reporter contents | albright college home
Joan Develin Coley '66 Joan Develin Coley '66
Joan Develin Coley '66 Joan Develin Coley '66
by Jennifer L. Post

It is no wonder that Joan Develin Coley, Ph.D. ’66, president of Western Maryland College, was named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by Baltimore’s The Daily Record last year.

When Coley was a guest on the Diane Rehm Show aired on National Public Radio, along with two other women presidents, she says she felt a surge of excitement.
She is proud to have been elected the eighth president, the first woman president, and the first person to have come up through the ranks of Western Maryland College, a small private, coeducational institution with 1,600 students in Westminster, Md.

After the retirement of the former president Robert Chambers, Coley says she was encouraged by people to apply for the position. "So I thought I’d take a shot at it." But as she contemplated the possibilities of being elected president, she reflected on her 27 years at Western Maryland. "I felt highly committed and vested in the college and I felt I could effectively communicate the college’s message to other groups."

She says she is ready to face the challenges that accompany being the president of a college. Although, according to Western Maryland’s magazine The Hill, Coley says, "I understand fully the enormity of the task ahead, but I acknowledge that a presidency isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be -- about one person; it is about an entire community working to be the best that it can possibly be."

The first challenge she faced was the transition. "We tried to make sure that the transition from president to president was as seamless as possible. I feel comfortable that we achieved that."

Then there’s the "vision piece," she says. "A new president needs to articulate and get buy-in from constituents of the college. Our plan is that within the next decade Western Maryland will become recognized as the finest type of small liberal arts college in the nation."

As president, Coley also plans to triple Western Maryland’s endowment in less than a decade. Along with that, she adds, "I will be visiting corporations and foundations sharing the vision we have for the next decade. I plan to travel about a week a month," visiting potential donors. Her success as a fundraiser has already been proven during her tenure at Western Maryland. Coley solicited major gifts for a successful campaign and authored grant proposals which have brought several million dollars in project funds to the college.

She also says she wants to "work effectively with all different constituents of the college (alumni, students, faculty, townspeople)." Coley has already started to host monthly events with students and faculty, as well as attend as many alumni events as she can. "It’s a juggling act to keep your fingers in all groups." But she says she is happy to take on the challenge.

Coley says it was at Albright as an English major that she fell in love with education. But it was at Prince George’s County School where she got her first chance at teaching. Hired to teach remedial reading, she says, "That’s where my love of teaching reading began. I love literature and love to read so much, that as a young person it never occurred to me that people couldn’t read that well."
Reading is so important, she says. "It’s the basis of all other learning . If a student struggles with that then they’re at a serious disadvantage."

Joan Develin Coley In keeping with her commitment to reading and literature, she taught at both the University of Maryland and Hood College. Then, joined the faculty of Western Maryland College in 1973 as assistant professor of education and director of the Graduate Reading Program. "I started as an assistant professor, but at that time I would have taught for free. It’s so rewarding. And I knew at this time that I loved Western Maryland College. I found a professional home, and personally, I just wanted to be a really good teacher."

But Coley excelled at other roles on campus through the years including director of continuing education, associate dean/academic affairs, director of admissions, professor and chair of the Education Department, provost and dean of the faculty and interim president.

Change has always been one of Coley’s strong suits as well. During her first year as provost she led the faculty in a revision of the entire curriculum, which resulted in the adoption of the four-credit system, reducing faculty teaching loads and providing students the opportunity to study subjects in greater depth. "It was like moving a graveyard," she says. "The curriculum had remained the same for a long period of time."

But in the end, "most reacted well, although many got very impassioned. At the end of the day, though, it was a curriculum we were all proud of."

Coley says she often asks herself, "’What does it mean to be a leader?’" Her answer is simple. "It’s someone with a real sense of integrity. Not every decision made will be the right one, but you have to have assurance that it’s made with a sense of integrity."

Now, newly inaugurated by the College in an event that celebrated its continuity, Coley says although her commitment to the presidency is as solid as a rock, so too is her commitment to books and literature.

Coley will continue teaching “The Reading Practicum” course in the Graduate Reading Program. It is a final course that brings children with reading problems together with the student teachers. She will also continue her five-week intensive summer reading clinic for 50 to 100 elementary school students from Maryland and Pennsylvania. The clinic has been running for 27 years.

"College was not a family tradition," she says. "I received a lot of scholarships and owe a debt of gratitude to have received the education I did at Albright." And, because of the time she spent at Albright, Coley says, "It was easy for me when I came to Western Maryland to recognize immediately the value of a small, liberal arts college after having such a good experience at Albright."

reporter contents | albright college home