Jean-François Champagne

Interim Vice-rector, human and organizational development, UQAM | Université du Québec à Montréal

From college dropout to Vice-Rector

By Julia Gilmore

Jean-François Champagne took a somewhat unorthodox path to his position as a Vice-Rector at Université du Québec à Montréal | Accueil, and now, having been diagnosed with ALS, is setting up a scholarship to encourage other students from unconventional backgrounds to succeed in higher education.

This article was published by QS, to read the original interview please click here

“If I start at the beginning, you need to know that I’m a dropout.”

At the age of 17, Jean-François Champagne made a pivotal decision to opt out of school in Quebec, feeling uncertain about his future path. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… I wasn’t really set on whatever was my talent.”

This marked the beginning of a new journey for him, but not the end of his education.

Initially finding employment in building maintenance, Jean-François quickly demonstrated his aptitude for leadership, earning promotions at a remarkably young age. “I became a manager at 19… I don’t think I even knew what management meant.”

Despite such early success, after 16 years in the industry Jean-François became driven by a desire to broaden his opportunities, recognising the importance of higher education and returned to university while balancing work and family commitments.

His dedication paid off as he secured increasingly more prominent roles, including executive positions. Yet with each achievement, Jean-François found himself reassessing his career trajectory. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do what I was doing until my retirement”. This introspection led him to pursue additional qualifications in organisational and change management, further enriching his skill set. And, with every qualification, he gained more responsibility and seniority, and more optimism for where his future might take him.

In continuing to embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth, Jean-François eventually found himself back at the institution where his higher education journey began—the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Soon after, he embarked on his IMPM journey, adding an international management education to an already impressive CV.

But Jean-François’ unfailing work ethic and optimism was tested by an unexpected adversity. Following the second module in Montreal in the autumn of 2022, Jean-François began experiencing troubling symptoms. “I noticed my left hand shaking, and simple tasks like eating became increasingly difficult,” he recounts, reflecting on the initial signs of what eventually lead him to be diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. The diagnosis was given to him on the day he left to explore the Worldly mindset of the IMPM in Bangalore, India.

“It was a moment of profound uncertainty,” he admits, torn between his professional ambitions and the daunting reality of his diagnosis.

It was on the plane to Bangalore where he created a list titled highlighted all the aspects of life he wanted to take full advantage of going forward, and symbolises the determined attitude he’s maintained ever since.

Throughout the Worldly mindset held at IIM Bangalore, Jean-François remained fully engaged, his teachers and peers unaware of the personal turmoil he was enduring. “I didn’t want my diagnosis to define me,” he explains, reflecting on his determination to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst extraordinary circumstances.

Yet, as the module drew to a close, Jean-François found himself compelled to confide in his peers about his diagnosis, recognising the need for support and understanding. “I am a specialist in change management… it’s important for any organisation, or individual, to understand that there are somethings you just don’t have control over.”

Despite his treatment preventing him from attending the next module in Japan, a creative solution was found, enlisting the help of his peers to feedback the lessons learned, and putting to practice the ethos of the Collaborative mindset held at Yokohama National University.

Back in Montreal Jean-François’ colleagues approached him with a heartfelt proposal: establishing a bursary fund in his honour, showcasing his journey, to support individuals who, like him, are led to pursue higher education through unconventional routes. The only requirement for recipients is for them to give back in any way they can. Jean-François is currently spearheading efforts to raise CAD $50,000, ensuring the sustainability of the grant indefinitely. This remains a goal for him today.

Reflecting on his journey, Jean-François’ resilience and determination is inspiring. “ALS may have altered the course of my life, but it has not extinguished my spirit,” embodying the core values of the IMPM and demonstrating that amidst adversity, the pursuit of knowledge, lifelong and life-wide learning, endures.

If you would like to support Jean-François’ fundraising for higher education accessibility and community involvement, you can do so by donating on the University of Quebec in Montreal Foundation website :

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