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Is This Guy for Real?

No question, say those who know go-getter Christopher Tremblay

Sometimes highly motivated people get a bad rap. Sure, their qualities are enviable —hard-working, goal-oriented, multi-tasking, business-minded, and other such hyphenated power adjectives — but we mortals usually accept these driven types with caveats: That person gets a lot done, but at the detriment of family. Or she’s goal-oriented, but not creative. Or he’s hard-working, but he doesn’t know when to stop. It’s natural to envy them, but we want to know that they have the same human frailties as others.

So when I was told about Christopher Tremblay, the new associate provost for enrollment management at Western Michigan University, and his ability to take on the head role overseeing WMU’s Office of Admissions, Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, the Registrar’s Office and First-Year Experience programs, as well as be a writer, cyclist, singer and active member of the local community, I thought I had him pegged: “Totally Type A,” I said to myself. “No question.”

I reached out to Tremblay to set up an interview, and he returned my email himself that day. Maybe you have to be in academia to know that it isn’t common for an administrator to return his or her own emails, so his personal and prompt response was a surprise.

Then he was on time for our meeting. His answers weren’t rehearsed. He asked me questions about myself. Sure, he came uber-prepared in a way any Type B person would never do — contacts ready to go for follow-up interviews, a business card in hand, a leather-bound writing pad tucked under his arm — but he was also willing to talk about whatever came up, to just be in the moment. I knew then that Tremblay could actually be that rare example of a well-rounded, ambitious higher-up. And it was my journalistic duty to find out if he was the real thing.

Tremblay, 41, not only works a million jobs at WMU (not an actual count), but also participates in an LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) mentoring program on campus, spends much of his free time participating in cycling events like Pedal Across Lower Michigan, sings in the St. Thomas More Catholic Student Parish choir, commutes to Dearborn because he is still finishing his doctorate at the University of Michigan, frequents arts and cultural events in Kalamazoo, has co-written eight murder-mystery plays with partner Amy Farrell, has written one-act plays and musicals, is co-founder of StageLab24, a page-to-stage-in-24-hours theater event in Dearborn (he also co-founded TLC Productions, a theater in Canton), is launching an online academic journal called The Journal of College Access to debut this year, and serves on the board of Stamats Inc., a higher-education marketing firm.

I’m tired just writing that.

To top it off, Tremblay has only been back in Kalamazoo since March. A WMU graduate who worked for the university’s Office of Admissions after graduation, he left Kalamazoo 10 years ago to pursue a career in enrollment management, first working as director of admissions at Gannon University and then working in four different roles at the University of Michigan, Dearborn (most recently as assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management). Along the way, he earned a post-graduate certificate in enrollment management from Capella University, and he is nearing completion of a doctorate in educational leadership at U-M. Although he’s been away for a while, his return to Kalamazoo has been a long time coming.

“I always loved Kalamazoo,” says Tremblay, who moved here from St. Clair Shores as a high school student and graduated from Portage Northern High School in 1990. “I didn’t want to leave. It’s the town I’ve spent the most time in. I love the size of it and the arts and culture.”

When Tremblay started as a student at WMU, he didn’t think he was headed down the road to administration — in fact, Tremblay’s dream at the time was to work for the Walt Disney Co. Turns out, he was able to fulfill that dream while in college, through the Disney College Program, which mentors students by integrating them into the Disney corporation for hands-on experience in business, hospitality, arts and management.

“It was a dream come true. I got to fulfill the Disney dream of working for Mickey Mouse,” Tremblay says. “Afterward, I got the higher-education bug.”

Tremblay became an orientation student leader at WMU and was so good at what he did that the university offered him a position in admissions before he had graduated from the School of Communication. He traveled around the state visiting high schools to recruit new students, staying at WMU for nine years as a counselor, assistant director of admissions and orientation coordinator. He never got over that “higher-education bug,” it seems.

“I absolutely love working on a college campus,” he says. “I love that it’s a community, and it’s rewarding to watch students grow and develop. I went to college right out of high school, and I’ve never left. I feel like I get to be a student every day.”

It seems that Tremblay’s motivation, energy and enthusiasm for the college experience make him the perfect candidate for student-relations areas such as enrollment, first-year experience, retention, and mentoring — all of the capacities he works in at WMU. His mentor and former colleague Stanley Henderson, vice chancellor for enrollment management and student life at the University of Michigan, says that Tremblay’s strengths are perfect for recruitment too.

Henderson worked with Tremblay not only at U-M but also at WMU, and he says the thing that makes Tremblay extraordinary when working with potential college students is that he has the ability to be creative and approachable.

“It was obvious, even when he was a student, that he was a remarkable individual,” Henderson says. “He had the uncanny ability to combine amazing attention to detail with remarkable creativity, and that’s something you don’t often find in the same person.”

Although he misses having Tremblay at U-M, Henderson knows that Tremblay’s new position is the perfect fit and that WMU is lucky to have him back.

“I’ve suggested that he keep his recruitment west of the Kalamazoo River,” Henderson jokes. “That may be my biased opinion as his mentor, but I know how good he is.”

Part of Tremblay’s multi-tasking prowess comes from his ability to evolve and stay fluid. He’s a writer when he crafts his plays, a cyclist when training for a cross-state journey, an encouraging force when he’s mentoring students, and a committed friend in his relationships. He has a chameleon-like ability to handle whatever task he’s involved in at the moment.

That ability to evolve comes from his earnest ambition and creativity, says former WMU vice president of business and finance Lowell Rinker, another of Tremblay’s former colleagues.

“Chris is very bright and energetic,” Rinker says. “I’ve never met anyone like him – he’s got a dozen plates in the air, spinning at the same time, and he never lets any of them hit the floor.”

Is it really possible that Tremblay is in control like that all the time? That he’s as good a friend as he is an associate provost, a cyclist or a writer? Yes, says Rinker. And more.

“What you see is what you get with Chris,” Rinker says. “He’s enthusiastic all the time — whether in a casual or professional setting. He’s full-up energy, he’s really into detail, and there’s nothing he does that he doesn’t have a thorough mastery of. And that’s really hard to do as a high-level administrator.”

Rinker has known Tremblay for more than 20 years — since Tremblay was a WMU student. They used to journey together during the annual music-ministry trek from St. Thomas More Parish to upstate New York. Rinker says he’s had a lot of time to get to know Tremblay — he’s participated in one of Tremblay’s murder-mystery dinners, worked with him, spent free time with him and supported him as a friend. The most amazing thing about Tremblay, surprisingly, isn’t his ability to do a lot of things well, Rinker says.

“Chris is one of those people who is constantly looking for things to be joyful about,” he says. “He loves to have fun, and he is fun to be around.”

So Tremblay’s not just good but excellent at his job, say two people who have known him for more than two decades (he’s not bad at maintaining close relationships either, apparently), he carries his energetic, go-getting attitude into every facet of his life, and he’s a joyful person to be around. Is Tremblay just super-human?

“I think he doesn’t sleep,” jokes Sister Dorothy Ederer, a former campus minister at WMU and a close friend of Tremblay (“like a second mother to me,” Tremblay says). “He’s constantly thinking about new ideas, and he’s very high-energy, very positive and very giving. He would do anything for anybody. You can always count on him.”

This is coming from a nun, and nuns can’t lie, right?

“This is the truth,” Ederer says. “I am not bloating up his ego. I cannot say enough good things about this man.”

But Ederer understands where the disbelief comes from. She admits that sometimes she hardly believes Tremblay can do all the things he does with the energy and commitment he devotes to them.

“Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder if he’s really for real,” she says. “I’ve never met anyone who comes close to this guy, but anyone who knows him would ditto everything I’ve said. It wears me out just thinking of all the things he does.”

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Christopher Tremblay can’t stand still

Tremblay, 41, not only works a million jobs at WMU (not an actual count), but also participates in an LGBT mentoring program on campus, spends much of his free time participating in cycling events like Pedal Across Lower Michigan, sings in the St. Thomas More Catholic Student Parish choir, commutes to Dearborn because he is still finishing his doctorate at the University of Michigan, frequents arts and cultural events in Kalamazoo, has co-written eight murder-mystery plays with partner Amy Farrell, has written one-act plays and musicals, is co-founder of StageLab24, a page-to-stage-in-24-hours theater event in Dearborn (he also co-founded TLC Productions, a theater in Canton), is launching an online academic journal called The Journal of College Access to debut this year, and serves on the board of Stamats Inc., a higher-education marketing firm.

I’m tired just writing that.