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New prof brings spirit of lifelong learning and leadership to campus


Thomas WhalenThroughout the past 30 years and three distinct careers, Dr. Thomas Whalen – the newest assistant professor to join MCLA’s Department of Business Administration – has studied and practiced leadership.

“I'm passionate about leadership because I am a firm believer that leaders are made, not born,” Whalen said. “With the right motivation and proper mentoring, anyone can be a leader.

“I want to help develop the next generation of leaders; the young men and women who are the future of this country and this world. Hopefully, I can show them how not to make the same mistakes I made, and can inspire them to lead the social changes we so desperately need.”

As an undergraduate, Whalen attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in systems engineering.

“When you are a midshipman at the Naval Academy, you are living in a large leadership laboratory. When I graduated, I was a naval officer and a naval aviator for 12 years,” he explained.

In addition to flying patrol planes, Whalen was a flight instructor, which added up to more than 3,000 hours as a pilot. It was this experience, he said, where he learned not only to teach, but to love teaching.

On the aircraft carrier Independence, Whalen oversaw 186 officers and men. After earning his Master of Science degree in management from Troy University in Alabama, he went on to supervise 80 computer technicians in Spokane, Wash. 

When given the opportunity to earn his doctorate, leadership seemed like a perfect fit with his career. He earned his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

Whalen encourages his students to be lifelong learners.

“It is important to know that one’s education does not stop when you walk across the stage and get your diploma. There is a reason why they call it commencement, because you are really starting the next phase of your life,” he said.

According to Whalen, he learned a tremendous amount from the Navy and the computer industry, which included visits to 34 countries and 49 states.

“I see my career in academics as an extension of my first two careers and an extension of this life of learning. I think I learn just as much, if not more, from my students as they learn from me,” he said.

Whalen comes to MCLA from McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., where he was an assistant professor of business administration. There, he and another faculty member started a student-run, student-led marketing agency that focused on serving nonprofit organizations.

“President Grant has encouraged that same entrepreneurial spirit at MCLA,” he said. “I hope to start some kind of creative endeavor here, as well.” 

Whalen, who teaches classes in management and marketing, said although many may view those subjects as two distinct fields, he likes to think of them as two branches of the same field – human relationships.

“Studying humanity is the most amazing science of all. A true leader is all about the relationship with her constituents,” he explained. “Management is simply the relationship one has with people within an organization, and marketing is the relationship one has with people outside the organization. If you know how to work with people, regardless of their culture and background, you can be successful in either field.”

Whalen loves his students at MCLA.

“They are respectful and engaged. I ask a question and I get a dozen hands in the air. I give them an experiential learning exercise and they dive right in. More importantly, they ask me questions. They challenge what they are being told and this is a terrific habit to get into. It shows critical thought, something this country needs a lot more of.”