well as a learning space.

Brad: Can you say more about your passion for entrepreneurship?

Colin: We've got a business development center on campus. We get referrals from the banks. Somebody walks into a bank and says, "I want to start my own business." They say, “Go into Saint Mary's and they'll help you refine that plan and look for capital and so on." Our students are working in there. That's to say if you're a physicist, you'd be doing an experiment. Well, guess what? Our students are also doing experiments in a business environment, such as helping business start-ups.

One of the big challenges is business succession. The baby boomers want to sell their businesses. But 75% don't have a succession plan. That's where the money is tied up. That's in many instances their pension. That's their net worth. That's their future. They're either going to sell it or give it away, but they can't afford to give it away and in many cases, their heirs have no interest in the business. So we need to look much more closely at increasing immigration to all of Atlantic Canada and that is one of the projects I am working on.

Brad: Let me play devil's advocate for a minute. Recent research shows that the least innovative entrepreneurial province was Quebec, the second was the Maritimes. We don't have a culture of entrepreneurism. The international students who come here usually don't stay, so the universities are facing declining enrollment. The Conference Board of Canada said by the year 2031, we'll have 23 people to do the work that 50 people do now. That doesn't sound very promising.

Colin: We don't rank too well in innovation. Higher education is another one. We sat down, when I say we, the university presidents, sat down with, for the first time ever, with the school superintendents. We've never done that before; right from kindergarten all the way to grade 12. We talked about entrepreneurship and the research in Nova Scotia found that the parents are the biggest influence on students. Where they're going to go to school and what they're going to do.

In Nova Scotia, there is a strong tendency for parents to want their children to have a job, but they want a job that's paid, as opposed to creating their own job. There's not that entrepreneurial spirit or pride, yet we used to have it historically. We’ve had that business success, but we've become more dependent on the government in so many different ways, which includes getting a government job. The idea was to get a job with the government because then you think you've got security for life and you've got a pension at the end of it. If you're a parent, that's the view. But that’s not the case anymore and it will become less so in the future.

Entrepreneurship is not just starting a business. You can be entrepreneurial in a government sector. You can be entrepreneurial in a large firm. It's a different way of thinking, only they are called intrepreneurs, but there's still that entrepreneurial flare of thinking outside of the box. It comes down to this idea of how much of it can be taught.

Brad: You just said that a lot of it is cultural. One of the things that is changing that culture is Junior Achievement, which is why you're such a proponent of Junior Achievement.

Colin: That's right and that's why I was talking about that yesterday. Just to give you an idea, a business student asked to see me last week. He said, “I’m going to start my own business. My dad has a business, but I don't want to take it over. In 10, 15 years I don't think that business is going to be around, so I don't really want to take it over. I want to start my own business; it’s going to be in IT. I'm looking at different apps that I can develop.”

That kind of business can be developed anywhere. You're into the whole "the world is flat" concept, you don't have to be based in Toronto and you don't have to be based in California. We have to somehow spark that in somebody that says I'm going to create my own job.

Brad: So I would have to say that you're an academic entrepreneur. How did that come about?

Colin:  I remember being in a room with some other academics and I talked about marketing and selling. They said, "We're not in the selling business. That is corporatization." Their response was, “We're in the knowledge business." I said, "I know we're in the knowledge business. That's what we're selling. We're selling it to the students. We're selling it to the business community. I'm selling education because to me education is the global currency.”

Brad: After 15 years, you recently transitioned out of the role of being president of Saint Mary’s. I know you are not going to retire because that word is not in your vocabulary. So what’s next for Colin Dodds?

Colin: I am continuing to teach in the master of finance program and am on several boards. I continue to do fundraising, the most recent of which is for the Discovery Centre. My family has been very fortunate and were helped along the way by a series of mentors and we want to continue giving back. My wife Carol raised over $600,000 for an endowment at Saint Mary's to help students who are single parents, and there is a lot more we want to do. 

Colin Dodds both was an exceptional president of and continues to be an exceptional ambassador for Saint Mary's University. His close ties with the business community and numerous volunteer organizations and professional organizations highlight his dedication to community service. I have been working in higher education for almost all of my adult life and I have not seen any other university president who was so dedicated to giving back, not only to their university but also to their wider community.