Dell’Omo’s passion for college
By Thomas Regan and Alexis Schulz
As incoming president Dr. Gregory Dell’Omo prepares for his first months on Rider’s campus, he would like to capitalize on some of the university’s unique strengths, create long-lasting connections with students and utilize his season tickets to the New York Giants.
Following the retirement of President Mordechai Rozanski, Dell’Omo will become Rider’s seventh president on Aug. 1. He said that, within the first few months of his presidency, he would like to focus on students and become immersed in Rider’s culture.
“I have a passion for college life, and that is why campuses are really important to me,” he said. “Not just because I want them to look nice and feel good, but it has to be a place where people say, ‘I want to be here.’ So I think they’re going to find me down to earth; I am a normal guy and I’m approachable. I like to have fun and I think that is part of the process as well. I think they will find that this is not just a job, it is a way of life.”
Dell’Omo, who will conclude his presidency at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2014-15 academic year, is an avid supporter of college athletics, as well as a New York sports fan through and through — Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers. Dell’Omo first month at Rider will be a homecoming, as he grew up in New Jersey and received his bachelor’s in economics from Montclair State University.
During the final year of his presidency, Dell’Omo saw the Robert Morris men’s basketball team make it to the NCAA tournament. Well aware of the Bronc sports’ successes this year, Dell’Omo hopes to use the athletics programs to inspire pride in the university.
“I love athletics a lot, not because I hang around sports, but I really believe, and I’ve seen it first hand, that Division I sports in particular are sort of the front porch to the university. When you have some success in sports, people pay attention to that, especially when it is on ESPN and so forth. So not only does it create internal excitement among students, alumni, faculty and staff, but it really does elevate your name to a level that is unforgettable. You are able to build a reputation of being successful.”
During the times Dell’Omo has visited Rider’s campuses, he has enjoyed the arrangement of the university’s buildings; however, he has concluded that there may be a need for some renovations.
“As I’ve gotten to see the campus a bit more, I was impressed with the growth of the campus, and the layout of the campus and how it’s put together and combined obviously with the Westminster Choir College campus. The other thing I’m impressed with is that the enrollments have been steady, which is very challenging for all academic institutions, particularly private universities because of the tuition levels and the cost of running these universities.”
Dell’Omo said one of Rider’s unique characteristics is the inclusion of Westminster College of the Arts. He said he would like to promote this, and other programs to give priority to a student-centered campus culture.
“Bringing the Princeton campus together with the performing arts of the Lawrenceville campus and making that become a stronger unit — there are always challenges with that, but I think that is really important,” he said. “And having them come together and be seen as one university, but at the same time not losing the individual strengths and identities of various programs.”
He is certain Rider’s characteristics are beginning to be noticed among students looking for a place to call home during their college careers. He is confident that Rider will continue to stand out to applicants.
“There’s a value component to the university that the new market is realizing,” he said. “So when prospective students and their families come and see the campus, you want to hear about it. Obviously, the outcomes associated with the current students — that’s all critically important. It really is about outcomes and the experiences students have, and how that goes beyond just the degree itself, like the overall college experience.”
Upon speaking of the challenges he may face, Dell’Omo explained that all universities are scrutinized for tuition costs, and incoming students have to see whether the education is worth the price. He said he will try to highlight aspects of Rider that make attending the university a worthy commitment.
“Each university has to be able to articulate clearly and concisely to the outside world, ‘what is the value proposition of our university?’” he said. “And that covers everything from the quality of academic programs, quality of faculty, outcomes students may have, the level of resources you have, your campus, alumni support, the athletics. All those things take the institution’s identity and experiences, how well that is defined and how positive that is.
Dell’Omo used the Gallup-Perdue Index to gauge the areas of Rider he would to improve. He said he was interested in this study because he believes that these college experiences directly influence life after college. He said he would like to target the parts of Rider’s education where engagement is lacking and help to refine students’ education.
“It all comes back to that issue of engagement and going beyond the classroom. So when you’re talking about happiness and satisfaction, those are all important parts of that. But they’re not the be-all end-all. It has to go beyond that, and that’s why you have to address the things you can take care of first. It’s the more difficult ones that you have to figure out. That will take a longer time to do and involve more of a culture shift in organizations.”
Meeting students and getting to understand their lives is a large part of Dell’Omo’s presidency at Robert Morris and he said he would like to extend that into his new venture at Rider. He takes pride in informal meetings and welcoming students into his home to get to know them better.
“I don’t just want to do meet and greets but have some time to make some real exchanges,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to that as much as possible and on the same token there is going to be a need for me to go out and visit people who have served for the university both in terms of the community and the alumni. I do a lot of entertaining in the house for the student groups, faculty groups, donors, and friends of donors. I like the informal meeting of people in a home setting because it gives people a more relaxed environment and less rushed, making them feel more comfortable to open up.”
Dell’Omo said colleges are distinct, peculiar places with learning centered environments and that is what he finds most interesting and exciting about becoming president at Rider.
“I love college campuses, I love the learning component and I love lifelong learning, but it goes beyond that,” he said. “I think universities are some of the last unique institutions in the world particularly in the U.S. because our universities are different than the rest of the world. But they are unique places and I think this whole learning environment is something that I always bought into.”