President Emphasizes ‘Building a Community of Opportunity’ at Inauguration

President Joe Bertolino Inauguration

President Joe Bertolino celebrates with students during his April 12 inauguration.

Galloway, N.J. — Joe Bertolino wants to build a community of opportunity — for everyone — at Stockton University.

“My role, and my goal, here at Stockton is to build meaningful, impactful relationships. Relationships that strengthen our bond with the community; that enable our students to develop into engaged, effective citizens with a passion for lifelong learning; that bolster the positive development of New Jersey,” he said. 

Without the traditional pomp and circumstance of an inauguration ceremony, Bertolino was formally installed as the sixth president of Stockton on Friday, April 12. The celebration, including a parade, confetti cannons and a taco bar, was in keeping with the laid-back style of Bertolino, who welcomes being addressed as “President Joe.”

To see individuals from every stage of my life here today is overwhelming and humbling. I am a product of my upbringing and the opportunities I’ve been afforded along the way.I honor those relationships by continuing to pay it forward,” Bertolino said to an audience of nearly 750 faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members. 

President Joe Bertolino Inauguration“Today, I am charging all of you, all who are part of Stockton, to do the same for someone else. By building a community of opportunity, we provide the space and resources that enable our students, faculty and staff to grow, thrive and be a part of something bigger. No opportunity is too small, and no opportunity is too large. When we do certain things, or build certain relationships, we may be providing others with opportunities that we don’t even realize,” he said. 

Bertolino brings more than 30 years of experience in higher education to Stockton, serving previously as president at Southern Connecticut State University and Lyndon State College in Vermont. He was vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Queens College/City University of New York and dean for Community Development at Barnard College in New York.

Bertolino said in the months since becoming president on July 1, 2023, he has taken time to meet and listen to all of Stockton’s constituencies to shape his plans for the future.

“Our vision is for Stockton to become the college of choice in South Jersey. The first choice for prospective first-year and transfer students. The destination of choice for renowned faculty and academic trailblazers. The college of choice for partnerships with local and regional leaders in business. The first choice for donors, friends and supporters to contribute to our work,” he said.

“This spring, we will begin to write Stockton’s next chapter together through a comprehensive and thorough strategic planning process,” he said. “A key component of our vision is for Stockton to serve as a model for the future of higher education. We will be a destination campus, connecting our environmental resources in Galloway with our beachfront property in Atlantic City.”

Nelida Valentin ’86, chair of the Stockton Board of Trustees, presented Bertolino with the Presidential Medallion, which symbolizes the transfer of responsibility of the Office of President and the obligation to promote and maintain the values represented by Stockton University.

“Higher education is experiencing significant changes, and these come with challenges and opportunities. We are grateful to President Joe because he brings commitment to students and a wealth of leadership and experience to this role. We support and believe in his ability to advance Stockton into the future,” Valentin said.

Talon and studentsSpeakers also emphasized why Bertolino is in the right place at the right time.

Joe’s selection as your new president serves as a significant professional accomplishment for him.  It is meaningful and personal to him and our family because his mother, Eileen, was an alumna of Stockton, and it also has allowed him to finally return home to South Jersey to be with his family,” said Bil Leipold, vice chancellor for Enrollment Services and Experience at Rutgers University-Newark and Bertolino’s husband of more than 30 years.

“It became clear to me throughout the interview process and my first few months on the job that I was meant to be here,” Bertolino said, acknowledging his father, Joseph A. Bertolino Jr., and sister, Eileen Russell, in attendance. “Everything that has happened in my life, every opportunity that has been presented to me and every connection I’ve made along the way guided me here. Returning to my roots in South Jersey and serving the very institution where my mother earned her degree as an adult student very much feels like a homecoming.

Bertolino has brought to Stockton the value of Cura Personalis, or care for the whole person, which he has carried through his professional career since graduating from University of Scranton, a Jesuit institution.

“We have a responsibility to support one another, to treat each other with kindness, respect, dignity, compassion and civility, to reach out and listen to one another. As an institution of higher education, Stockton wields tremendous power in transforming lives,” he said.

“Take those opportunities when they’re presented. Say yes, even if you’re scared or intimidated. If a mentor, a friend, a professor or colleague says you’ve got what it takes, they’re probably right. Lean on this community to seize your opportunities,” Bertolino said. 

This resonated with Student Senate President Andrea Sandoval. “I never feel afraid to be myself around him. Thank you so much for letting students create that connection with you and going out of your way to meet with other students. I know a lot of other universities don’t have that same opportunity,” she said.

Students and community were a key focus of the day. The Osprey Parade, led by the Absegami High School drumline, kicked off the celebration, which included alumni from throughout Stockton’s 50 years and student leaders representing many diverse and engaged clubs and organizations on campus. Numerous student performances dotted the celebration, which culminated in Prez Fest, a community party in the Galloway Campus Center.

“This inauguration is a celebration of Stockton and the faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters who make it a truly special place. His presidency at Stockton is unique. President Joe knows firsthand the transformative impact of a Stockton degree,” said Bridgid Harrison ‘88, chair of the Stockton University Foundation Board of Directors.

Other well wishes were shared from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Faculty Senate President Michael Law and Staff Senate President Lauren Fonseca. Jacquelyn Suarez, acting commissioner for the NJ Department of Community Affairs, delivered a message from Gov. Phil Murphy.

Speakers included:

  • New Jersey State Sen. Vince Polistina
  • New Jersey State Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald
  • Dwayne Smith, Interim President of Southern Connecticut State University
  • Hiran Kangaraarachchi, Steward Supervisor for Explore Edmonton Corp. and former student at Queens College
  • Richard Helldobler, President of William Paterson University and representing the NJ President’s Council and NJ Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • Jonathan Vazcones, First Vice President and CRA Officer for Amalgamated Bank and former student of Queens College
  • Randall Clarke, Director of the SEEK Program at Brooklyn College and former teaching assistant

Delegates from 40 higher education institutions in New Jersey and beyond were represented. President emeriti Harvey Kesselman (2015-2023) and Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. (2003-2015) and the family of Vera King Farris (1983-2003) attended.

The inauguration incorporated performances by: Student Classical Ensemble, Stockton Dance Company, Stockton Student Chorus, Stockton Music Union, Stockton All-Starz Dance Team, Stockton Cheer Team, Joseph Sramaty ’15 and Keldy Penarda ’24.

Inauguration week festivities included the Arts & Culture Summit on April 8, where about 150 local and state arts representatives gathered at Stockton University Atlantic City to discuss the potential for arts and cultural expression to bridge real and imagined divides in our neighborhoods and around the world.

An Inauguration Scholarship Dinner on April 11, hosted by the Stockton University Foundation, supported the Eileen M. Bertolino ’77 Memorial Endowed Scholarship set up by Bertolino and Leipold for nursing students.

The annual Stockton University Foundation Scholarship Benefit Gala on April 20 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will also celebrate Bertolino’s inauguration. For more information, visit

Photos by Susan Allen, Bernie DeLury & Vernon Ogrodnek

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