Robert Whittaker, New Vice President of Institutional Advancement

December 18, 2017

Robert Whittaker’s first day as vice president of institutional advancement in August also happened to be the day of the solar eclipse. Taking advantage of the unique opportunity, he came to work prepared with a case of eclipse glasses. After all, fostering collaboration is an important goal for him—and viewing the eclipse with his new co-workers was a great way to begin building new relationships.

“I’m incredibly excited about joining William James College! A big part of my role is to facilitate relationship development internally and externally with a focus on mission fulfillment and collaboration,” says Whittaker, who is a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership at Northeastern University. “I’m looking forward to introducing the vision and mission of the College to new audiences who have a shared interest in reshaping the field of mental health care and addressing issues at a community and societal level.”

His commitment to improving lives and strengthening communities began early in his career when he became a childcare director at the YMCA in Jemez Springs, NM. In that position, he learned about grant writing and fundraising, and transformed a neglected summer camp into a self-sustaining, year-round community program for the mostly Hispanic and Pueblo Indian population.

After five years, he decided to remedy a case of burn out by hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. Completing the 2,000+ mile journey in four months—and finding renewed energy—he moved to Salt Lake City, where he became associate director of foundation and corporate relations at Westminster College. Leading project and grant development activities with foundation, corporate, and government funding sources, Whittaker also established Utah’s only Ronald E. McNair Program for first-generation and low-income, or underrepresented students.

Seeking more responsibility, he joined the Utah Symphony & Opera as director of foundations and planned giving, where he grew planned gifts and created programs that led the organization to exceed its fundraising goal.

However, after nearly a decade out West, the native New Englander decided to relocate back to the East Coast. In 2005, Whittaker and his family moved to Vermont, where he was named dean of institutional advancement at Lyndon State College. In that role, he planned and completed the largest fundraising campaign in Vermont State Colleges’ history, surpassing the $10-million-dollar goal and raising 20 times more than the college’s prior fundraising efforts. He also helped the school achieve its goal of becoming a college of choice for first-generation college students.

More recently, he served as an advancement officer at the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), a global library cooperative. Most people may be familiar with the organization, notes Whittaker, for its leadership role in converting the card catalog system into an online resource shared by librarians around the world. At OCLC, Whittaker focused on helping public libraries become centers of community development.

When the opportunity to join William James came up, Whittaker says it was a “slam dunk.” He explains, “I’m passionate about education’s role in building communities to better serve underrepresented populations and I saw how this College is committed to championing those populations. My long-term objectives are to improve lives and strengthen communities, and I do that through advancing community development, putting education at the forefront, and facilitating resource alignment.”

Whittaker notes that he also appreciates first-hand the value of mental health care based on his personal experience and exposure to untreated mental illness. “So, addressing the problem of untreated mental health issues, and the stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment, resonates with me.”

He continues, “I’m proud to come to William James College, which is committed to bringing mental health issues out of the shadows and is taking a leadership role in helping more people of color and from underserved backgrounds obtain care and enter the field as professionals.”

In his new role, Whittaker is eager to get to know students, alumni, faculty, and staff and to work together in increasing the school’s visibility. “We have a great opportunity to get the story out about what this College has accomplished and where it is positioned to go to meet the mental health workforce development needs across New England and beyond. Without a doubt, William James College is improving lives and strengthening communities.”