Built to Last: Woll Leaves Lasting Legacy After Distinguished 40-Year Career

By Tom McLaughlin

As Allen Woll bids farewell to Rutgers University–Camden after a distinguished 40-year career, the longtime professor of history and administrator leaves behind a legacy of mentorship, innovative programs and initiatives, trailblazing scholarship, and philanthropic support.

Simply put, he has made Rutgers–Camden a better place.

wollcopy“It is not an overstatement to say that Rutgers University–Camden would not be what it is today without Allen Woll,” says Kris Lindenmeyer, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers–Camden. “Allen has left a large footprint on our institution and in the lives of colleagues, students, and alumni. We will miss having him on campus, but his generous heart and leadership leave a legacy that will continue to benefit generations at Rutgers–Camden.”

Arriving in 1975 as an assistant professor of history, Woll could never have envisioned the many, diverse experiences and opportunities that awaited him. Initially focused on Latin American studies, he soon supplemented his expertise with a focus on media and film. In 1978, he authored the book The Latin American Image in Film, examining Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of Latin Americans in films.

“From that first book, I became increasingly interested in how the media shapes individuals’ impressions,” he says.

Woll, who served as chair of the Department of History from 1989 to 1995, went on to direct the film studies program at Rutgers–Camden. He also authored the books Puerto Rican Historiography (Studies in Puerto Rican Culture, History, and Literature); Dictionary of the Black Theatre: Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Selected Harlem Theatre; and Black Musical Theatre: From Coontown to Dreamgirls.

In 1997, he was invited to lead the founding of the Honors College at Rutgers–Camden. The mission was simple, but effective, he explains: Recruit the best and brightest students not only through scholarships, but by offering specialized programs and courses, and a constant source of one-on-one attention.

“We wanted to foster a sense of community and a sense of belonging, which I think we have been quite successful at doing,” he says. “It was also a place where faculty could experiment offering new courses, which often found their way into the general curriculum.”

woll-resizedAs he recalls, the Honors College initially set up shop adjacent to his office in the Paul Robeson Library, putting him in the prime location to offer some well-appointed advice.

“All of these students were right outside my door, so I saw them from the first day that they arrived on campus until the day they graduated,” he says. “I was able to build stronger, more personal relationships with these students than I would have if I had just taught them in the classroom.”

Ask Jennie Owens, however, and she’ll tell you that the guidance – and daily, practical advice – that Woll gave meant a lot more than just being in the right place at the right time.

“He is without a doubt the father of every kid who has gone through the Honors College,” says Owens, a graduate of Rutgers–Camden and Rutgers Law School who serves as president of the Honors College Alumni Association at Camden.

According to Owens, an attorney at Archer and Greiner in Haddonfield, she wouldn’t be where she is today without Woll and the Honors College staff. “He was always there if anyone needed anything,” she says. “For me, he was a constant and calming presence.”

Robert Emmons, Woll’s former protégé and now colleague at Rutgers–Camden, echoed the sentiment, noting that Woll has always been the perfect kind of mentor because he can make any moment teachable.

“I, too, am where I am today very much because of him,” says Emmons, associate director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers–Camden.

Emmons remembers that, while pursuing his master’s and doctoral degrees, and even after returning to Rutgers–Camden, Woll aided and nurtured his intellectual and artistic interests, and was a constant source of encouragement and advice.

“He was more than a boss; he was a mentor. He taught me how to be a good professor and mentor to my students in the Honors College,” says Emmons.  “From my first day as a student until this very moment, he has been an invaluable presence in my life.”

From the earliest days of the Honors College, Woll would shepherd its evolution to cater to an increasing number of students, add advisors, and expand the physical space to its current location at 319 Cooper Street – all tangible signs of his effective leadership.

“There is now a solid foundation in the new building on Cooper Street,” he says. “More importantly, the students are the most powerful recruiting tools that we have.”

wollcopy2Recognized for his administrative prowess and can-do attitude, Woll was tapped to serve as acting associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, acting associate dean of the Graduate School, and associate dean for program development.

Among his most notable accomplishments, Woll spearheaded the development and implementation of the fledgling Digital Studies Center and its forthcoming bachelor’s degree in digital studies, as well as the new undergraduate program in health sciences. He also helped to found the Leadership Institute, with the goal of preparing Rutgers–Camden’s most active and engaged students to be the leaders of their generation.

Jim Brown, director of the Digital Studies Center, credits the longtime scholar and administrator for being an ambassador for Rutgers–Camden.

“In the two years I’ve worked with Allen on DSC initiatives, it has been clear to me that he’s part of the fabric of the University,” says Brown. “He has been a driving force behind just about everything that we’ve done.”

Rutgers–Camden undergraduates have also benefited immeasurably from the generosity of Woll and his wife, Myra. In 2002, they established the Allen and Myra Woll Scholarship to support Honors College students. The couple has also made a $600,000 bequest intention that will endow the scholarship.

Looking back on his time at Rutgers–Camden, Woll notes that, in helping to launch new initiatives, every day has been full of new adventures, which has also meant getting to know faculty and staff throughout the campus whom he otherwise might never have met.

“On one hand, I’ve been in one place for so many years,” says Woll. “On the other, I’ve done so many different things, it’s kept it really interesting.”

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