Three decades ago, a young Dennis Proulx first visited Castleton University somewhat accidentally after joining his friend on a road trip to tour Clarkson University – an anecdote shared during Proulx’s visit to professor David Blow’s Media Writing course.
“On the way back from Clarkson, we happened to drive through this little place called Castleton, Vermont, and drove onto campus and I said ‘Hey, now this looks interesting,’” Proulx said with a chuckle. “I came back a few weeks later for a tour with my folks … They said, ‘Look around, make sure this is what you want, because this is who you will become.’”
Now Castleton’s dean of students, his parents’ words may have hit the nail on the head just a little too hard.
Originally from New Hampshire, Proulx oversees everything from Residence Life and Public Safety to food service and facilities – and, of course, dealing with students.
More recently, Proulx says most of his time is spent dealing with COVID-related issues – up to 80% – but he said, the work has been a highlight of his career.
Though Proulx admitted he never planned to be a dean of students fearing a disconnect between students and higher management, he always saw himself in higher education.
After completing his undergraduate at Castleton, Proulx remained for five years working admissions under mentor, Victoria Angis. Angis, who now works under Proulx as associate dean of students, says the switch in roles feels a little bit like stepping down from a family business and letting your son “take over the reins.”
And, she said, their relationship actually got off to a rocky start.
“When Dennis was a student, he applied for a job as building manager in the Campus Center. I did not hire him because he failed to show up for his interview,” Angis recalled. “It speaks to Dennis ’personality. He rebounded from my rejection and got a job he loved in the library. He did not let my rejection stand in the way of developing a positive relationship with me.”
While Castleton has always held a dear place in Proulx’s heart, there was a time when he felt Vermont may not have been the place for him. Following his time at Castleton, Proulx moved to Colorado where he pursed his master’s at a university with more than 25,000 students.
“I’m gay, and I needed to leave the area of Vermont because at the time, in my head, Vermont was not where I thought I could come out and in hindsight, it’s absolutely the opposite,” Proulx said. “But, you know, what goes on in one’s head when we’re trying to figure out those pieces of our life out, is sometimes only understood later in life.”
Proulx currently resides in Queensbury, New York with his husband, Michael, and their imaginary dog, Palmer – who, according to Proulx, may someday be real, but it just hasn’t been the right time. Though Proulx works full time as dean of students, on weekends he can be found scraping paint off the floors to help with Michael’s paint and sip business.
“[Sometimes] you just see the title of ‘Dean’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s just someone who is higher than a professor,’” said Media Writing student, Elizabeth LaLumiere, after the interview experience. “But learning about the jobs he went through and also his personal life with being gay in Vermont, his comments on that are very interesting and eye-opening – as someone who is LGBTQ.”