Name: Gerard J. Rooney, Ph.D.
Profession: Leader and Educator
Title: President of St. John Fisher College
Location: Kearney Hall, St. John Fisher College
Interviewers: John Loury & Dina LoVerde Photography: Adriana Polizzi
1. What life events have had the greatest impact on who you are today?
The completion of my undergraduate education was a very impactful event in my life since it enabled me to start my career in higher education. The opportunity to serve as a vice president in Dr. Katherine Keough’s administration at St. John Fisher College was the beginning of my path toward the presidency here. My doctoral education allowed me to frame my administrative experience in higher education in an academic context – something I enjoyed and appreciated. Education has had the greatest transformational impact in my life.
2. How do you define success? And what metrics do you use to confirm it?
My success is directly tied to the degree to which we help our students achieve their educational and career goals. Beyond student achievement, I measure success by meeting – or exceeding – established performance expectations, as well as keeping a work-life balance that enables me to spend time with family and friends and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
3. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I am inspired by people who are passionate about what they do and who have retained personal integrity in their professional roles. I am also inspired by the many students pursuing college degrees today – especially those at St. John Fisher College – and the commitment they have to their studies, their college community, and the Greater Rochester community of which we are a part.
4. What is it about your approach that is unique or separates you from others?
I am a collaborative person by nature, and I try to engage all people in the success of our institution. It is very important to me to lead by example, to demonstrate respect for my co-workers, and to value the work they do by showing my appreciation to them.
5. How do you use information (data) to make decisions related to your profession or craft?
Everything I do relies on information of some type. I gather and assess information on topics I need to make decisions about, speak to people with expertise in the subject area I am deliberating, and ultimately try to make informed decisions. Staying up to date on current higher education topics is vital to my role. I also try to stay current in the literature of college choice and higher education leadership – two areas of interest to me personally and professionally.
6. What does being a Rochesterian mean to you?
My answer may be a little different from others you’ve talked to. I actually grew up in Philadelphia, so I’m a Rochester transplant, and what brought me to Rochester was St. John Fisher College and an employment opportunity in Dr. Keough’s administration in 1996. In coming to Rochester there were certain things that attracted my wife and I to the area. Since we had a young family at the time, we were looking for a place that had a good community feel, where family values were present, and where our children would be able to grow up in a positive environment. We have found all of that to be true throughout our time in Rochester.; Two of our children are graduates of St. John Fisher College and stayed in Rochester, so they are able to call it home, and my wife and I obviously still continue to enjoy Rochester.
Being a Rochesterian also means community engagement and volunteerism—both things that have always interested me. . In the Rochester community itself, I have been involved in areas that our children have been involved in, so school activities and engagements are an example of something that my wife and I have tried to be a part of.
My mom was blind through much of her adult life and that experience influenced my interest in supporting the work of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI). The work that they do is so consequential to people with low vision, or people living with vision challenges, so to witness the work that they do and know the impact that it could have had in my mom’s life has caused me to want to be a part of that organization and lend whatever expertise I can to it. Serving as a board member there has been really personally fulfilling to me and hopefully has been beneficial to those with whom I have interacted.
The presidency has also afforded me the opportunity to become engaged in different ways within the community. An example of this would be the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. The Rochester-area college presidents also meet regularly and I’ve been a part of that organization for the last year and a half since becoming president. I try to look for ways to blend my strengths and personal passions with community needs to help make Rochester better. Finally, I think as the leader of St. John Fisher College, which is an institution committed to and engaged in the community, the example that I set as a leader is very important to our employees, to our students, and to our alumni who are in the area – so not only looking for ways that I can be involved, but ways that I can model behaviors that will motivate others to perhaps think about their own lives with regard to a way they might become involved in activities and organizations that will benefit the community.
7. What are the greatest challenges Rochester faces in terms of future growth and success?
I think right now one of the most compelling challenges is the amount of poverty present in the community. A number of efforts that community leaders have put together through the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative have begun to, most importantly, bring people together around critical community needs. You can look at the different sectors of the economy, but if we don’t work to collectively impact the amount of poverty there is, then I don’t think that we will ever be as strong of a community as we might be. We need to address the root causes of the issue, so as I look at the community, I try to envision what St. John Fisher College might be able to do, both from my role as president and as a Rochesterian. Also, and since so many of our students are from the area and remain in the community after graduation, as a campus community we are trying to determine how best we might collectively align the assets of our institution and bring them to bear for the community. Members of our leadership team have been trying to work with the community leaders within the anti-poverty initiative and to talk about ways we might institutionally engage with them in support of advancing the community. I think that so much of that has to do with education. For me, education has really been a transformational experience in my own life. My Dad didn’t graduate from high school, but my Mom did. My brothers and I were the first generation in our family to be able to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Then, through my advanced schooling, I was able to advance professionally and, through my work, help more students to be successful in realizing their educational goals and aspirations. The community will benefit from the impact that they will then contribute.
8. If someone were to film a movie about your life, what actor/actress would you cast to play you?
This is a good question that I’ve taken the opportunity to consult with several others in formulating my answer. Starting from a looks standpoint, when our kids were growing up, we used to watch football together as a family, and Terry Bradshaw is a fellow whose hair pattern is similar to mine. In the ’80s, we both had these glasses that were rather larger than the ones I have on now, and our young son used to go up and point at the TV and say, “Dad,” so Terry Bradshaw on one hand from a looks standpoint. Similarly from a looks standpoint, one of our other kids said Ron Howard. Ron’s evolving to a hairstyle like mine; you can see that a little bit. My wife, on the other hand, suggested – not from a looks standpoint but from the combination of his sometimes serious approach and often less serious approach – that Harrison Ford might be someone who would be great. Then depending on how you phrase the question and what you’re looking to do in the casting, some others thought we should just go for whoever the biggest and best actor was … Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck … I haven’t come to a conclusion yet!
9. Do you have any nominations of individuals who ROC Our City?
I did think about that in different ways, and without knowing who you’ve talked to, I am continually impressed with people really across the spectrum. So for me, it could be any one of the 4,000 students or the 500 employees we have here who are at varying stages of their educational journeys, and have community engagements, many of which are from Rochester.
There are so many individuals working alone – and together with others – to make a positive impact in our community. I would recommend any of them for your consideration.