Written by Michael Rouleau
Left to right, David Whtiehead, Eastern President Elsa Nunez, Brian Bohling and Michael Johnson
Willimantic, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University inducted three highly decorated alumni into the seventh class of the Eastern Fellows Program on March 4. As part of their induction, Brian Bohling ’83, Michael Johnson ’97 and David Whitehead ’84 offered professional advice and discussed their Eastern experiences and distinguished careers with a packed house of students in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room. “We all went to Eastern and we made it, so you can make it, too,” opened Bohling. “Be proud of where you come from and go for it.”
A former business administration student, Bohling has advanced to the highest levels of human resources management over a 29-year career in the corporate world. After working in high-level positions at Trane, Campell Soup and Honeywell, and as senior vice president for human resources for the Hess Corp. for six years, Bohling now owns his own corporate coaching and recruitment business, Pine Valley Resources.
Johnson, a former biology student in Eastner’s Honor’s Program, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who has appeared on Connecticut Magazine’s annual list of Top Dentists for the past seven years and is now a full time instructor at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Whitehead, a graduate of Eastern’s business administration program, is the president and CEO of William W. Backus Hospital and Windham Hospital, as well as the former publisher of the Norwich Bulletin. Active in his hometown community of Norwich, Whitehead was named Eastern Connecticut Citizen of the year in 2003.
The fellows were asked about the importance of developing mentors. “Mentors are a key ingredient to success,” said Whitehead. “Caring faculty kept me on track as a student. Be proactive, create those relationships; it will help you here and in your career.” Johnson added, “At Eastern, I was fortunate to be part of an exceptional department with accessible and enthusiastic faculty.”
When asked about his thoughts on Eastern’s liberal arts curriculum, which requires taking courses outside of a chosen major, Johnson said, “Being well-rounded is critical. You’re going to interact with a lot of different types of people, so a wide knowledge base and broad perspective are important.” Adding to the importance of skills such as writing and communication, Bohling said, “Critical thinking and problem solving are necessary in this complex world; I look for people who can take the complexity, sift through it and know what to do.”
When asked how he has been able to work in a variety professional sectors, Whitehead said the ability to lead and learn has made all the difference. “Leadership is being able to envision a value set, and then communicate it.”
With more bits of advice, Whitehead said, “Find your mirror and use it often — sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Take time and ask yourself how you’re performing; be self-aware.” Johnson added, “Perception is reality; what people think of you is huge, so pay attention to how you are perceived.” Bohling said, “Be a sponge of information, learn from others and be yourself.”
Speaking to the importance of work ethic, Bohling said, “People that do what they like to do are really good at it, compared to those who are only there for a paycheck.” Johnson added, “If you truly care, it shows; you can’t fake it.” Whitehead said, “Be in the moment; don’t work on autopilot.”
The Eastern Fellows Program was established in the 2008-09 academic year to recognize and engage distinguished Eastern alumni in the life of the university. 20 alumni have been honored in the years since the program’s inception. This program is a means of enriching the education experience of current Eastern undergraduates by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experiences with students in realist terms. The program is an exciting and stimulating way for students and faculty to benefit from the knowledge of accomplished professionals.