Hitting the right notes in higher learning and humanity
Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D. has been named St. Joseph’s College’s new president. He’ll officially take over in July.

Courtesy photo

Hitting the right notes in higher learning and humanity


Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D. looks like a good fit for St. Joseph’s College. He’ll step into his role as the college’s eighth president on July 1.

His background includes serving as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Scranton, in Scranton, Pa. Before that, he was dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts at Loyola University New Orleans and assistant vice president of academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland.

He also has music swirling in his blood; he’s a concert pianist and country fiddler as well as a noted historian of 18th-century opera. He was also a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Vienna, Austria.

SJC Board of Trustees chair Chris Drewes said the selection process started toward the end of last summer with a first step — interviewing search firms. They chose AGB Search, which focuses exclusively on higher education, and put together a search committee that included some board members, faculty, staff, students and alumni and had the kick-off meeting last September. “We got about 100 candidates, which, with help with from AGB, narrowed it down to 20,” Drewes said. “We selected that down to nine based on recommendations, application letters and credentials, then met with each one and narrowed down to four candidates.”

While Boomgaarden, 62, officially starts in July, “we’ll start the transition process earlier to introduce him to key players in faculty leadership,” Drewes said. “We’ll keep him busy this spring.” 

Boomgaarden follows Dr. Jack Calareso, who became president in July 2014. In May 2016, Calareso announced that the 2016-2017 academic year would be his last. He stayed at the college for three years, which was the initial agreement when he came on board, officials said. 

Dr. Boomgaarden talked to the Long Island Advance on Tuesday about his recent appointment.

Long Island Advance: When did you find out you were chosen?

Donald Boomgaarden: I was in my office in between teaching classes (at The University of Scranton) and got a phone call by the board chair last Monday. 

LIA:  How many times did you visit both campuses? What stood out?

DB: I’d already had the interview process with the search committee in the Manhattan office of one of the trustees and was at both campuses for one full day. I was able to see a lot. I had student guides and met with student groups and was so impressed with the quality of the campuses. The students were great. They were very open and friendly, very engaged, very articulate. Along with them I had chance to spend time with the faculty on both of the campuses and found them also to be engaged and excited and in support of the mission of the college.

LIA: What do you view as your biggest accomplishments at the other universities you served?

DB: I’ve been so lucky to work at a whole series of wonderful schools. I started out at Ithaca College and the Eastman School of Music and then at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. I loved teaching and doing my research and eventually becoming a full professor at St. Mary’s. Then as assistant provost there, we were able to create new degrees in global studies, writing and also a nursing articulation agreement with Johns Hopkins University while in Baltimore. Those were the most memorable accomplishments to me. At Loyola University New Orleans, where I became dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts, we raised a lot of money for the college and university and created professorships. (Loyola universities are Jesuit universities.)

LIA: What would you like to bring to St. Joseph’s? I know this has to go through the board, but you must have some ideas.

DB: One of the reasons I applied is that it’s a school in really good shape. They have a lot of really good programs and already have a lot of good ingredients to be successful. I think with my background, I’m always trying to promote visibility in the arts and creativity. I think that’s something I would want to work on. They also have a desire to raise the visibility of the college. So I think I need to be there for a while to see if there’s anything in particular. I’ll raise the visibility and work on fundraising and support the faculty with what they want to do.

They have a new MFA in creative writing in the Brooklyn campus and that’s quite a nice new program.

LIA: Any plans on where you’d like to live (Patchogue, Brooklyn, in between)?

DB: I’m married and my wife Paula has a lot to say about where I live. She’s open to living on Long Island or in Brooklyn, but for me, I need to be visible on both campuses. I have two stepdaughters and four grandchildren. I’m currently at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university. It’s the third one I’ve worked at.

LIA: You gave a nice nod to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who deserve recognition, in the college’s press release. Just elaborate a little.

DB: I’m Catholic and have a real deep love for the church and the university, whether it’s the Jesuit schools or a tradition like St. Joseph’s, and because I’ve been a music director, I’ve worked with churches and priests and nuns all my life and know how hard they work. That’s what’s so important, that connection. It’s also important for the students. They need a chance to see special people like the sisters to look up to, so I want them around as much as possible.

LIA:  As a music enthusiast, would you like to start some jam sessions with faculty? You could probably play the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts!

DB: I actually do jam with the faculty here (at University of Scranton). I play the fiddle with faculty who do Irish music and sometimes we play local pubs. I’d be open to that in New York. But I don’t know if I’d do any piano recitals because I know I’ll be busy.