From Thailand to Miami to Washington D.C., Jane Holahan has worked all around the globe. Now she is back in her home state of Pennsylvania as the new executive director of the Weingarten Learning Resources Center.
This is Holahan's first semester as director. She fills the position left by Myrna Cohen, who retired from Weingarten at the end of the fall 2018 semester. Cohen, who received her Ph.D. in Education from Penn in 1992, had been at the University for 34 years and had led Weingarten since its creation in 2004.
Holahan comes to Penn from Georgetown University, where she worked as the Academic Director for the Institute for College Preparation, a pre-college program with a 30-year history supporting underrepresented first-generation low-income students in D.C.
She grew up in Bethlehem, Pa. as part of a family of eight and had a brother with Down syndrome. Holahan said growing up with her brother, who died at the age of 42, made her more sensitive to people with medical conditions and taught her patience, humor, and compassion.
“It teaches you also what gifts a person with a disability brings to others, and he brought joy to our lives,” Holahan added.
Her connection with Penn began long ago, at an annual Disability Symposium held at the University. She also visited Penn in 2017 as a Georgetown administrator to gather inspiration to see what she could bring back to Georgetown.
After Holahan graduated with bachelor’s degrees in biology and literature from Moravian College, her work took her from Thailand to Miami. Holahan’s interest in social justice led her to the Peace Corps, where she worked as a laboratory technician in Thailand for two years. She then came back to the United States for a five-year “transition period," during which she worked at a bank during the day and took classes in education at night. She then began pursuing teaching and education in Miami.
Her experience working as a language arts teacher for 10 years ultimately led her to higher education.
“What I found through my time teaching was how students with disabilities were often mainstreamed into classrooms, and so I often had students who were mainstreamed into class, and that was an interest of mine,” Holahan said. “What can we do to integrate people with disabilities into a classroom?”
Holahan began pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership/Higher Education Administration from The George Washington University in 1997. Within her first year at George Washington, Holahan found a job at the Academic Resource Center at Georgetown University and continued working at the university for the next decade.
The Institute of College Preparation's executive director Charlene Brown-McKenzie described Holahan as “equal parts competent and compassionate.”
“Picture a classroom as a canvas, and Jane really recognizes how we are all different learners,” Brown-McKenzie said. “She’s like a painter. She uses every edge of that canvas to invite more young people into learning and into the content and material. That’s how I think of Jane.”
While Holahan raved about her love for Georgetown and D.C., she said this opportunity at Penn was the next progression in her development as a leader focused on academic support services and students with disabilities.
“When I was at Georgetown, I looked at Weingarten as the golden standard, because very few universities have disabilities and academic support under one office,” Holahan said.
Holahan said she can already see how “compassionate” and “student-focused” the Weingarten staff is in just her first several months on the job and is “very humbled to be here.”
“To me, it is a privilege to work here. I always tell people working in this field of disability and academic support it’s not a job. It’s a mission.”
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