Brother Robert Smith is the new vice president for the Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs (SGPP) at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. In his new role, which began this month, Brother Robert will lead the university’s SGPP, which has locations in Minneapolis, Winona, Apple Valley, Minnetonka, Oakdale, Rochester, Nairobi, Kenya, Jamaica and numerous other locations throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Brother Robert, a Saint Paul native and 1976 graduate of Saint Mary’s, has held many roles at Saint Mary’s Winona campus. He also served as dean of Christ the Teacher Institute for Education at the Saint Mary’s campus in Nairobi, Kenya. Most recently, Brother Robert served as vice president for academic affairs at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Palestine.
We recently asked Brother Robert some questions about himself, his career, and his new job.
1) Saint Mary’s is celebrating its 30th year in the Twin Cities. What was your life like 30 years ago?
Thirty years ago my life was, relatively speaking, “bliss.” I was just beginning my doctoral studies in Christian Ethics/Moral Theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and it was the start of some of the best four years of my life. Lots of reading and writing, tons of papers and research, vigorous in-class discussions and arguments…it was fantastic! I had some excellent teachers and made lifelong friends.
2) You have been with Saint Mary’s for most of your career. What is it about the University that has kept you here?
I have spent almost all of my professional and academic life associated with Saint Mary’s or Saint Mary’s Press, the Christian Brothers’ publishing house located in Winona. I worked five years at the Press as an editor and theological consultant, and at the same time I taught part-time at the (then) College. That’s when I decided to get my doctorate in moral theology, after which all my life has been, one way or another, associated with SMU. It was during my time at SMU that I also had the opportunity to live and work on our campus in Nairobi, Kenya. And six years ago I was asked to serve as academic vice president at Bethlehem University, our Lasallian university in Palestine. I love SMU and its mission. As a Brother, I feel a particular bond to it, and it has given me so many opportunities to be of service, to live my vocation as a De La Salle Christian Brother, as a theologian, and as a teacher. It has been a grace and gift to me to serve so many students, in so many ways, and in fact on three continents!
3) What, in your opinion, is the most interesting cultural difference between Minnesota and Palestine?
Ah! There are many more similarities between Minnesota and Palestine than differences! Of course, Arabic is very different than our (as my friends say) Minnesooooota English! The foods are different, and Arabic/Palestinian food is delicious! Perhaps the major cultural difference is found in the political context, one in which Palestine has been an occupied land for decades, something I think we in Minnesota have very little knowledge about or sense of.
4) What are you most looking forward to about living in the Twin Cities?
That’s easy. Personally, this is the first time in upwards of 30 years that I have lived in the same city as my family and many relatives. My mother, approaching 90 and with some health challenges, is the happiest person in the world to know I am just a 10 to 20 minute ride away (JUST a little closer than Bethlehem!). On a professional note, I am honored and excited to be part of the many and various programs we have on the Minneapolis campus, the diversity of our student body and faculty, and the opportunity we have to serve so many adult learners.
Br. Robert Smith, was interviewed on WCCO radio (AM 830)
Last week, Brother Robert Smith spoke with host Roshini Rajkumar about the rising prevalence of nontraditional students in the United States, and how the graduate programs at Saint Mary’s are tailored to adult learners.
Click here to listen to the full segment.