It was an important decision: whether to continue playing football. And St. Joseph’s College President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D. — then just 15 — couldn’t make it alone.
So he turned to a mentor — his piano lessons instructor Blaise Montandon, a music professor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We were having this discussion during a lesson, and he said, ‘Well you know Don, whatever you decide will be good, but it’s not the most important decision of your life,’” said Dr. Boomgaarden, whose family lived in Texas at the time. “I said, ‘What is the most important decision of my life?’ And he replied, ‘The most important decision of your life is who you marry.’ I said ‘What are you talking about? I have no interest in getting married.’”
Dr. Boomgaarden’s candid recollection of one of his earliest mentors was part of a discussion he had with OnCampus about the importance of mentoring. January is National Mentoring Month.
For as long as he can remember, mentors have played a huge role in Dr. Boomgaarden’s development as a learner, a performer, an educator and a leader. This includes his dad, who taught him how to shoot, start fires and ride horses and motorcycles — or as Dr. Boomgaarden put it: “Anything dangerous that my mother didn’t want me to do.”
It also includes an array of music instructors.
“I started to study piano around 6. I had private lessons. It was me as a young boy with an adult for a half-hour or an hour once a week,” said Dr. Boomgaarden, now an accomplished pianist and music historian. “I developed the habit of being very comfortable talking with an adult that wasn’t a part of my family about life in general – because your piano teacher is usually not just your piano teacher, but they’re also kind of a therapist.”
Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, such relationships are absolutely necessary to be successful, Dr. Boomgaarden said.
“Nobody does it on their own. We all need someone. And if we don’t have someone in our lives, we should try hard to find one,” he said. “I tell parents when students arrive to our College, ‘Please make sure your young person introduces themselves to their professors and gets to know them on a human level because that will have a direct impact on their success.’”
While Dr. Boomgaarden continued to seek out mentors during his time in school and later in his career in academia, he increasingly found himself in the role of mentor.
As a professor, he still mentors students; as a dean, he advised professors; and as a college president, he delivers one-to-one guidance and support to his staff and fellow administrators.
“It’s energizing. Whether you’re giving the advice or someone is giving you the advice, it’s a chance to really be alive in what you do and to share your experiences,” Dr. Boomgaarden said. “As we move forward in our career, it’s really our duty to give back to people … I think all of us need to have that outside set of eyes to give us input. If those eyes have seen many things, and they are wise, it can be a huge advantage as a professional and as a person.”
Dr. Boomgaarden, president at St. Joseph’s since 2017, still reaches out to his own mentors, particularly when he needs to make an important decision. Among them is Timothy Law Snyder, president at Loyola Marymount University, who was Dr. Boomgaarden’s supervisor at Loyola University Maryland.
“I talk with him about once a month, and we exchange ideas about how to deal with problems,” Dr. Boomgaarden said. “I found that people who are really effective, they have a mentor, no matter how far they are in their career. I have that type of relationship with the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph’s, as well.”
Dr. Boomgaarden’s mentoring disciples are an impressive list of administrators, professors and students. Here’s just some of the men and women who have risen in their careers with support from St. Joseph’s president.
- Anna Justice, director of development for Oregon State University, was hired as an advancement officer at Loyola University New Orleans by Dr. Boomgaarden, while he served as Dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts. “It was her first job in advancement. I could tell she had a lot of promise. During the time I was at Loyola New Orleans, we raised $5 million, and she was a big part of it.”
- Jeffrey Johnson, D.M.A., named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, this summer, was taught by Dr. Boomgaarden at Ithaca College.
- SJC Long Island graduate Christian Szajna ’19 attended the Berklee College of Music in Spain after Dr. Boomgaarden, his music roots class professor in 2018, suggested he apply. Szajna is now considering entering the doctoral program in history at Stony Brook University.
- Andrew Kipe, who was taught by Dr. Boomgaarden at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is the director of concert and ensemble operations for the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
“I’m very proud of my former students,” Dr. Boomgaarden said, adding that many of his former students are high school teachers, while some have advanced to become principals and assistant superintendents. Others, he said, are still performing music.
“Many of my students have gone on to be very successful, and a number of them still communicate with me,” he said. “My mentoring experiences have been pretty extensive on different levels. I think any good president would be able to say that.
“Part of our job is to help people succeed, and there’s nothing that’s more enjoyable than seeing somebody that you’ve worked with go on and be successful,” Dr. Boomgaarden added.
Dr. Boomgaarden noted that the founders of St. Joseph’s College, the Sisters of St. Joseph, long ago laid the foundation for a culture of mentorship at the 104-year-old College.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph are an order that has placed a premium on self-awareness — becoming aware of yourself and listening to the voice of others,” he said. “That openness to constantly be developing yourself permeates the institution.”
Dr. Boomgaarden said SJC Board of Trustees President Christopher Carroll has been “a tremendous mentor to me in terms of helping me understand the culture of the College and the cultures of New York City and Long Island.” Dr. Boomgaarden also noted the many internships and mentoring opportunities that St. Joseph’s students receive.
“There have been great connections between many of our interns who have gone on to work in organizations where we have alumni actively participating,” he said. “At St. Joseph’s, each of us is open to mentorship and advice from the other, and it’s done in a charitable way – with the spirit of improvement and a spirit of helping others.”