Arts and Social Science takes new direction

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By Heather Travis
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
After almost 40 years on the east coast, Oakville-native Mark Blagrave is returning to southern Ontario as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at Huron University College.
 
As the head of the largest of two faculties on Huron’s campus (there is also a Faculty of Theology), Blagrave has big shoes to fill.
 
Faculty of Arts and Social Science Dean Mark Blagrave
 
“For me it’s a really exciting challenge. It’s like directing one of the largest cast plays I ever would have directed,” he says.
 
He comes to Huron from Mount Allison University, located in Sackville, N. B., which has approximately 2,175 students. This is about twice the size of Huron, which boasts a student population of about 1,100.
 
“The attraction of Huron – the reason I responded to the ad in the first place – was obviously the reputation and the size,” he says.
 
Blagrave holds a BA (Hons) degree in English from Mount Allison, and a MA and PhD degree in drama from the University of Toronto. He held positions as sessional lecturer and assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) from 1981-1989. He later became an associate professor and the head of the Department of English at Mount Allison. When he left, Blagrave was a professor of English and the Director of Drama.
 
Working within such a close-knit university community, Blagrave sees an opportunity for the faculty to refine its academic focus and to differentiate itself from the affiliated college’s younger, but much bigger sibling, The University of Western Ontario.
 
He feels it is important for the Faculty of Arts and Social Science to “articulate what it is we do differently and communicate that to a wider public than we’ve maybe been able to do so far.”
However, he recognizes the importance of the relationship between the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at Huron and its main campus counterparts, as students often take courses here and at the other affiliated colleges.
 
He hopes to capitalize on the groundwork laid at Huron to create a what he calls a “cohesive first-year experience,” including drawing connections between what happens inside the classroom with that which occurs outside the lecture halls.
 
“It is always amazing to me when you discover there are these diametrically opposed worlds that students inhabit. Residence life and the classroom have nothing to do with one another and I think this is the kind of place where there is the potential ... to create an outside-the-classroom community.”
 
At his former post, Blagrave’s work in curricular design and reform focused on promoting a student-centred learning environment.
 
Blagrave says Huron has done much to build a “community of scholars” that encompasses the academic and social aspects of university life, however he believes this connection could be strengthened.
 
“Huron is at a point where some new directions or re-thinking the old mission is timely,” he says. “I think because of the size we have a real opportunity for a really coherent undergraduate experience – a shaped experience for the students – which is harder to achieve in a bigger setting.”
 
Blagrave grew up with a love for theatre and writing, and starred in several productions during his childhood. He hopes to find opportunities to explore his passion for the stage at Huron.
“I have a longstanding interest in Canadian theatre history,” he says, noting he spent the summers of his youth watching plays in Stratford and often visited the O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville.
 
His debut novel, Silver Salts, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book. The novel is set in Saint John, New Brunswick and highlights the life of the ‘silent ladies’ of the early 20th century silent film era.
 
He continues to be an active playwright, with his most recent production, ‘Nomentacke’ – a play about first contact between Europeans and North American natives – opening at the 2009 NotaBle Acts Summer Theatre Festival in Fredericton, N. B. on July 29-31.
 
Blagrave’s appointment began July 1.

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