Dr. Boileau's Journey to Retirement

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Communicator

by Jenn Farmer

Dr. Boileau's Journey to Retirement
Dr. Don Boileau

In 1981, Don Boileau moved from Michigan to Virginia to be an adjunct for what was a small university at the time. Why did he choose Mason? Boileau says, “It seemed to be innovative and adapt to what life might be like in the future.” Don found the university to be a growing and creative place to work. Over the years he has watched Mason grow from a campus of mainly trees to now the largest state university in Virginia. With growth comes opportunity, and for Boileau, the opportunities working at George Mason have been “an experience of a life time.” 

Teaching has affected Professor Boileau in many ways. To quote his fellow colleague, Dr. Star Muir, “Teaching is for him a way of life and that’s what it is for me.” Boileau found himself moving from law school to teaching, this was not without warning from his father. He reminisces about his father making him well aware he wouldn’t make as much money working as a teacher. Yet, following his passions, Don chose to teach. Here he is, twenty-seven years later, having had “really wonderful experiences” as a successful professor. There are many stories Boileau can share with you about his life as a teacher, all full of vivid imagery, detail, and inspiration. One of those stories is from the time he was a coach for the U.S. Debate Team. While coaching at a debate in Russia, the rest of the world was learning about Chernobyl, yet he didn’t find out about it until leaving Russia. The Russian government controlled the media from releasing any information about the Chernobyl incident, therefore, Boileau and the rest of the debate team were unaware of what was happening right outside of Russia’s borders. 

In addition to coaching for the U.S. Debate Team, Boileau has been involved with many university organizations as a teacher. These positions include, President of the Faculty Senate, teaching an array of courses at Mason, and also a teacher of Communications night classes at high schools and hospitals.. There is an incident he recalls of one interesting night class at the Fairfax Hospital. While listening to one nursing student give her speech on needles, he passed out. Although it was scary to him then, now he laughs about it and says, “She got an A for that speech.” 

As he reflects on his stories of his teaching career, his favorite class is intercultural communication. It would make sense that this would be his favorite class as he was involved in the development of this course. In 1974, Don attended the first conference on how to develop and teach a course on intercultural communication. “Being here [Mason] is so rewarding because of the students, they help you think differently. It is exciting to see and learn the different cultures.” Professor Boileau’s passion for cultural awareness shines through when he is teaching this course. He is guaranteed to share his countless stories of the time he has spent in other countries around the world. 

Along with changes to the university, he has noticed changes in the education system as well. From Boileau’s perspective students are better than ever. Students are more selective and knowledgeable in what they want to learn. He also notes that “Mason is really a global player” in diversity with the student body growing culturally. 

As his years of teaching come to an end, Dr. Boileau finds the freedom to tell his students the important things in life. He will cover course material, be he also makes time to share personal stories and advice for the students. 

He is also enjoying looking at the transition into a different stage in life. He defines his life as a “teaching life” which is what has been the most important aspect of his life. He is learning how he will transition from teaching in a formal setting to retiring and finding a way to teach in a less formal setting, such as community service. For Dr. Boileau, “part of the excitement is not knowing what I will do.” 

As other professors have said, grading student papers is the number one thing he will miss the least as a professor. The community of George Mason on the other hand is what he will miss the most as he retires. Fortunately, there has been a new group created at Mason, the Retired Faculty Association, which exists solely for retired faculty, that Don plans to stay connected and involved with. 

From taking the time to meet with students outside of class to spending time doing community work, such a busy man is difficult to schedule a meeting with. Dr. Boileau is actively involved in the community. He can be found working on projects including, picking up bread from bakeries to give to homeless shelters to volunteering at the Herndon homeless shelter. There he helps assist the seniors stuff bears for children that he and his wife will take to local hospitals. 

With such a big heart, community service is where Dr. Boileau sees himself heading as he retires. However, he won’t be leaving communication totally, “I want to do work with NOVA Park Authority with their communication strategies,” says Boileau. He wants to be a part of the NOVA Parks and Recreation Communication as well as several writing projects of his own. Not to mention more time with his grandchildren, Dr. Boileau is sure to stay just as busy when he retires.