University of Alberta names new dean of students

André Costopoulos brings experience, success in improving student services.

The University of Alberta has appointed André Costopoulos as its new vice-provost and dean of students. Currently serving as dean of students at McGill University, Costopoulos starts his new job July 1, bringing a wealth of experience and success improving student services at his Montreal alma mater. He takes over from current U of A dean of students Frank Robinson and interim dean Robin Everall.

“I'm ready for the adventure,” says Costopoulos of the move to Edmonton. “What I've seen of the city is quite beautiful—there’s a lot of natural beauty—and it's a vibrant town. The U of A itself is a very interesting and stimulating intellectual environment.”

Born and raised in Montreal, Costopoulos holds a BA (Hons) in anthropology from McGill, an MSc in anthropology from the Université de Montréal and a PhD in archeology from the University of Oulu, Finland. As a student, he was interested in the survival strategies of the homeless in Montreal, and did his master’s thesis on squatter settlements in open-air communities and abandoned buildings.

He began his career in 1999 as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Eastern Connecticut State University.

In 2001, he joined McGill as a research associate and sessional instructor in the Department of Anthropology and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 2003.

Costopoulos is active in the areas of evolution of social complexity, human adaptation to environmental change, quantitative and computational methods in archeology, agent-based simulation in anthropology, and prehistoric exchange networks. He has conducted fieldwork in Finland, in the James Bay area of northern Quebec and in southern Quebec.

He developed a firm commitment to student affairs early in his academic career and has held a series of progressively senior roles in this area, beginning as an academic adviser in his department, moving on to chairing the undergraduate committee in his department, sitting on the curriculum committee in the wider faculty, becoming associate dean for student affairs in the faculty, then ultimately becoming dean of students for the university.

"I've always seen problems and had ideas about how to fix them,” he says of his attraction to administrative roles. “I tend to speak up in committee meetings, and you know what happens—you propose a solution and suddenly you're in charge of it. That's how it starts.

"My father always said, ‘Choose your problems before they choose you.’ I've always known that as an academic, if I'm going to make a service contribution it was going to be in student affairs.”

In his time as dean of students, Costopoulos has been responsible for academic advising, mentoring, student rights, discipline, academic integrity and crisis response for more than 38,000 full-time and continuing education students.

"But I'd say I'm most proud of our Ask an Advisor and Early Alert programs at McGill,” he says. The former serves as a single point of entry for students seeking any kind of help; the latter allows instructors to use McGill’s course management system to flag students who may be having difficulty and may need support.

“The goal is really to address the confusing nature of the student affairs landscape at the university,” says Costopoulos. “If we as faculty can't even fully understand the landscape, we can't expect a student to make sense of it instinctively—we have to do some of the work for them. We have to make sure their needs are identified and we get them to the right resource the first time, and as soon as possible."

As for his vision for the U of A, he says he knows change doesn’t happen overnight at big institutions like this, so his first order of business will be getting the lay of the land.

"The first thing I need to do is listen and learn, get a sense of what's going on already, what's working, what could be working better—that's the main priority for me. As long as things are moving in the right direction at some reasonable rate, you’re doing your job.

“I benefited from the help and support of tremendous people when I was a student, so I know the value of that. I want to help students grow and move toward graduation, and then move out into the world and make a positive impact out there."