Robert Thorn steps in as Cal U’s interim president

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Cal U Communications

Robert “Bob” Thorn, interim president of California University of Pennsylvania

Hannah Wyman, News Editor

On Jan. 30, Robert Thorn, vice president for administration and finance, became Cal U’s interim president following Geraldine Jones’s retirement. This transition was originally announced by the PASSHE Board of Governors last October.  

“We’re blessed at the State System to have a deep pool of talented individuals like Bob who care deeply about student success and the success of the entire university,” chancellor Dan Greenstein said in a press release. “His experience at California and his deep ties to the community will serve him well, and I look forward to working with him and watching California succeed under his leadership.” 

 

28-year Cal U Career 

Prior to being named interim president, Thorn served as assistant vice president of administration and finance in 2009 and then vice president in 2010. 

Thorn originally joined the Cal U community in 1993 as director of financial aid.  

“I had a very capable staff who helped me implement new technology and raise the level of student service to a new standard,” Thorn said on his work in financial aid. “Our office operation was considered one of the best within the system due to our innovation and commitment to student service.” 

He also said he was drawn to Cal U because of its setting and community.  

“I’m not a big city kind of individual,” Thorn said. I like small communities and those interactions with those small towns and cities. I like to connect to the community that I work in and believe that [that] relationship is extremely important. 

Cal...has an important economic impact on the town and region,” he continued. Cal is a place of tradition and history and much of that was formed in partnership with the community where the university is located.” 

 

Community & Students 

This sense of community has often been at the heart of Thorn’s work at Cal U. In fact, some of his favorite memories have been cheering on Cal U’s women’s athletic teams, especially the women’s basketball team toward their 2004 and 2015 national championship titles. 

“I have many heartwarming and impactful moments involving the students on our campus,” Thorn said.  

Yet, “One [moment] stands out that forever resonated with me and is why I never take for granted the impact that I may have on a student’s success at Cal U.” 

Thorn had been walking downtown for lunch and a young man approached him asking if he was Bob Thorn.  

My initial thought was that this was an unhappy student who had a chance to his financial aid that negatively impacted him,” Thorn remembered. But that was not the case at all. 

The student explained to Thorn that they had met a couple of years ago to discuss financial aid eligibility. While the student’s grades were not good, he had given Thorn an appeal letter explaining why and asking for a chance to improve.  

Thorn said the student remembered him listening to Thorn give a long speech about making good choices and taking advantage of the opportunities he had for a college education. Thorn ended up approving the student’s appeal. 

The student said he knew if he lost his financial aid, he would not have been able to attend college.  

He wanted me to know he took his last chance and improved his grades and graduated with honors,” Thorn recalled. He wanted me to that I was the reason he was going to graduate that weekend. He wanted to thank me for believing in him and telling him the consequences if he did not take ownership of the issue. He said I put him on the right track to graduation.  It was one of the hallmark moments that I cherish the most.  

 

New Presidency  

Between the upcoming integration with Clarion University of Pennsylvania and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania plus the transition of power, Thorn finds himself on an uncharted path as president as he will indefinitely hold the position for the time being 

According to Thorn, one of his biggest goals is to improve and secure the school’s financial sustainability. The financial sustainability plan is one Thorn himself headed for eight yearsThorn said he plans to work on updating the plan they’ve created to fit student and metric changes.  

“Our work will be combined with the work of our integration partners to create an integrated sustainability plan for the new entity, Thorn said.  

In fact, Thorn said the integration with Clarion and Edinboro will be his key priority. 

Last summer, Cal U announced a proposed integration with Clarion and Edinboro. The goal of this integration is to create new opportunities for students by offering a “wider variety of academic programs, and to hold down the cost of higher education for students at all three campuses.” 

It is rare in one’s career to have the opportunity to be assuming a leadership position in the creation of a new educational entity,” he said.  

Thorn hopes to “provide clear direction for the campus as the integration plan enters into the implementation stage, to instill and encourage the campus to embrace the integration.” 

While integration is filled with many challenges, Thorn said he sees that it is also filled with immense opportunities of academic opportunities through a more efficient and robust academic program array, expanded internship and experiential learning modalities, a commitment to improving the overall affordability challenges our students are facing.”  

Thorn is currently co-leading the administration and finance workgroup to achieve these milestones. This group is one of over 20 workgroups and subcommittees made up of faculty and staff from Cal U, Clarion and Edinboro focused on integration 

He also said that he lead president on Financial Aid Operations within the Western Integration and providing significant guidance and support to president Dale of Clarion, lead president for western integration on all areas of system integration. 

Like in his career, students remain at the forefront of Thorn’s mind throughout the integration process.   

“We are student-centric,” he said. “The things that we do have to be driven with the student in mind. That would be my goal, to make sure all the decisions and process we work on during my administration are student-centric.” 

 

Spring Reopening 

Some of Thorn’s more immediate plans are to ensure the safety of students, staff and faculty who are returning to camps this spring. By enforcing COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing, face protection, COVID-19 testing, etc., Thorn aims for a safe and successful reopening.  

With this, comes what he hopes to be successful remote learning support.  

“We want students to still be engaged in all areas of campus life, academics and social life aspects as well,” Thorn explained.