Although Dr. Rob Callahan now serves as President of Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, a four-year, Catholic liberal arts college in Manitowoc, WI, he is best known among Terriers as Thomas’s longstanding Vice President of Admissions. We caught up with him recently to learn more about what brought him to Thomas originally and how he made his way from Waterville to Wisconsin.
Raised in Augusta, ME, and a 1984 graduate of Cony High School, Rob earned a Maine High School Teacher’s Scholarship. “I had deposited at Boston University,” he recalls. “When Dean Carroll McGary called to offer me that scholarship at Thomas, my decision changed – and in turn, Thomas changed my life.”
An avid undergraduate student-athlete, Rob played basketball, tennis, and golf. He stayed busy – during his junior and senior years, he also worked 20 hours per week for a local hotel and 7-11 convenience store. Most importantly, he met his wife Carolyn (Drouin) Callahan ’89 at Thomas. “She was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Rob says.
After graduating, he moved on to work at an insurance company before spending three years in sales and management at Bisson Moving and Storage. Soon, though, he saw an ad for an admissions counselor role at Thomas. “I knew I could help my alma mater and earn my master’s degree at the same time,” he says. After applying for and accepting the job, “I fell in love with higher education.”
Before long, and thanks to his passion for helping students and families, Rob was a natural fit as the head of Admissions. “I was fortunate to be able to build a sales force that was outstanding,” he recalls. Then-president Dr. George Spann encouraged Rob to further grow his skills by exploring other colleges. Rob took that advice, working at Keuka College in New York and later at Urbana University in Ohio. But, Dr. Spann and his alma mater called him home – quite literally – both times.
Over the course of Rob’s 16-year career at Thomas (starting in 1992 as an admissions counselor through 2012 as VP of Enrollment Management), enrollment grew significantly, as did his team, his love for higher education, and his family. He and wife Carolyn are the proud parents of two children, Jonathan and Katelyn. It was during that time, and under Rob’s leadership, that the College launched its Guaranteed Job Program, the first of its kind in the country. “Once it took off, we knew we had something special,” he recalls, “and it had a snowball effect for enrollment growth.”
In 2012, he was recruited away again, this time to Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, IA. There, he had the opportunity to oversee admissions, financial aid, athletics, marketing, public relations, student affairs, residential life, and facilities – along with a chance to grow and work in faith-based higher education. Later, that move became instrumental in his bid for the presidency at Silver Lake.
“It was George Spann who pushed me and instilled in me the desire to become a college president,” Rob remembers. Others from his time at Thomas were similarly influential, including professor Nelson Madore, who taught him to always do everything with integrity and to always take care of your people. Retired professor Betty-Jane Meader emphasized, “Never accept anything less than your best – even the smallest details matter.”
Over the course of his accomplished career, Rob says that being able to follow students in all of their activities and watch them mature and pursue their goals is the greatest thrill of all. “Education is the key to transforming people’s lives,” he says. “The work of helping students changes the trajectory they are on and is truly rewarding.”
*This story was originally published in the Winter/Spring 2019 Thomas Magazine.