By Evan Johnson
CASTLETON—Castleton University’s longest-serving president is looking forward to his next venture. Dave Wolk announced at a campus assembly last week that he will step down in December after serving for 16 years.
“I want to go out on a high,” he said in an interview with the Mountain Times.
Wolk came to the presidency in December of 2001 after intertwined careers in education and government. At his inauguration in the fall of 2002, Wolk promised the college would work to attract high quality students, invest in their education and in their experiences and improve the campus.
During Wolk’s tenure the university invested nearly $100 million in infrastructure improvements, expanded academic offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and expanded co-curricular activities. Castleton has increased its enrollment by more than 75 percent, more than doubled its athletic offerings, built or renovated every building on campus, and expanded into nearby Rutland to offer students better connections with area businesses, schools, hospitals, and nonprofits. Recently, the university has taken over operations of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation.
“Castleton has never been in better shape, thanks to President Wolk’s visionary and passionate leadership,” said Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding in a press release. “People who visit the campus for the first time in a while are amazed at the transformation that has taken place during his tenure. It will be impossible to replace Dave and we will miss him greatly, but he will leave Castleton with a very strong foundation for success into the future.”
In 2009, Wolk ushered in the Castleton Student Initiative. The $25.7 million investment was the largest in the history of Castleton and the Vermont State Colleges (VSC). It included improvements and additions to student life including athletics, the campus center, and the arts. The crown jewel of the project, Spartan Stadium, is one of the finest multiuse facilities in New England and has been central to the growth of Castleton’s athletic programs, as well as providing a venue to grow Castleton’s reach throughout the state and beyond.
Currently nearing the midpoint of the university’s second 10-year plan, the Castleton Plan, Wolk has most recently overseen additions in graduate education, enrollment increases and a focus on increasing international recruitment. On July 23, 2015, the VSC board of trustees unanimously voted to modernize the name to “Castleton University.”
“Dave’s leadership, not just at Castleton but also among the VSC council of presidents and board of trustees, will be greatly missed,” said VSC board chair Martha O’Connor in a statement. “He leads with his heart, cares deeply about the state and its students, and has positioned Castleton well for far-reaching success now and in the future which will benefit our state for years to come. The board, and I personally, cannot thank him enough for his private candor, public support, and meaningful friendship.”
The college has also seen an expansion into downtown Rutland. In August 2016, Castleton University opened housing for 32 college students at Foley Hall on West Street in Rutland. Earlier this year, the university announced that it would be building housing for approximately 30 more students in the Gryphon Building in downtown Rutland. The apartments are planned to be finished this summer and Castleton hopes to have more students housed in the building in 2018. Castleton is also waiting on permits to install the 40,000-square-foot Spartan Dome next to the Diamond Run Mall.
Wolk said in the future more of Castleton’s upper level undergraduate and graduate students would live and attend classes in the Rutland area.
“I want our students to have some of the Vermont version of an urban experience,” he said. “We’re in this beautiful, bucolic environment here but I think a lot of students need that transition to a more urban environment. It helps them prepare for their work world.”
Governor Phil Scott issued a statement following Wolk’s announcement last week:
“Dave Wolk is the longest-serving president at Castleton, and has been a valuable leader at both the university and community level throughout his tenure. Under his leadership, the university has continually enhanced the academic opportunities it offers students, grown its local footprint, and strengthened its bond with the community,” he said.
Beginning in 2018, Wolk will start work on a new venture with his wife, Lyn, who is a Rutland native. The Wolks will work with CEOs and directors in business, government, industry, schools, hospitals, universities and nonprofits in Vermont and around the country to find solutions to leadership challenges. The new entrepreneurial venture they are calling Wolk Leadership Solutions will specialize in coaching leaders while offering mediation and conflict resolution services.
“Our goal will be to help leaders to be more successful,” Wolk said.
Born and raised in Rutland, Wolk graduated from Rutland High School and then Middlebury College with a degree in political science. He earned a master’s degree in educational administration and planning at the University of Vermont and a certificate of advanced graduate study at Harvard University. During his professional career he has served as a school principal at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, superintendent of schools in Rutland City, Vermont’s commissioner of education, Vermont state senator, and Governor Howard Dean’s chief of policy.
After 16 years on the job at Castleton and a total of 43 years in public service, Wolk said that “Spartan pride” is at an all-time high.
“I just love seeing people wearing Castleton’s 343 green,” he said.