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‘I am still part of the IU family’

Alumnus Gavin Mariano explains what staying involved, giving back has done for him

Friday May 23, 2014


His friends affectionately call him “Mr. IU.”

It’s a title Gavin Mariano wears proudly. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more engaged alumnus.

Mariano, who earned his Master of Social Work degree from Indiana University Northwest in 2014, has been working for the Crisis Center, a Gary-based agency for troubled youth, since earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from IU Bloomington in 2001.

He originally approached the Crisis Center about volunteering, but the agency’s leaders returned a better offer and he’s been working for them ever since. Today, he wears many hats, serving as the coordinator for the Safe Place and Teen Court programs, as well as the public relations and outreach specialist and provides information technology support.

Once Mariano earned his undergraduate degree and returned to Northwest Indiana, Mariano admits that for a few years, he was simply, “in love with the idea of being a graduate and working.” He didn’t think much about staying connected with IU and the Alumni Association right away. But then he heard about IU’s Latino Alumni Association and was even elected as an officer.

“For me it was all about finding an interest, a group, a passion that I cared for a lot,” he said.

Mariano soon realized that rekindling his relationship with IU would lead to still more rewarding opportunities. The East Chicago native extended his involvement to the Northwest campus, and started taking advantage of the fun perks that membership offered.

“After going to one of their events in the area, it really dawned on me that this is an asset,” he said. “This is like a gift from IU.”

While Mariano’s desire to stay connected and involved with the IU alumni associations was originally rooted in fun — membership is loaded with perks, like special seating at sporting events, group trips and more — along the way he discovered that his involvement benefits him professionally too.

“IU gives back to you,” he explained. For example, he was recently invited to be on the IU Northwest Board of Advisors, an advisory group appointed by the Chancellor that contributes to decision-making on campus.

Mariano’s philanthropic side began to mature as well. He admits that he didn’t give back to IU or IU Northwest right away. He simply remained involved and developed a growing desire for seeing his University thrive. The Latino Alumni Association gave scholarships to undergraduates, and Mariano decided to continue supporting those scholarships.

“I saw firsthand the difference that those scholarships had made in the lives of the young Latino students, students like I had been, whose education semester to semester sometimes hangs in the balance and could be put on hold at any time because of stressful circumstances,” Mariano said. “I wanted to be a part of helping students fulfill their dreams. And also, being philanthropic with IU just makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I am still part of a family.”

By giving to IU and IU Northwest, both financially and with his time, Mariano is proud to know his gifts are contributing to the future of his University and the future of our society in general.

“Who doesn’t like to see how things are changing and improving in a place that previously afforded you a beautiful opportunity and a quality education?” he said.

As a student who had experienced a large residential university, Mariano appreciated the benefits a smaller, regional campus had to offer.

“You definitely feel you are more visible,” he said. “You feel like you have everything at your fingertips. … When I came to IU Northwest, I received about half a dozen scholarships. They weren’t large ones, a lot of them covered books here and there. But that was all part of these new opportunities I had from being aware and being keen to these opportunities.”

Mariano’s graduate education included an internship with Glen Park Academy in Gary, where he counseled kids. The experience helped him realize the direction he’d like to take his social work career.

“I love the concept of group work,” he explained. “If, after earning my LSW, there is an opportunity to start doing group counseling, mostly with school-age children or adolescents, I would take it in a second.”

Reflecting on his entire higher education experience, Marino has some advice to share with up and comers.

“Soak it all up. Take it all in. enjoy it. In academics, you’ll have an advisor, mentors, professors, but it’s all about your entire personal experience,” he said. “Spend a lot of time on campus. Don’t go directly for the parking lot after class is over. For me, I tend to find academics alone isn’t enough. You have to feel like you are having a special experience all around.”

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