At some universities, the role of student affairs director and the role of athletic director occupy separate and distinct positions in the administrative hierarchy. At Indiana University Northwest, however, both responsibilities fall to a single motivated individual. And Charles F. Gary, Ph.D., IU Northwest’s new director of student life and athletics, says he’s happy to tackle both jobs.
“It’s such an opportunity to be able to expand and explore my own individual abilities and talents, and also my interests,” said Gary, a former wrestler at the University of Illinois who just completed his doctorate in higher education administration at Purdue University, where he also worked in the Office of the Dean of Students. “It would have been a very hard decision if I had been offered one job or the other. I would be second-guessing myself the whole way through … I wouldn’t know where to go. So to be able to do both of them is such a great opportunity. I am excited to be able to do both.”
Gary, who began work at IU Northwest on Aug. 11, was chosen from among 80-plus applicants for the position vacated by the departure of longtime student life director Linda Anderson last winter. His work and educational background in student affairs, combined with his own athletic experience and prior coaching and counseling work with student-athletes, made Gary an ideal choice to lead IU Northwest’s student life and athletics programs.
Gary earned his master’s of education degree in college student affairs from Purdue in 1999, after completing a bachelor’s of science degree in commerce and business administration and a bachelor’s of arts degree in speech communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1995. During his years as both student and employee at Purdue, Gary served in a variety of roles: tutor coordinator; program specialist and counselor for the Horizons Student Support Program; and, since 2001, counseling coordinator for the Office of the Dean of Students. Gary also worked as an academic counselor for the Fighting Illini football team during the 2000-2001 academic year, and he has served as a volunteer wrestling coach and the Boiler Wrestling Club coach and adviser at Purdue.
As his background and education demonstrate, Gary enjoys working with students from all walks of campus life. Now that he has completed his doctorate, he said, the position of student life and athletics at IU Northwest is the next natural step in his student-affairs career.
“The title of this job itself fits my personality, my background and my interests, and just my desire to make a difference on a competitive level as well as on a student-development level,” said Gary, who met with coaches, staff and other campus personnel during a welcome reception on Aug. 11. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to work with athletes, work with students, and work with student organizations.
“I’ve had an athletic life and I’ve had a career in student affairs. This has brought them both together,” he added.
The only real challenge in accepting the IU Northwest position, Gary said, was reconciling his loyalties to IU’s two biggest rivals – Purdue and Illinois. If he hesitated, it wasn’t for more than a few seconds.
“The fact is, (IU) is a great school and a great university,” Gary said. “It’s easy to adapt and adjust into this environment, coming from another great university system.”
Although IU Northwest’s modest athletic legacy in NAIA Division II is nowhere near as storied as that of its NCAA parent university, Gary expressed confidence heading into the 2008-2009 season that his RedHawk coaches have their teams and programs steered in the right direction. He didn’t promise instant success for the university’s sports programs, which include women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball, but he vowed to achieve something just as important.
“The major goal is stability,” Gary said. “I want to make sure that everybody knows what they’re doing. I want to make sure the train runs on schedule. I want to make sure we find out what the needs and wants of the athletes and the coaches and the community are before we make any drastic changes.
“All of the coaches that I’ve talked to have said that they’re already excited about the direction that things are heading,” he added. “We just need to make sure that goals are set and met, and that everything continues to run in a positive direction.”
As director of two essentially distinct programs, Gary will have plenty of responsibilities to keep him busy. But he said that personal student interaction would remain an important focus of his position, not just because it is necessary but also because it’s something that he genuinely enjoys doing.
“(In this position), you are able to make a difference in the lives of people who are going to be, and who are currently, leaders, not only in our community, but in our country and our global environment,” Gary said. “You also have the opportunity to instill some of the beliefs and values of athletics – competitiveness, hard work, drive, determination, and teamwork. To be able to have that kind of impact on students is important.”