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Knight News Roundtable: Powwow with the Provost

Four journalists and a neuropsychologist sat around The Knight News office — on a day when the campus was closed — discussing everything from pleasure and pain, to academic growth, personal histories, ambitions and innovation.

James Stellar is a neuropsychologist, professor of psychology and as of 2009, the provost of Queens College. Most likely, you don’t know what a provost is. When Dr. Stellar walked into our office that day, we couldn’t really articulate it either. What we can confirm now though, is that he is also the vice president of academic affairs.

Charming, intelligent and kind, Stellar idealizes the administrators of QC. His role as provost includes curriculum planning, hiring professors and awarding promotions, where he believes “intellectual joy” lies for him.

Citing QC as a people’s operation due to 70 percent of the budget being allocated to its staff, Stellar believes the college is currently operating at its best. He also believes that higher education serves to inspire students and help them grow in whatever field they choose to pursue.

“I love my job,” Stellar said. “It gets me in touch with everything I care about.”

In the current job climate, he does not believe that the odds of finding one — especially for lawyers — are any lower.

“People who are passionate, smart — have trained their brains to think — can do anything,” Stellar said. “You have to be inspired by whatever it is you are doing and that shouldn’t give you a hard time in the job market.”

He believes the college should work toward knocking down any barriers students find that divert them from their goals and aspirations. For him, the best way to do that is by interacting with students.

Stellar did so by living in The Summit for two years and took part in Pizza with the Provost, where his office ordered pizza and students set the agenda and voiced their concerns.

“Interaction with students is just so important. During one of these pizza lunches, a student complained about not being able to leave the college through the Reeves Avenue exit of the campus, and due to her complaint, we were able to take the issue to the president’s office and now there is a full time guard at that gate,” Stellar said.

Formerly a dean at Northeastern University’s College of Arts and Sciences, when he was in college, Stellar started off as a pre-med student. Upon discovering his love for psychology and the brain, he decided to change his planned course as a skilled worker to that of an academic and he hasn’t regretted it since. He currently teaches one course every spring entitled “Pleasure and Pain,” which uses social media and invites guest speakers to the class. What stands out about his course is that he allows students to tweet throughout its duration while he is on his iPad tweeting for the majority of the time as well.

Currently, his goals as provost include doubling the amount of pre-law and pre-med majors in the college. He would also like the faculty to produce more scholarships and more departments to encourage students to pursue internships.”

“That’s where neuropsychology and lab work started for me – through an internship that my professor suggested I find,” Stellar said.

When asked what keeps him inspired and motivated, he cited conversations with his peers and the energy of students. For him, a lasting goal, without a time constraint, is increasing communication.

“I love it here. Academics here are on a more human scale and I’m going to stay as long as I’m having fun. Right now, I’m having a blast,” Stellar said.

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