Rod Wellens, Longtime Chair of Psychology, Passes Away

By Annette Gallagher
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 19, 2014) — Albert Rodney “Rod” Wellens, professor and longtime chair of the Department of Psychology who left an indelible mark on the University, the community, and the people he mentored, passed away at home and surrounded by his family on December 17 after an illness. He was 68.

Wellens, who joined the University in 1972, became a full professor in 1988 and chair of the psychology department in 1992—a post he held with distinction until 2013.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Rod Wellens, the Department of Psychology experienced incredible growth,” said Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost. “During his 22 years as chair of the Department of Psychology, a majority of the current faculty were hired, and psychology became the largest undergraduate major in the College of Arts and Sciences. He also ensured that community programs, such as the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and the Linda Ray Intervention Center, flourished. In a time of great need, he served as a dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. He was a consummate and generous academic leader for which the University and the college owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”


A gifted administrator and well-respected researcher and educator, Wellens also served as senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 2003 to 2004 and as vice dean of the college from 2004 to 2006. In 2008, the American Psychological Association, the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, honored the department’s efforts with the Culture of Service Award.

“Dr. Wellens was a pillar of excellence and innovation in the college. Beyond academics, he cared deeply for the well-being of his students, faculty, and staff,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Under his leadership, the Department of Psychology was recognized as one of the top departments nationally. He has transformed many lives at the U and in the community. I am honored to have known him as my colleague and friend. His legacy will live on.”

Michael Alessandri, assistant chairman of the department and executive director of CARD who worked with Wellens for more than 20 years, called him “an inspirational leader and friend, and undoubtedly the most influential professional mentor I’ve ever had.”

“He built a world-class psychology program with an emphasis on science but with an understanding that science’s true value is only realized when it impacts the community in a meaningful way,” Alessandri said. “Our psychology department under Dr. Wellens’ leadership has had a profound impact on South Florida and beyond. The lives our faculty, staff, and students impact every day in our community are a testament to his vision. He warmly welcomed CARD into the psychology department in 1993 and supported us every step of the way as we grew into the prominent and impactful program we are today. He also wholeheartedly embraced his role as leader and ambassador of the department to the broader community. His influence shaped us, and his memory will continue to motivate and inspire us.”

The department’s current chair, Philip McCabe, said Wellens was a thoughtful, compassionate leader whose wise judgment and strong academic values helped build the department into one of the best in the nation. “Those of us who worked closely with him admired his honesty, fairness, and dedication,” McCabe said. “On a personal level, he was a mentor to me and a dear friend, and I will miss him greatly.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 3, at Christ the King Church, 11295 S.W. 57 Avenue, Pinecrest, FL, 33156. In lieu of flowers, the Wellens family would appreciate donations to the University of Miami Brain Tumor Initiative or the Rod Wellens Outstanding Service Award, created by the Department of Psychology in Wellens’ honor after he stepped down as chair.


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