Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., is a certified yoga instructor, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and occasionally cruises to work on a BMW motorcycle with heated handlebar grips.
What’s more, SJC students and young alumni may get a kick out of knowing that Dr. Boomgaarden’s iPod has a hip-hop playlist that features the likes of Jay Z, Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj.
“I have been fortunate enough throughout my career that I’ve been able to make a living doing something I love, while also pursuing and enjoying other passions outside of work,” said Dr. Boomgaarden, who officially becomes St. Joseph’s eighth president on July 1, succeeding Jack P. Calareso, Ph.D. “We’re here for a brief time, so why not do something that energizes us – that excites us?”
The entire time I’m president at St. Joseph’s, I will be learning. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I want to be sure that I always represent that lifestyle to our students and the whole community.”
His eclectic interests aside, Dr. Boomgaarden, 62, stressed what he most wants St. Joseph’s stakeholders to know about him. “The entire time I’m president at St. Joseph’s, I will be learning,” said Dr. Boomgaarden, a country fiddler and lifelong string player who still receives private violin lessons. “I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I want to be sure that I always represent that lifestyle to our students and the whole community.”
Bringing the Lesson of St. Ignatius
Where the Royal Way intersects the Commons at the University of Scranton sits a large statue of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. The piece depicts his spiritual conversion from injured soldier to a life dedicated to God. The massive figure of St. Ignatius surrendering his sword is Dr. Boomgaarden’s favorite statue at Scranton, where Boomgaarden, the university’s former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, taught three music classes this spring.
“This is St. Ignatius being transformed from a soldier into a saint,” Dr. Boomgaarden said, looking up at the hulking portrayal. “He changed his whole life and founded an order that changed the world. A serious war injury caused him to rethink his life, and then something magnificent developed.”
Dr. Boomgaarden said the statue “is a metaphor for all young people to realize that whatever they are suffering from, they can be transformed into something really magnificent.”
It’s a lesson he intends to bring up frequently at St. Joseph’s. “That struggle to find yourself – to find your relationship with something spiritual and powerful. I certainly will talk about it a lot,” he said.
Preparing to be Presidential
On his desk – in an office on the fifth floor of Scranton’s O’Hara Hall – sits Susan Resneck Pierce’s book, “On Being Presidential.” It’s one of more than a half-dozen such books that Dr. Boomgaarden, who has worked more than 30 years in education, said he is reading in preparation for his first gig as a college president.
“I’m also reading the ‘Letters of St. Ignatius,’” he said, pointing to a copy of that book, resting on the coffee table in his office. “As an administrator, there are some very funny letters that he wrote to people who had problems and wanted him to solve them.
“On the one hand, he was very caring and warm. But on the other hand, he could be funny if he thought people were asking for things out of the ordinary,” Dr. Boomgaarden added. “Most of all, he was a wise and caring leader, a real inspiration to me.”
I’m looking forward to being an accessible president, one who is involved in the life of both of our campuses.”
Before arriving in Scranton in 2014, Dr. Boomgaarden served as dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts at Loyola University New Orleans, and previous to that as assistant vice president of academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland. Earlier, he worked in various teaching and administrative positions – and earned his Tae Kwon Do black belt and yoga instructor certification – during 17 years at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
A noted historian of 18th-Century opera, music aesthetics and harmonic theory, Dr. Boomgaarden earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the prestigious Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.
“Musicians are good problem solvers,” said Boomgaarden, a concert pianist, noting how music has influenced his leadership skills. “If you’re going to play a concerto by Beethoven or a ballade by Chopin, you’re going to have to spend many hours analyzing the music and focusing on solutions to difficult problems.”
Being Seen is the Immediate Goal
Dr. Boomgaarden said his first order of business at St. Joseph’s is to connect with people at both SJC Brooklyn and SJC Long Island.
“I want to be available and visible on both campuses,” he said. “That’s a key to my first month, and beyond. As president, you have a responsibility to set up the kinds of patterns that contribute to a successful presidency. I’m looking forward to being an accessible president, one who is involved in the life of both of our campuses.”
He can hardly contain his excitement over getting started at SJC. “It’s hard to leave a position that you loved, and I loved my time in Scranton. I would have never gone there had I not loved it,” he said. “But I’m thrilled to be coming to St. Joseph’s. I feel very welcome already. There are so many strong connections between the two schools.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph were close to the Jesuits from the beginning, and both groups share a special dedication to the care and education of the whole person, not just to the intellect. That sense of focus on the student is what sets St. Joseph’s apart from many, many other schools, and it’s the reason I decided to take on this new and wonderful role.”