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Portrait of a provost

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Portrait of a provost

MacEwan University's provost is a passionate professor with a penchant for travel.

Dr. John Corlett is MacEwan University’s provost and vice-president academic. He is well travelled, experienced, and enthusiastic about bringing his knowledge to the students here at MacEwan University.

You teach a class here; is that right?

I do. I teach a physical education course: PEDS 294. That’s my course that I teach each year. It’s concepts in physical education.

What kinds of things do you explore in that class?

We spend a lot of time talking about the underlying principles in creating a physical education course. I talk a lot about the philosophy of the profession, some of the traditions of the profession, why somebody has the role they have has a physical educator, and what role that person plays in our modern society, modern education system, and modern healthcare system. The students are great. We spend a little time in the gym, a little time in small groups here in my office, a few times in the classroom together doing lectures. I have fun, and I hope the students have fun. That’s the main thing.

You obviously have passion for teaching!

Yeah, I have a passion for teaching. That’s why I got into this in the first place. And if you’re going to be a university professor, you have to do research as well, and you have to do service work. You have to contribute to the way that we govern the university together. Over time, in my case, I wound up in administrative jobs, and I’ve had to give up some of my teaching and research time, but teaching has always been my passion. When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and when I was in Grade 8, I wanted to be a Grade 8 teacher. When I was in Grade 13 in Ontario, I wanted to be a Grade 13 teacher and coach the football and basketball teams, and then I went to university and thought, “Well, I’d like to be a university teacher.” I’ve always wanted to teach.

Where did the passion for sports come in?

Ever since I was a kid. I can’t remember a time when I was not totally absorbed by physical activity, by playing. It’s not so much that it’s sport as much as it’s play. I’ve always loved to play, and I’ve always loved skill, whether it’s playing the guitar, shooting a basketball, whatever it might be. I admire skilled people. I love watching skilled people. I love thinking about how skills develop. So, for me, teaching my physical education course here, for example — it really is all about how you create an environment for people to learn something. In my case, it’s not teaching people how others learn a language or how to do a painting. It’s about how a game can teach certain kinds of lessons. For me, it’s all about values and life skills and how physical educators can work with kids — particularly, to develop those values and life skills in an important way. So, I just really enjoy that skill behaviour, play environment. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t active, and now that I’m older, I try to stay active as much as I can, but it’s not as easy as it used to be.

What kind of things do you do to stay active?

I just try to get to the gym a few times here a week if I can. Professionally, I’ve been doing a project in Central America for about 11 years, working with preventing youth violence using sport and physical education and active learning to talk about values and life skills as a way of getting kids to understand that there are ways to resolve conflicts amongst themselves without violence.

You travel quite a bit; is that right?

I travel a fair amount, but still not as much as I used to. My job needs me to be here, and I try to measure my travel as much as I can so that I’m not away. I do try to get back to Guatemala, which is the country where I’m working the most now. It was El Salvador before that, and, from time to time, Mexico. Latin America seems to be the place that I’ve gravitated towards.

Could you talk about some of the highlight experiences you’ve had while traveling?

Latin America is recent, but I’ve travelled a lot for the universities I’ve worked with — sometimes for student recruitment and sometimes for international research development projects. I’ve had the chance to travel to probably more than 90 countries in my lifetime. My wife and I lived in Botswana, in Southern Africa, for four years in the 1980s, and it was just a fundamentally life-changing experience to be in that environment. That’s probably the one thing I would look back on and say, “Wow, that was really special.” But it’s all special. Being here every day is special. I like being here. I’ve only been in Edmonton for two and a half years. I’ve lived in Edmonton for less than I’ve lived in Gaborone, which is the capital of Botswana, so this is a new experience. Before that, I was in Winnipeg, and before that, in Ontario. I’ve lived in British Columbia, and I lived in England for a little while when I was a student. I do like travel. I like seeing different cultures and hearing different languages and eating different food and just realizing, “Oh, this is different.” There’s always something to learn.

What do you think is the most rewarding thing you get from your job?

Watching students change. We’re a very diverse population of people here, but no matter what, people are changed. When they leave with a diploma or a degree, they’re different than when they arrived, and that’s because our professors are fabulous here. We work very hard at MacEwan to create that kind of undergraduate environment where people feel they can grow, and where it’s safe to take a chance. I like watching students change and having that opportunity to become more then they thought they could be.  I don’t get to teach very much. I coach a little bit, but I’m sort of like a general manager at a hockey team. I help pick the players, and I help guide the general sense of where we’re going, and that’s also what the president of the university does. I just like that feeling of people having a chance to find themselves. That’s what we do here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photo supplied.