Dr. Geoff Payne, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Northern British Columbia

Dr. Geoff Payne, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia, stands as a beacon of inspiration in the world of education and research. His journey, rich with academic achievements, reflects a passion for knowledge and a commitment to excellence that resonates with both students and academicians alike.

Dr. Payne’s academic voyage began at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He earned not one but three degrees, culminating in a Ph.D. in Cardiovascular and Renal Medicine. This academic foundation became the stepping stone to his illustrious career.

His thirst for learning didn’t stop with his PhD. Dr. Payne embarked on a transformative post-doctoral Fellowship at the prestigious John B. Pierce Laboratory, Yale University. There, he delved deep into the intricate world of microcirculation, setting the stage for a career defined by groundbreaking research.

Dr. Payne took on a new challenge in 2004 when he became a founding faculty member at the University of British Columbia’s Northern Medical Program, delivered in partnership with UNBC.  His goal was to guide and support aspiring medical professionals and help shape their future. His passion for teaching physiology was not just a job but a testament to his commitment to developing the next generation of scholars and practitioners.

Dr. Payne’s journey at the University of Northern British Columbia demonstrates his exceptional leadership skills and unwavering commitment to the institution’s growth. He wore many hats, including the role of Assistant Dean for Education and Research from 2009 to 2015, and played a pivotal role in founding the UNBC Health Research Institute.

In September 2015, Dr. Payne’s journey took another exciting turn as he assumed the role of Interim Vice-President of Research at UNBC. His dedication and excellence in this role were undeniable, leading to his official appointment as Vice-President of Research in March 2018. In February 2020, the UNBC Board of Governors entrusted him with the crucial responsibility of Interim President, a position he held until August 31, 2022. Today, he stands as the President and Vice-Chancellor of UNBC, steering the institution towards greater heights, much to the benefit of students and scholars alike.

However, Dr. Payne’s journey extends far beyond the confines of boardrooms and lecture halls. He remains an active contributor to the world of biomedical research, with a primary focus on vascular physiology and inflammation. His extensive body of work, comprising over 40 publications, is a testament to his enduring passion for pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

Motivated by Vision

What motivates someone to become a founding faculty member of a pioneering institution like the Northern Medical Program at UNBC? For Dr. Payne, it was the opportunity to shape something extraordinary right from the start. He says, “The prospect of being part of a new program, standing at the very beginning of something exciting, and seeing it not only meet but exceed its own expectations years later – that was the attraction. UNBC, as a developing university, was equally appealing.” The initial excitement planted the seeds of a remarkable career that would eventually lead him to the top of UNBC.

As the President and Vice-Chancellor of UNBC, Dr. Payne has a diverse range of responsibilities. He describes his role as providing leadership and guidance to the University as a whole, ensuring that it not only meets but excels in fulfilling its mission and mandate within the academic community and beyond. Dr. Payne leads an exceptional team and offers unwavering support to the University community. He often says that his role is to work with and for the University community.

Dr. Payne’s transformation from a faculty member to a university leader has significantly impacted his vision for UNBC. In his view, “UNBC holds the responsibility of providing exceptional academic programs and research opportunities that lead to globally impactful ‘scholarships’ for communities ranging from northern British Columbia to distant parts of the world. Our goal is to ensure that local solutions have worldwide relevance.” He believes that his experience as a faculty member has given him a unique perspective, making him a more effective leader and President.

Under Dr. Payne’s stewardship, UNBC has notched several remarkable achievements. He remarks, “For me, the standout moment is the new Strategic Plan. It represents the most audacious step UNBC has taken in over two decades, featuring a fresh vision and mission deeply rooted in our identity but stretching toward ‘Leading for a sustainable future.'”

Forging a Path of Distinction in Higher Education

Dr. Payne is highly enthusiastic when discussing what makes UNBC unique. He explains that while UNBC is celebrated for many reasons, its deep connection to the community is what lies at the heart of it all. The journey of UNBC to university status was marked by a profound bond with the community it serves, and this bond remains an enduring cornerstone of its identity.

UNBC’s strengths are multifaceted, spanning robust natural and environmental sciences, along with deep-rooted relationships with First Nation and Indigenous communities. The university proudly boasts thriving health-related programs and a dynamic Arts and Humanities department. Dr. Payne succinctly captures it, saying, “We are a University of the North and for the North, yet our impact resonates far beyond. Our academic programs and partnerships have a global footprint.”

Dr. Payne’s vision for UNBC centers on nurturing innovation and fostering a culture of research excellence. He emphasizes the significance of offering students early opportunities to engage in research. “Innovation is not just an outcome; it’s a way of thinking,” he observes. UNBC’s approach is to align academic programs closely with research questions, birthing new dimensions of scholarship.

Moreover, UNBC thrives on collaboration and partnership. Dr. Payne elucidates, “We acknowledge our strengths, but it’s through partnerships that we achieve what we couldn’t individually. This ecosystem incubates innovative ideas, outcomes, and a broader perspective.” By embracing diverse viewpoints and nurturing curiosity, UNBC cultivates a culture of innovation.

The ever-evolving landscape of higher education poses a challenge for universities. Dr. Payne sheds light on UNBC’s approach to this challenge, stating, “We continually evolve to meet the aspirations of 21st-century university students while aligning with the needs of society and the community. In a world grappling with global challenges like the climate crisis, higher education must adapt. UNBC’s resilience and adaptability are integral to our success. We continue to grow and evolve, ensuring our programs and initiatives are attuned to the ever-changing world.”

Where Research, Leadership, and Endurance Converge

In the realm of academia, Dr. Payne’s journey is a captivating fusion of research excellence, astute leadership, and unwavering endurance. His academic roots in cardiovascular and renal physiology have undeniably shaped his approach to leadership. He elaborates, “Research, with its inherent practice of posing questions and providing various perspectives to examine those questions, has had a profoundly positive impact on my approach to leadership. The academic landscape is intricate, and the capacity to tactically approach challenges with a mindset geared towards solutions is a direct outcome of my research background.” This unique blend of curiosity, analytical thinking, and a relentless pursuit of solutions has become a defining characteristic of his leadership odyssey.

Even in the high-stakes world of academic leadership, Dr. Payne maintains a deep connection to his research origins. At his core, he remains a vascular biologist and physiologist. Presently, he collaborates with a dedicated team focused on heart valve replacement, applying foundational knowledge to guide clinical research outcomes. It’s a journey that traverses from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside, showcasing the tangible impact of his work.

On the flip side, Dr. Payne’s involvement in ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons is a testament to his remarkable ability to balance the demands of a high-profile professional role with his pursuits. He shares his approach, stating, “Effective time management is key, and early mornings and weekends are my trusted allies. I firmly believe that exercise serves as a potent counterbalance to being an effective leader. It has played a pivotal role in my success.”

The experiences garnered through endurance sports have indelibly imprinted Dr. Payne’s leadership style. He acknowledges, “Endurance sports have their moments of adversity, much like the challenges faced in leadership. The ability to adapt, to navigate problems, and maintain a solution-oriented mindset, integral to endurance sports, closely mirrors the mindset required in my role as a university president.” This profound connection between physical endurance and leadership endurance has significantly influenced his approach to addressing challenges and solving complex problems.

Paving the Path to Success

Dr. Payne’s primary mission is to ensure that UNBC maintains its position as a trailblazer in the academic world. His dedication is unwavering when it comes to empowering students to fulfill their dreams. He passionately states, “Our students are not just prepared for their next adventure; they are set up for success in any direction they choose to journey. Our programs are at the vanguard of their respective fields, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in their chosen paths.”

This vision ensures that UNBC graduates emerge as the next generation of thought leaders and change-makers, carrying the university’s legacy forward. Dr. Payne envisions UNBC as the bedrock upon which their success is built.

UNBC’s growth and impact transcend the present and stretch far into the future. Dr. Payne observes, “We are constructing a university not merely for today but for the next 50 years. UNBC possesses an inherent forward-looking spirit, ceaselessly striving for excellence and relevance in an ever-evolving world.”

The university’s strategic growth will be meticulously planned and executed, always rooted in its community. “We must never lose sight of our origins and the community we serve. These roots provide us with the strength to expand and evolve while preserving our fundamental values,” Dr. Payne underscores.

The influence of UNBC reaches far and wide, driving transformative change. Dr. Payne envisions a university where research and education transcend the realm of theory and become powerful engines of positive change in society. He emphasizes, “Our research should leave an indelible mark, improve lives, and enhance our communities. Through our alumni, who ascend to the ranks of thought leaders and change agents, UNBC should be celebrated as the bedrock of their success.”

In a nutshell, Dr. Payne’s vision for UNBC is not just about the present; it’s about paving a path to a brighter future for students, the community, and society at large.

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