Alumni Hall of Fame
Thomas W. Phelan Jr.
Dean, Historian, Counselor
The Reverend Thomas Phelan devoted more than four decades of his life to Rensselaer as chaplain, professor, dean, and historian. As dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences from 1972 to 1994, he transformed a traditional liberal arts curriculum into a cross-disciplinary program focused on bridging the humanities and social sciences with science and technology. He created the Department of the Arts, a forerunner in electronic arts education, and the Department of Science and Technology Studies, one of the first in the country.
Phelan’s legacy to Rensselaer includes building the award-winning Chapel + Cultural Center. He was a historian and scholar, who wrote and taught American material culture as it is reflected in the nation’s industrial heritage, and was a champion of preservation efforts. An advocate for the arts, he served as president of the Catholic Art Association, and was named a fellow of the Society for the Arts, Religion, and Contemporary Culture in 1972. To generations of students and colleagues, he left an indelible legacy as counselor, teacher, advocate, and visionary.