Caldwell, N.J., Oct. 21, 2020 –
Caldwell University’s new president, Dr. Matthew Whelan, never imagined he would be addressing the Class of 2020 graduates. After all, he was coming on board as Caldwell’s new president July 1, seven weeks after the May scheduled graduation. But then the pandemic hit, changing the world and higher education. The graduation scheduled in May for Caldwell students had to be postponed in the hopes that it would actually happen at a later date. Caldwell graduates did finally get their day in the sun, on Sept. 20, outside, socially distanced on the soccer field with three separate ceremonies and President Whelan was thrilled to be able to celebrate with this resilient group of graduates who are now new alumni.
“When out of the ordinary things like this happen,” he told the graduates, “I like to ask myself ‘what is this teaching me?’” As he detailed some of their accomplishments, he commended them for their hard work while juggling jobs, internships, and other responsibilities. “You were met with unprecedented challenges. Your world was upended. And still, you made it.” Quoting Nelson Mandela, Dr. Whelan said, “‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ You sit here today the very embodiment of that quote. You have taught me that when you carry the Caldwell University mission and the core values of respect, integrity, community, and excellence…nothing is impossible.”
The core values are something Dr. Whelan thinks about a lot these days as he leads the university through the significant pressures and threats COVID has wrought on universities nationwide. With this in mind, he told the students at the new student convocation late in the summer, “The world needs you now. It needs your individual and collective wisdom. It needs your energy. It needs your enthusiasm.” The Caldwell University family, he said, will give the students direction and help them remain on course. “We will do everything possible to help you get to your destination successfully.”
President Whelan enjoys walking the campus talking to students to hear about their plans and dreams and “to make sure we are living up to the promise of a Caldwell education.”
A priority of Dr. Whelan’s as a new president during these unprecedented times has been to lead the campus community of faculty, staff, and students in navigating forward successfully and safely. The university is providing various learning formats. Some students are on campus in socially distant classrooms while others are remote and still others have chosen to learn utilizing a combination of both.
CU Biology major Yaman Thapa and President Whelan outside the Jennings Library. A priority of Dr. Whelan’s, as a new president, has been to lead the campus community of faculty, staff and students in navigating forward successfully and safely during the pandemic.
Whelan, who grew up in Denville, New Jersey, is happiest when he is interacting with students. Caldwell took great steps to create new learning areas and opportunities where students, faculty, and staff, including Dr. Whelan, can gather in socially distant settings. The university has placed tents outside for classes and dining. The Student Center gym was renovated into a newly designed state-of-the-art learning space and lecture hall with desks spaced out to ensure socially distant learning opportunities. The pandemic has spurred innovation on campus; professors are teaching in unique ways; the chorale sings outside in masks and is planning to use technology for a remote performance; the Counseling Office is offering “walk and talk” therapy outside.
Dr. Whelan and other staff members and students have regularly taken to social media to tell everyone that they must do their part by wearing masks, remaining socially distant, and washing their hands. “Keep it up, we’ll beat this thing. We’ll get through this,” he recently said.
Caldwell University President Matthew Whelan spoke at Caldwell’s three commencement ceremonies on Sept. 20.
President Whelan is the university’s first male lay president and ninth president. Prior to joining Caldwell University, he served as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives prior to becoming the Vice President for University Enrollment Strategy and Relationship Development at Stony Brook University. He held key leadership roles in undergraduate and graduate admissions, financial aid, registrar, enrollment management, student services, fundraising, facilities, and strategic planning for several campuses. President Whelan has expansive experience leading administrative and faculty teams at Catholic and public higher education institutions including St. John’s University, Hofstra University, William Paterson University, and Mercyhurst College.
Dr. Whelan has held a number of positions on national higher education boards and associations, presented nationally and internationally on issues impacting higher education, coached a women’s soccer team to an NCAA Division II Final Four appearance, and taught graduate students in higher education administration. He holds a master’s degree from William Paterson University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Dowling College in Shirley, New York. Born and raised in Denville, New Jersey, in a family of eight children, Dr. Whelan attended St. Mary’s school and Morris Catholic High School in Denville and then Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Kathy have three daughters.