Daniel Avegalio, "Every day I have the opportunity to help people and give back with a purpose."
Daniel Avegalio is the Dean of Student and Academic Support Services at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri.
Daniel Avegalio served in the Marine Corps from 2004-2009, with three deployments to Iraq during his enlistment. He is married and has 4 children. Daniel is the Dean of Student and Academic Support Services at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri and has been working in Higher Ed for over 10 years.
When I was in the Marine Corps, I felt honored that I could be serving my country and had a purpose. When I got out, I felt I lost that purpose and wanted to figure out a way I could continue serving my community. I love helping people and I have a saying that “my uniform never came off” and when I started Community College, I was able to go to class but also work as a Student Worker in our Re-entry and Veterans Center. At that point, I learned of all the work that goes on behind the scenes of a Community College and the impact it has in our Region and on students. I wanted to be a part of that! So from that point on I figured Higher Education was the path for me and every day I have the opportunity to help people and give back with a purpose.
I think people will be surprised, but not all Colleges have a great support system for Veterans and Military Affiliated students. In my time in Higher Education I have seen colleges with amazing programs and others who have barely anything. Having a Veterans Center or some type of similar program is so important for the transition of those leaving active duty and also supporting dependents, reserve and National Guard from all branches. Educating faculty, staff and administrators on the unique needs (GI Bill, access to on campus and community resources, Disability Services, transition challenges etc.) of these populations is vital so they can be successful in supporting them in the classroom and on campus. It is also important that Veterans and Military-Affiliated students do their research when looking into a College. Do they accept military credit, who are they accredited by, do they have a Veteran Center, do they have the major I want to pursue, are all things they should look for when they want to go to college.
I think being a Veteran and understanding what they have to go through as a college student makes it so much easier to explain things and gain their trust. Having used my Post 9/11 GI Bill and then being able to pursue my Graduate degree under VR&E allows me to share my knowledge with them so they do not have to go through the struggles I did. Also, sharing about resources on campus and in the community especially about Financial Aid, Disability services TRIO, Tutoring, and other programs they may be eligible for that will help them be successful as students. I can speak with them because I understand their struggles because I experienced it myself.
I honestly struggled with my transition and remember barley even passing classes. I thought getting out of the Marine Corps, that I had this amazing plan to go back to school. Learning to become a student again, dealing with immature 18 and 19 year old students, trying to enroll in college and then figure out how to use my GI Bill was rough. I also had to deal with my mental and physical health. It really took its toll on me. I was very fortunate to have a great support system at home and I eventually found that at the college as well. It wasn’t easy at all but I was able to overcome those challenges and push through!
The transition in general is a challenge. We as Veterans come from such a structured environment to where we know what our jobs were day in and day out, we knew how to address someone by their rank and also what was going to happen each day. Once you are out you enter into the Civilian world and there is no structure anymore and you have to figure out how to navigate things on your own. Secondly, trying to figure out what major to pursue and what you want to do next in life as far as a career goes. Also, access to resources and knowing who to connect with for help. Many Veterans do not know about support systems out in their community or what other benefits they have access to such as Federal and State benefits. Lastly just becoming a college student, I was out of High School for 5 years and never wrote an essay. So getting back into the groove of becoming a student was not easy.
It is a lot different now that I am a Dean but Veterans and Military-Affiliated students have a special place in my heart. When I meet or speak to other Veterans they are just shocked to hear where I am now and hearing my story. From Iraq to becoming a College Dean, I never really knew the type of impact that had for other Veterans. I hear about their issues in the classroom, having to deal with 18 and 19 year olds and just their struggles at home. I do my best to offer support and connect them to resources if needed. I also hear about their successes, a majority of the Veterans I have seen and spoke with are amazing college students, they are determined to succeed and they incorporate a lot of what they learned from the Military into their lives. Like me, they have obstacles in their way, but they are overcoming them and graduating or transferring to 4-Year Universities.
I oversee so many areas as a Dean and have many staff who report to me who are just amazing to work with as we are all one team. When I think about challenges, since I oversee Student Services, it really is how we can look at data to effectively serve our students. How can we improve processes utilizing technology and other means to make sure my teams have what they need to be successful in their jobs and in turn that impacts Student Success? Working at a College, we are here to serve students and I want to make sure we are doing our best to do that but I cannot do that alone and need to make sure I hear from my teams, make the right decisions with their input and look at the data. We adapt and overcome together as needed.
I think the 9/11 GI Bill changed the landscape for Veterans wanting to pursue education. Changes with VR&E also is going to help as well. I expect a lot more Veterans to go back to school. There are changes happening each year in regard to Veteran benefits which comes with challenges though. I think the expectation from the Department of Veteran Affairs on Colleges is becoming more difficult especially the job of the School Certifying Official. Isakson and Roe is proof of that. My hope is that the VA provides funding to colleges to help support Veteran Centers and the staffing to take on this heavy workload because currently they do not, they rely on the college to do this. Lack of support and funding are two major issues for colleges who are trying to do this work and I 100% believe the VA should help colleges to address this need. I think School Certifying Officials do not get enough credit for the work that they do, and people do not realize that.
My advice is to really find a job that you are passionate about and love to do. It won’t be just work for you! I have been very blessed to have the opportunities like I have had in Higher Education but it was a lot of hard work to get to where I am now. It is important to be willing to learn, ask the necessary questions and not be afraid to take on new challenges. Have confidence and faith in your abilities and that will take you so far. Lastly, make sure you network and put your face out there so people get to know you and how amazing you are!