Bob Skillen: Thirty years of dreaming, building and transforming | UNB
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Spring/Summer 2021


Bob Skillen: Thirty years of dreaming, building and transforming

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | Spring/Summer 2021

On. Dec. 4, 2020, Bob Skillen (BPE’79, BEd’81, MEd’88) stepped down as vice-president (advancement) and retired from UNB after 30 years. Michelle McNeil (BBA’03, MBA’09), UNB’s Associated Alumni executive director, sat down with him to reflect on his time at UNB, share his thoughts on the role of university advancement, and tell us what’s next for him.

Tell me about your decision to retire?

In 1984, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau took a walk in the snow, during which time he made the decision not to run in the next federal election. My walk in the snow came last August when my wife, Gisele, and I were visiting with our children and grandchildren in Halifax. I had been searching for the right time to step down from my role at UNB and found it. It was as simple as that.

What are three things that you are most proud of during your time at UNB?

I will preface my answer by saying that I am a bit of a dreamer, and I like to create and build. I believe my greatest contributions during my time at UNB have come through building. Some might think that it was establishing the first vice-president (advancement) office, building a modern marketing office or launching the strategic partnerships office that gave me the greatest satisfaction but actually, my greatest satisfaction came from seeing my academic colleagues realize their dreams, whether they be chairs, centres or institutes, and to do so with support from our generous alumni and non-alumni donors. I also consider myself to be a bit of a provocateur, someone who is not afraid to challenge the status quo in search of a better way of doing things. I would like to think that my provocations have come from a good place and that UNB is better off because I did not let inertia deter me.

What do you think is UNB’s most important role in the province?

There is no institution in our society like a university. It is our mission to provide opportunities and to inspire hope for a brighter future. UNB is particularly important to New Brunswick because of our research intensity. We are effectively an engine of innovation for the province. Can you imagine a modern New Brunswick without UNB?

What are you going to miss most about your time in advancement and at UNB?

Spending time with bright minds and passionate people. This includes people on campus and amongst our alumni and donor constituency. I have been fortunate to meet so many interesting and accomplished people over the past 30 years.

Bob Skillen at UNBSJ 50th anniversary

As vice-president (advancement), you spent countless hours telling UNB’s story to alumni and friends, what is UNB’s story?

UNB’s mission is important. We are a university with heart and one that has a deep sense of responsibility to the people of New Brunswick and beyond. By our nature, we are innovative, and we aim to make a difference in our communities. We are a resourceful university, having grown and prospered over the past two centuries, against some pretty heavy odds. If it were not for the resourcefulness of our people, we would not have thrived, let alone survived.

You were the Associated Alumni’s executive director for 11 years. During that time, what have you learned about alumni of UNB?

UNB alumni are fiercely loyal, industrious and, for the most part, humble. Essentially, they imbue the characteristics of their alma mater.

Counting your three degrees, you’ve been connected to UNB for more than 45 years, what makes you ProudlyUNB?

UNB’s purpose and its ability to transform lives and communities.

What is one piece of advice that you can give to our more than 93,000 alumni about staying connected to their alma mater?

Staying connected to your alma mater makes for a richer life. You are part of the UNB story. In many ways, you are the stewards of the university, past, present and future. Take full advantage of your relationship with UNB and give back when you can in whatever way you can. Your lives are richer because the graduates and university builders before you did just that.

It’s no secret that UNB, and universities across Canada, rely on fundraising, why does fundraising matter to universities?

Universities would not be what they are today without the generosity of benefactors. Not only does the financial support from our benefactors fuel our universities with scholarships, state-of-the-art equipment, modern facilities, research chairs and more, but their belief in us and what we are doing to change the world, inspires us to reach higher. Those who invest in our university, become our greatest advocates.

What’s next for you?

My pen is poised, and I am ready to write my next chapter. I can’t wait to see how my story plays out. For sure, there will be lots more time for family and friends, and for experiencing the little but important things in life.