Aspiring superhero takes the helm in the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology
By Tessa Perkins Deneault
Alongside Carman Neustaedter’s official title in his email signature, there is a phrase that exemplifies his leadership style and work ethic: Aspiring Superhero. Neustaedter says that the inclusion of this aspirational title is a reminder that he should continue to push himself to be his best and help as many people as possible.
“One of things I have always tried to instill in my grad students is that everyone has a superpower — something they are really exceptionally good at or should be really proud of.”
Neustaedter joined SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) in 2010, achieved tenure in 2015, and has served as the school’s director since 2018.
Outside of his work at SFU, Neustaedter enjoys playing and coaching soccer. He’s certified to coach from U5 to U18, and he has coached 26 teams over the past nine years in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows area.
“I love to coach soccer as it lets me spend more time with my kids since I’m able to coach their teams, and it forces me to take time away from work. On the soccer pitch I can just focus on the game.”
In his new role as dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT), he hopes to hone his superpower of leadership to guide the faculty through the challenges of COVID-19 while focusing on key priorities.
At the top of his list is supporting FCAT’s schools and programs with faculty renewal and retention, curriculum review, budgeting and space concerns. Another priority is advancing equity, diversity and inclusion and working to decolonize and Indigenize the curriculum. Recruitment and retention of Indigenous faculty members is top of mind, along with ensuring Indigenous faculty staff are at the decision-making table.
Research priorities include supporting FCAT’s schools and programs in acquiring large grants, and in terms of teaching, Neustaedter says that the faculty should strive for excellence while considering the new constraints of remote teaching during COVID, including challenges with work-life balance for faculty members and increasing mental health struggles for students. Another opportunity he sees for the faculty is to continue developing strong relationships with external organizations and community partners, and to pilot new initiatives in this area.
“FCAT occupies all the campuses across SFU, and we are anchored in each of them in a deep way; we’re so connected to those communities. COVID has taught us that we can reach even more communities online; if we can build on that, I think it puts us in a really powerful place.”
Neustaedter completed his PhD in computer science at the University of Calgary studying human computer interaction and says he didn’t always feel like he fit in. He had a similar experience working as a research scientist at Kodak. SIAT had been in the back of his mind ever since finishing his PhD. He saw an opportunity to work alongside like-minded researchers with similar interests and conduct his own research in a supportive setting.
“What's so valuable about FCAT is it's so diverse, there are so many different viewpoints, and it's so interdisciplinary,” he says. “The real value is in all those different perspectives, and I look forward to hearing more of them.”
It wasn’t always Neustaedter’s plan to become an academic administrator, but after taking on more administrative roles, chairing committees, and serving as undergraduate chair and most recently director, he realized that he enjoyed the work and had something to offer. As dean of FCAT, he hopes to support all faculty and staff across FCAT’s five schools and programs and bring the Faculty together.
“I would always see challenges or problems emerging that I thought I would be good at helping to solve, and I've always been inclined to want to support other people. I've learned so much in my administrative roles so far; it's both the personal growth, and the ability to help others that has been so rewarding.”
Neustaedter sees the dean’s role as a strategic connector who can maintain strong relationships across the university and liaise between FCAT’s schools and programs and the university’s administration while aligning their priorities.
After a lengthy dean’s search that was extended due to COVID-19, Neustaedter is eager to begin his term and get to work.
“I've spent the last month and a half talking with people, figuring out what is on their priority list, and thinking about how all those pieces come together. I have a whole bunch of pieces of a big puzzle, and now I really want to start fitting them together.”