Robert Houlihan Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
By Hannah Werthan
One day in 1980, Robert Houlihan's niece, who was a Molloy College student-athlete at the time, invited him to watch her softball game. While there, Bob, a longtime softball player, learned that the team hadn't won in two seasons. He wanted to fix that. That day, he decided to become the softball coach. The rest is history. Over his thirty-six year career at Molloy, Bob has served as the head women's softball and women's basketball coach, the athletic director, and then the vice president for student affairs. In doing so, he has played a major role in growing our strong Division II program and vibrant campus life.
Bob started his job as athletic director in 1998. In three short years, he added nine teams to our athletic program. Though Molloy became fully coed in 1982, the school was still heavily female 16 years later. By adding men's basketball, baseball, lacrosse, track, and soccer to the program, he helped the school increase male enrollment. Overall, the number of student-athletes grew from 40 to 200.
In 2001, Bob became vice president for student affairs and essentially created campus life at the College. "In the beginning, Molloy Student Government (MSG) was comprised of only seven or eight students. There were dances maybe every month or so, but that was the extent of social life here," Bob says. His strategy for expanding student life was simple: he identified the leaders on campus and convinced them to get on board, because he knew they would bring a number of students with them. "I call it addition by multiplication," Bob says. "You can either talk to one student at a time or you can find the right students who will attract a following."
It was Bob's mission to make Student Affairs a warm, comfortable environment where students could feel safe. In doing so, he created an atmosphere of trust and built relationships. Getting students' input on everything was very important. "The students are our customers, and we want to make sure we are serving them well. We shouldn't do what we think the students want; we should ask them what they want and go from there," he says.
In 2011, Molloy's first residence hall, Fitzgerald Hall, opened. It was a big transition, but a welcome one. "Before residence life existed at Molloy, we found we were only attracting students within a 15 to 20 mile radius of campus. But we really wanted to expand that, and having a place for students to stay has allowed us to broaden our applicant base," Bob says. Building residence halls paved the way for a need to further enhance campus life for students who would be here around the clock throughout the school year. "You don't want to sell a bad product. We had to make sure, before we invited students to live on campus, that we had a sufficient amount of activities on the calendar at night and on the weekends," he says.
Bob was also an adjunct professor at Molloy. During Homecoming this year, the Alumni Association honored him with the Distinguished Faculty Award. For the first five years, he taught physical education; then he moved to the Criminal Justice department. Bob says he promoted discussion and ideas in his classroom and made a point of not judging his students for any opinions they might have. To spark creativity, he would sit in on other classes from time to time and listen to students talking in the hallway. "It was definitely a fun and enjoyable experience to be a professor at Molloy," Bob says.
After a 36-year career at the College, Bob knows there is something different about a Molloy student, but he can't quite put his finger on it. "Students just don't fight here. That is so rare on a college campus," he says. "I think, in part, this is because we have an extensive New Student Orientation program where we teach them to be pleasant and treat others the way you would like to be treated."
Despite his substantial contributions to the College, Bob is very humble. He credits his success to building relationships with faculty, staff and students and listening closely to their thoughts and concerns.
Bob hopes to see Molloy continue to expand physically in the next ten years, with more residence halls, a new gymnasium, a new academic building with updated science labs, even a parking garage. Wherever Molloy is headed next, we can credit Bob Houlihan for helping us get there.