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Dennis Kolodziejski Brings Windows and a New PHD Program to WNE

By Emily McGuinness '20 TUESDAY, JUNE 4, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

Professor of Psychology, Dennis Kolodziejski, has begun his 47th year with Western New England University with this fall semester, and has gotten to experience some of the largest changes in the history of the University.

Dennis obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities and Technology from Drexel University in 1969, then went on to get his Doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He then took his first professional position as Director of Counseling Services at WNEU in 1973 at a time when he was the lone counselor and the counseling center was housed in one of our many off campus houses.

Because his administrative position came with faculty status, Dennis was also teaching courses in Psychology as well as in our fledgling MBA program. He received tenure in the late 70’s and decided, in 1981, to give up his administrative duties to teach full time in Psychology.

In 1992, Dennis became the chair of the Psychology and Education Department and hasn’t stopped advocating for change since. His biggest hope for the department might seem like a small one at first but it turns out to be more than that; besides wanting a more sufficient space to teach, he wanted windows.

As the department began to grow under his direction, his office as well as those of his faculty, Professors Hank Schlinger, Sheralee Tershner, Dongxiao Qin, and Jessica Carlson, were all in renovated broom closets on the 3rd floor of Sleith Hall, without a window in sight.

 “When I started as chair, we had no research space, no computer classroom, no library, very few places to call our own, with very few windows. I used to email the President and ask things like ‘is it raining, should I bringing my umbrella? Is it dark yet, is it time to go home?’ I made a nuisance of myself to make a point. I just wanted an office with windows” said Dennis.

Eventually, Dennis began to consider expansion modifications to Sleith Hall beside his co-worker and CFO, Dave Kruger. There were several considerations for this expansion including the serious idea of using two double wide trailers for the additional education space.

“Clearly, that was not going to be an adequate space for the department that was beginning to grow exponentially” said Dennis with a laugh.

After several plans and failures, he was able to form a connection with The New England Center for Children (NECC) and developed an internship opportunity there for students in Psychology alongside Dan Gould, who worked at NECC. They started sending students to NECC in the 90’s so they could get real-time training at the facility. They eventually expanded the program from 120 hours, to a full-semester in Southborough, MA. Later, he also helped to create a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analytics program at NECC as well.

“Both of these programs have grown in size and stature and have given WNE a national reputation in Behavior Analysis research and training” Dennis said.

While the NECC partnership was forming, Dennis was contacted by the Dean of Arts and Sciences about the college wanting to become a university. In order for this to happen, he created the first PHD program in the history of Western New England, and in New England, in Behavior Analysis.

“We spent years trying to get everything approved for this PHD. It was approved in 2006. We were still in Sleith, we still didn’t have great facilities, and we still didn’t have windows” he said.

With all of these changes came no additional windows. The Psychology department was still in Sleith Hall at this time, so Dennis began working with President Caprio, who wanted a Pharmacy program and a new building. Dennis fought for his department and outlined the kind of space he desired. With that, The Center for Sciences and Pharmacy was built and ready for use in 2011 with 16 offices, research rooms, a Psychology lounge, and… windows.

“They let us see the building when it was nearly finished, and they gave us everything we asked for, it was just wonderful” Dennis said. With the PHD program and the new building, they were able to design new Advanced Research courses using their new classrooms and research spaces. The Psychology department’s scientific status then rose dramatically with in-house poster sessions offered at the end of each semester based on student research.

After 25 years as chair, and so many large changes, Dennis stepped down as chair in 2017 but he still feels just as passionate about the Psychology department. “I tell my students all the time that they have ended up in one of the best undergraduate Psychology programs in all of New England. We have wonderful research and graduate school opportunities, as well as terrific teachers in Psychology and Neuroscience” he said.

Even now, Dennis is bringing his daughter, who is interested in Psychology, to visit colleges and still can’t help but promote Western New England’s program. “You’re just not going to find a better place than Western New England and I think she’s starting to realize that” he said.

Despite all of his hard work and dedication to Western New England’s Psychology department, Dennis also had his own clinical psychology practice in Longmeadow and Northampton. He saw many recovering alcoholics and treated numerous people.

He became board certified and gained many different specialties during his time in the field such as his APA Certification of Proficiency in treatment of alcohol and substance disorders, and the National Registry of Health Service Providers in Psychology.

“I wanted a solid science-based psychology department and so I slowly but surely over nearly 25 years hired all of the right faculty, developed a terrific undergraduate curriculum with graduate programs, built a terrific facility, and expanded internship, research, and graduate options available to our majors”, Dennis says with pride and a tear in his eyes.

He goes on, “My oldest daughter, Johanna, grew up in this department and eventually earned her PhD in Biology, wanting to find a school and a department much like ours in which to teach, which she did at Keane State. Unfortunately she passed away from Lymphoma 10 years ago. The saddest day in my life. But we have a memorial scholarship in her name here at WNEU which has hopefully helped fund a student or two each year in some small way”.

With his many certifications, accomplishments and experiences, Dennis’ time spent as Western New England has been short of remarkable. He rose from an administrator, to a full-time faculty, to the chair, and now to a professor who has truly seen the essence of improvement that Western New England strives for.

“It’s been such a great experience to watch this school grow and rise to what it is today” said Dennis. So, it may have started with wanting windows for his office, but it certainly ended with that and so much more for this decorated, appreciated professor.