Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in West Haven, Connecticut, which is right along the shore. … I went to West Haven High School, a very large public high school. So when I was looking for colleges, I really knew I wanted to go to a… very small institution. I wanted to focus on academics and also [be] in a beautiful setting. And when I saw Franklin Pierce, which was then Franklin Pierce College in the late ’70s, I stopped looking. As soon as I saw Franklin Pierce, I knew that’s where I wanted to go to college.
What were some of your fonder memories of the school and what did you study?
One of the probably most appealing aspects of going to college at Franklin Pierce was the communication and access with and to the faculty. And that’s still true of the faculty today. They are accessible. They get to know the students, they care about the students, they follow up with the students, and I really felt that kind of connection when I was there as a student. I felt really supported as I made my way through the curriculum and everything else. I double majored in English and psychology. I took as many dance classes as I could, and often, if I had an extra course I could take, I would take an art course [like] photography or oil painting. … The other great thing about my time in college … it’s a place for really smart, interesting people who are motivated and want to take opportunities to lead. We give the students, then and now, a lot of access to leadership positions and to running programs and clubs.
When did you see your academic career start to evolve from faculty to administration?
I did all of my higher education in the state of New Hampshire. I don’t think it was a grand plan, it just worked out that way, that I ended up at a small, private institution — Franklin Pierce — for my undergraduate work and I went to the University of New Hampshire for my doctoral work, which is where I earned my Ph.D. in psychology. And right from there, I took a faculty position at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. … I was there as a faculty member for 20 years, in the psychology department, but at some point early on, I started to transition to academic administration when a leadership position in the board of faculty became available and I was nominated for it and I accepted it. That was an associate dean position. That was, I think, in 1998. So I’ve been in the administrative part of higher ed for quite a while now.
Why did you come back to work at FPU?
I always stayed connected after I left as an alum. I participated in homecoming weekends, and I actually participated on the alumni board of directors for a few years. … So, I served on the board of trustees for seven years up until I was asked to step in as provost in 2008. … I anticipated it would be for a year while the then president might look for a longer-term provost, but the fit was good and I loved the work so I was asked to stay and I said yes.
What’s something you’re known for at the school?
I would say generally I’m known for always looking to the horizons. This isn’t really the nuts and bolts, this is more of the big picture stuff. I’m always looking to the horizon. What should we be doing? What could we be doing to enhance our programs, to support our students? And I think I’m also known for my work ethic, for my high expectations of myself and of my colleagues and faculty.
What experience do you think best prepares you for this new role?
I’d say the obvious experience is certainly my familiarity with and commitment to the university. As provost, my purview has been very broad. So I am familiar with pretty much all operations, all aspects of the university. … Beyond that, I prepared through professional development … and I have been a student of higher education in general, really following where higher education is heading, the trends, the needs of higher education [and] the needs of families.
— Ryan Lessard