5 Questions with a Composer-Turned-College President

photo of uconn alumnus greg woodward '77 (sfa)

Greg Woodward ’77 (SFA) is, at heart, a classical music composer who became a college president along the way.

Woodward moved back to his West Hartford roots last month to become president of the University of Hartford. Until now, he had been president of Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and before that, dean of the School of Music at Ithaca College in upstate New York.

Woodward, who is often told he bears a striking resemblance to actor Albert Brooks, didn’t start off at UConn. After graduating from Hall High School, where he played clarinet and saxophone in the school’s famed jazz band, he went to Villanova University on a soccer scholarship. He transferred to UConn a year later because he missed music and Villanova didn’t have a music major. We caught up with him recently to talk about UConn, Hartford, and sports trivia.

Q. Why did you transfer to UConn?
A. It’s obnoxious to say, but I think I’ve led a charmed life and UConn was a huge part of that. I had never studied music before and it was fabulous at UConn. I met a very influential professor and award-winning composer there named Charles Whittenberg. He took on four or five of us composition majors and was our mentor. We would go to his house and to his concerts. For a young person, rubbing shoulders with an international composer was fabulous.

The common misconception about a giant, state school like UConn is that you get lost, and that you don’t have to do much because the classes are all big. The most powerful thing at UConn for me was the opportunity to create anything music-related, such as concerts, shows, or musicals.

Q. What would someone be surprised to know about you?
A. I deeply care about trying to break the cycle of poverty in America. I care about opportunities for kids to transform their lives and community. I know that when I retire, I’ll probably try to find a way to help with that.

Also, I’m a sports nut. I play a lot of tennis, golf, basketball, and racquetball and played soccer throughout my youth. I know a lot of sports trivia. I know it’s ridiculous: I’m a musician and a composer. I’m not supposed to know about that.

I’m a fairly outgoing, gregarious person when I’m around people. But I am, in essence, a rather internal, private person. I’m happy reading a book, staring at the lake, or going on a walk. I save all that energy to use on the job.

Q. What can the University of Hartford do to help the city of Hartford?
A. There are already a lot of things that the University of Hartford does. The University has internships and two magnet schools right on campus. The University also has the Hartford Scholars program, through which eligible graduates of Hartford high schools can attend the University at half the price of tuition. I’d love to expand that program. I’d also love to see our students go out and help in the community by being mentors, teachers, or tutors.

Q. How did UConn prepare you for success?
A. UConn gave me opportunities to create a range of music projects and be a leader. For instance, a bunch of us decided one day to do a show called Pizzazz. My friend and I wrote all the arrangements, got the musicians, rehearsed, and worked with the dancers. We did it all from scratch, made this whole thing happen. That happened over and over again at UConn. It was just like having an amazing laboratory in which to try things out and figure out who you were.

I’m very proud of being a UConn graduate. I had a great experience. It was hard and it was demanding and I’m proud of it.

Q. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to follow a career path like yours?
A. People might think that learning a lot about higher education is the path toward becoming a college president, but I think there’s a time for that later in life. Instead, I think that young people truly benefit from really engaging in a discipline, whatever it might be, to the point of giving up your entire being to try to do something really intensely.

That depth of learning and experience is profound and changes the way you think about things for the rest of your life. If you want to have a life as an educator, you have to go through that so that you understand that experience.

Do you have a suggestion for a “Five Questions With” alum story? We’d love to hear it. Please send it to gmerritt@foundation.uconn.edu.


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