People in profile

People of SFU: Meet Tom Nault, SFU's registrar and executive director of student enrollment

November 26, 2021

Nobody ever wakes up as a kid and says, “I want to be a registrar when I grow up.”

A coworker once said this to Tom Nault, SFU’s new registrar. And he agrees.

Nault got into this line of work more or less by chance, after doing his undergraduate degree in biology and biochemistry.

“There’s no program you take to become a registrar,” he says. “When I finished school at McMaster University, I was working in Housing and Conference Services and I applied for a job called the system support administrator in the registrar's office. I had no real idea of what the job was, but it turned out the role was scheduling courses. That's where I started my journey.”

Nault’s journey took him from various post-secondary institutions in Ontario and to Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, and finally to SFU, where he took up his new post on July 5, 2021.

So, what does a registrar do? In short, the registrar’s office oversees the administration of the student lifecycle, from recruitment through to graduation. They manage admissions and make sure courses are scheduled and available for students to enroll in. The office also looks after student records and transcripts, confers degrees, administers financial aid and scholarships, oversees student accounts and plays a role in university governance as secretary to the senate (the body that governs the academic aspect of the university). This is done in conjunction with a dedicated team in the Registrar’s Office and with colleagues across the university.

Nault chose to make the move to SFU because, in addition to the many interesting academic programs here, the university takes pride in student engagement. SFU’s location in B.C. was also a draw for him, and he is finding the province a great place to live so far.

Plans for SFU and the evolving needs of students

One priority for Nault throughout his career in higher education has been supporting efforts related to Indigenization and reconciliation. At Memorial University, he supported increasing Indigenous representation on the Senate as recommended in the Strategic Indigenization Framework, among other initiatives.

“Memorial partnered with Nunavut Arctic College to have university level programs offered jointly in the territory. So, one of the initiatives we worked on was having the degree parchment be issued in both in English and Inuktitut. That way students would have a degree parchment in one of their official languages—a language the territory is trying to preserve and revitalize."

Another priority for Nault at SFU is supporting students’ mental health by ensuring that university policies accurately reflect the challenges of today’s students. By adjusting these policies, he hopes to make students’ lives easier, reduce stress and anxiety, and support students who are struggling.

He also recognizes that students come to university for various reasons and with different expectations.

“University is a time of discovery,” he says, “Students shouldn't feel like they have to come to university because their parents say so, or their friends are doing it. Some students struggle at university, not because they're not academically motivated or skilled, but because they’re not sure what they're doing here. Students are successful at university when they have a desire to learn. And once they find their calling, the academic work becomes much easier.”  

Ultimately, all of Nault’s priorities serve one purpose: making a positive impact on students.

“What I find most gratifying is working with a student through a really complex or challenging issue and seeing them overcome that and go on to graduate. I think that's a tremendous accomplishment.”

Millions of things happen behind the scenes to make sure courses are available for students and transcripts are produced. As staff in the registrar’s office like to say: if you don’t know the registrar exists, that means they’re doing a good job.

“The SFU Registrar’s Office has a really great group of staff who care deeply about students,” says Nault. “They really make sure that our services run efficiently and students get what they need. All the staff are extremely dedicated to supporting students and their success.”

The future of education

From Nault’s perspective, university is not a hurdle students must jump over to get to their dream jobs, but a formative and transformative life experience that opens doors and sets students on the paths they choose for themselves. He also notes that grades aren’t everything, and that students have lots of opportunities to learn and grow outside of the classroom as well.

“I was a good student, but not a great student,” he says. “However, I took advantage of all the other opportunities university offered. Making friends, doing volunteer work, being involved in student government, working in residence life to get the skills that really helped prepare me for the job market. I could not have had these experiences if I wasn't at a university.”

And, he adds, universities have an important role to play when it comes to equipping students to face a world full of more challenges—and possibilities—than ever before.

“We don't know where the world is going in five to 10 years, let alone 20 to 30,” he says. "It’s really about making sure students are equipped with critical thinking skills and giving them the tools they need to adapt as the world changes. And I think universities are well-suited to do that now and in the future.”