Building a cathedral of learning

Just months after Luis Calingo stepped into his new role as Woodbury University's president, he is reshaping the school's vision while leading a new campus-wide conversation.

“We need to draft a new strategic plan for the university,” Calingo said. “Woodbury University is the only university that ‘blank.' That is really what we're trying to answer.”

His most recent role was as executive vice president and chief academic officer for Dominican University in San Rafael, a four-year private Catholic college. For 23 years, he held various posts at Fresno State University before landing at Cal State Long Beach in 2000.

Calingo, 57, was born and raised in Manila, the oldest of four brothers and a sister.

When Calingo's mother died when he was 12, his siblings became his new responsibility, but his path remained set. The son of two engineers, Calingo pursued engineering at the University of the Philippines before leaving Manila at 24 to earn an MBA and doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh.

But four years into his studies, academics took a back seat. It was the early 1970s and Calingo wasn't yet 20. Under leader Ferdinand Marcos, martial law turned droves of students into radical activists.

“I was one of those ones marching in the streets,” Calingo said. “I was more interested in student activism, human rights issues, reading Karl Marx.”

When a professor reminded Calingo that his education was superior to the movement, Calingo “wised-up” to recover the part of his scholarship not lost to his string of failing grades.

He graduated with a 2.5 GPA and was not accepted to the graduate engineering program. This propelled him to do better in the only graduate department that would take him — urban planning.

Years later, Calingo returned to the University of the Philippines as a visiting professor from Fresno State.

“They told me they did me a favor by turning me down,” he said. “When they turned me down, I got motivated to go to the U.S.”

Married to his wife Gemeline for 31 years, Calingo has three daughters, ages 29, 25 and 20.

On campus, M. Victoria Liptak, senior vice president for academic affairs, said Calingo's leadership has engaged every employee on the topic of Woodbury's new era following Kenneth Nielsen's 16 years as president.

“It's very clear that the atmosphere in which we're operating now is really focused on supporting the mission on being student-centric and developing the organizational structure that we need to achieve something more than we currently are,” Liptak said.

Calingo's spirituality informs his professional role, he said. In reference to Bill Shore's book, “The Cathedral Within,” Calingo shared a story about the Milan cathedral, which took more than 500 years to build and was worked on by men who knew their work wouldn't be completed in their lifetimes.

“I see working in a university no different than building a cathedral and inspiring your colleagues,” Calingo said. “We are building a cathedral here — something beyond ourselves. I'm very purpose-driven, in that sense.”

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.

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