After 16 years as President of Castleton University, Dave Wolk will leave in December to pursue other endeavors.
“I love Castleton and I love you, but at the end of December, I will be departing,” Wolk said in front of a packed Casella Theater on Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt the warm embrace of this loving family more than I do at this moment,” he said in a candid speech.
Wolk talked about how much he loves talking with and about students. His fondest memories of his time at Castleton include convocations, orientations, commencements and times where he had the chance to get to know the students.
Wolk has often told students at orientation that he hopes to shake their hand and know them by name at graduation.
Student Tone Sawyer was speechless following Wolk’s announcement. Sawyer feels Wolk really does make an effort to know everyone, and is disappointed he won’t be able to shake Wolk’s hand at his graduation in 2018.
“I honestly don’t know what to say. I’ve never heard that much applause for anything. I’m going to miss seeing him at events and having him know who you are and what you do,” Sawyer said.
Chief Academic Officer Jonathan Spiro was similarly at a loss for words.
“Deep sadness and great happiness. He is leaving at the top of his game and that he has a great new exciting career ahead of him. He deserves it,” Spiro said.
“I love the familiarity of President Wolk. I’m super excited for him and his future endeavors and just wish them the best,” said Castleton senior Marissa Langley
Wolk had been considering the change for a few years, but more seriously for a few months while visiting his father who passed away Nov. 17.
“There have been times at Castleton where I’ve wondered if I stayed too long. I don’t want to overstay my welcome,” he said after the announcement. “I’ve thought about it at different times in my career and I started thinking about it more seriously when I was with my dad last fall. It’s hard because I had to find the right match of head and heart.”
In 2009 he began the Castleton Student Initiative, a $25.7 million project, the largest investment in the history of Castleton, and the Vermont State Colleges.
In Wolk’s tenure at Castleton, the university has invested nearly $100 million in infrastructure improvements including building several new, environmentally friendly residence halls. The university has also expanded academic offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, increased the number of international students and expanded the university’s presence into Rutland.
Wolk has also had an impact in the lives of faculty and students.
“It’s a big loss for Castleton. But there are ways in which Dave will stay with us. He has been a mentor to so many people in leadership here,” said Brendan Lalor, professor of philosophy. “Castleton has blossomed. He’s leaving but the garden grows on.”
Jess Cowden, soundings program coordinator and professor of Communication, said she and her husband Rich, director of the fine arts center, would not have moved to Vermont from their native Colorado if it were not for Wolk.
“The whole reason we’re in Vermont is Dave. Rich called me up after meeting with Dave for an hour and a half and was like ‘Start packing. The president of the college has completely sold me on his vision and he values his faculty and his staff and his students and he has big dreams and he makes things happen,’” she said. “One of the best things about Dave is he finds key people and puts them in key positions and then trusts them.”
Wolk’s work was also commended by the Vermont State Colleges Board Chair Martha O’Connor.
“David has done more in education than anyone that I can think of that I’ve ever known,” she said. “This has been a team effort to make Castleton the great Castleton that it is. It has been faculty, staff, alumni and especially students. No one does anything by themselves. It is truly a team effort.”
A group of trustees will hold a forum for faculty, staff, students and alumni by the end of March to discuss what the needs of the university are and how they can be met in a new president.
Chancellor of the VSC Jeb Spaulding made it clear that although a replacement will be found, no one can truly replace Wolk.
“Castleton has never been in better shape than it is right now thanks to Dave Wolk. We will never be able to replace Dave Wolk. That is an impossible task,” Spaulding said. “We will be with you ensuring the future continues to be as bright as it has been under Dave Wolk’s leadership.”
In 2018 Wolk will be starting Wolk Leadership Solutions with his wife Lyn, who has a background in mediation and conflict resolution, to help groups, businesses and organizations be more successful through executive and leadership coaching.
“We have a passion for helping people become successful. A passion to help people get better at what they do,” he said.
Wolk was born and grew up in Rutland, graduating from Rutland High School and Middlebury College with a degree in political science. He earned a master’s degree in educational administration and planning at UVM and a certificate of advanced graduate study at Harvard University. He has served as a school principal, superintendent Vermont’s Commissioner of Education, Vermont State Senator, and on more than 40 boards and commissions.
Although he has achieved much, he brings conversations back to the students and how proud he is of them and of Castleton.
“I tell students to make a difference here before they make a difference in the world. When I go to Rutland and I just see so many Castleton students doing good and doing it well,” he said. “It’s a sense of pride we all have together.”