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New First Year of Studies dean comes from experience

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Episcopal priest. A harmonica player and a blues lyricist. A translator of Hebrew texts. An assistant men’s tennis coach. A poet, a theologian and martial arts black belt.

And now dean of First Year of Studies.

Hugh Page, Jr., a poised man of varied interests, steps into his first year of overseeing the program that guides freshman through their first Notre Dame academic year.

Page said he feels fortunate to have been chosen and believes the position fits his personal aspirations as an educator.

“I see myself as a scholar, as a teacher and as an administrator, and if there is a place within the university where senior administrators feel that I can be of service, then I’m more than willing,” he said.

Page came to Notre Dame in 1992 to teach in the theology department. In 1999, he was appointed the director of the African and African-American Studies program, and in 2002 he became an associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Letters.

Page replaces Eileen Kolman, who served as dean since 1990. His appointment rounds out the list of new senior administrators that includes University president and provost.

Page saw firsthand the significance of the program – from the advisors’ dedication to the students’ potential – during the summer when he worked with the staff to build student schedules.

“Reading through the files, you hear the stories that individual first year students tell about their own academic or personal growth,” he said. “They come with such incredible dreams here, and all of us at the first year want to make sure we do everything to help them realize their dreams.”

At freshman orientation, he was able to finally put faces on this group. The orientation went smoothly, he said, and he felt blessed to participate in the experience.

“It’s really quite a wonder, I found myself getting sort of choked up on late Saturday afternoon as I was talking to parents and watching the students and realizing what a wonderful place this is,” he said. “So it’s kind of hard to go through all of those events and not be touched very deeply by what this new beginning means to first year students and what it exemplifies for the University and what it’s going to mean four years from now when they all come back to Joyce Athletic center for graduation.”

At the orientation, Page addressed students and parents, thanking them for entrusting their education to Notre Dame and encouraging them to take advantage of their time here.

“For students, I wanted them to see the next four years as an opportunity to discover their intellectual passion and to become really responsible stewards of knowledge,” he said. “Coming to university involves being an active learner rather than a passive learner … Those are the biggest things I wanted students to get, along with finding time for silence, the opportunity to disengage from the world, from the internet, from IM, so that they can in some sense have the experience of communion with God,” he said.

Himself a person of varied interests and accomplishments, Page encourages the talented first year class to pursue education outside of the classroom.

“I like to be involved in so many things because each of them has taught me something incredibly important about the world, about God, about society and about myself,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of uninhibited exploration that needs to take place in order for a mind to be fully shaped and in order for a heart to be fully formed.”

Dean Kolman, currently on leave from the University, says she has total confidence in the ability of her successor.

“He is a respected member of the faculty in the largest of Notre Dame’s colleges,” Kolman said. “I think he has a real love of learning and is sensitive to the issues of student development. For these and many other reasons, I think he is eminently qualified.”

Max Johnson, a colleague of Page’s in the theology department and in their blues band, “The Oblates of Blues,” expresses complete confidence in Page.

“Hugh is a wonderful choice for FYS dean for several reasons,” Johnson said. “He is a well-balanced individual who knows the importance of ‘having a life’ outside of his job. He is a first-rate teacher who likes to say that ‘a university is a place of dreams,’ and is willing and able to assist others to dare to dream their dreams and go after them. He has a great sense of humor and deep respect for people.”

Throughout the year, Page will participate in individual student advising, staff meetings and curriculum planning. He also plans to visit first year classes, residence halls, LaFortune and other student events to get a better sense of student interests and life.

Page feels he has “very big shoes to fill,” as the three previous deans have left impressive legacies. It may be too early to predict what his own legacy will be, he said, but he has high expectations.

“At the end of my time as dean,” he said, “if we continue to encourage first year students to become intellectually curious, creative, bold, independent and free-thinking young people with an appreciation of how spirituality and pursuit of truth are intertwined, and help to form responsible young adults – if we succeed in doing that, then I’ll continue to consider my time here to have been a great success.”