Meet the man from Deep River
BY EMMA BRIMFIELD-WALSH
Nobody grows up wanting to be a Director of Alumni Relations. Not even James Allan.
Born and raised in Canada, James started his career as a lecturer before deciding to change direction.
“I was teaching and enjoying it, but a lot of the work I was doing was pretty lonely,” he says. “The nice part about alumni relations is that I get to meet people and support higher education without having to grade all the undergraduate essays.”
He looks forward to meeting as many Melbourne alumni as possible.
Allan is a strong advocate for the value of a university education. His parents were among the first generation of their families to attend university and their lives were very different because of it. “My dad graduated with a PhD and went on to some significant roles in the nuclear industry and my mum studied physical education and ran community programs for the whole town on health and fitness.”
The town he’s talking about is Deep River, a remote scientific community in the Ottawa Valley. It was the first planned community built by the Canadian government in 1945 to accommodate employees of the nearby Chalk River Nuclear Research Laboratories.
“It was a weird little place to grow up,” Allan says. “It’s a suburb without the ‘urb’. There’s winding cul-de-sacs, forests and rivers but there’s no city – just nuclear reactors.” With a population of 4000, Deep River may have been small, but it was far from parochial: it had the highest number of PhDs per capita in Canada for many years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Allan went on to graduate with a PhD, but not in science – in communications and media studies. He led the alumni relations program at York University, Toronto, for eight years before becoming Director of Alumni Relations at Melbourne.
He was attracted by Melbourne’s constant willingness to explore new ideas, like the recently announced For Thought partnership between the University, Sydney Opera House and the Wheeler Centre. The partnership promises to deliver a series of scintillating events for alumni and the wider community.
“For Thought is a three-hour deep-dive into a topic that puts phenomenal thinkers from around the world in conversation with the best and brightest from the University,” Allan says.
At the inaugural event in June, thinkers included academic “rock star” and world-renowned cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and astrobiologist Paul Davies.
But Allan says the best is yet to come. “June marked the beginning of a three-year program, and the calibre of speakers they’re considering is extraordinary. I encourage our alumni to pay close attention to Alumni eNews for further updates.”