TORRINGTON – Don Appiarius has been told he’s almost infamous for what former employees and co-workers have called his “Don-isms.”
At its core, though, the “Don-ism” covering his new post as Vice-President of Student Affairs for Eastern Wyoming College is almost deceptively simple – and it’s one he’s brought to Goshen County through similar positions at other colleges and universities, large and small.
“H.D.T.S.S.,” Appiarius said last week. “How does that serve students?
“It’s an ongoing theme – anytime somebody wants to change a policy, start a new policy, have a new program, do anything that impacts students, my question is always, ‘How does that serve students?’” he said. “If it doesn’t serve students, I’m going to ask, ‘Why are we spending resources – be it time, personnel or financial – doing it?”
Appiarius started out in academia in the classroom, teaching political science, following his own personal “passion for politics.” He taught as an adjunct professor for two years before deciding he wanted to seek a doctoral degree. The easiest way to do that, he said, was to go to work for a college and let the college pay for his additional education.
“I got a job in student affairs, because I have a background in student leadership,” Appiarius said. “I was a student vice president, very involved at my college. I converted that into a graduate assistant position.”
He soon learned he had a talent for student affairs as well, he said. He ended up earning a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution and his Doctorate in Organizational Management.
“They’re pretty much what they sound like,” Appiarius said. “Conflict resolution with a cross-cultural conflict focus. I have a lot of understanding of what causes or creates conflicts, as well as many different methodologies to resolve conflicts. I’m a professional mediator by trade.
“And organizational management is understanding how effective organizations grow,” he said. “How a complex organization functions and functions effectively.”
About the only place his experience in conflict resolution doesn’t work is in his home. Appiarius is married to Vivian Lee, who was born in Brazil and raised near the Kalahari Desert in Africa. And about nine years ago, the couple adopted Na-Lee, their daughter, who was born in China and will be 11 in November.
Na-Lee “walks on the air I worship,” Appiarius said. “But it’s kind of ironic – my specialty is supposed to be in cross-cultural conflict. But whenever I have an argument with my wife or my daughter, they’ll tell you I have absolutely no skills in conflict resolution.
“We have kind of a mini-United Nations at home,” he said. “And I’m from another country, too. I’m from New York.”
Appiarius comes to EWC from the University of St. Francis, a four-year Catholic college in Fort Wayne, Ind., with about 2,500 students. His job there was Dean of Students which, despite the lofty title, is similar in almost every way to the position he’s filling now.
“At a traditional, four-year institution – particularly one with a residential component – you’re usually going to have a much larger student-affairs presence,” he said. “Here, if you leave off the coaching staff, most of my staff is really around enrollment management – financial aid, admissions, that kind of stuff.”
Without an extensive residential aspect to the college, student affairs at EWC isn’t as focused on what’s commonly called “resident life” – including student activities, academic support services and counseling, Appiarius said. Traditional four-year colleges also typically have a larger staff, he said.
“The difference here is, we’re not only responsible for student success, addressing the life outside of the classroom,” he said. “We’re also responsible for the recruitment of the student, getting the student here, then, once they’re here, doing the rest of the things in a regular student affairs portfolio.”
Appiarius was attracted to EWC first because of its location in a smaller community. While he said he wouldn’t consider Fort Wayne, with a population of about 125,000, exactly “urban,” it was close enough that he and his family were tired of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.
“It’s really hard in this society, in a more suburban setting, not to be exposed to a pretty materialist paradigm,” he said. “Even if you’re trying hard not to, you’re still exposed to that kind of paradigm – people who don’t understand they have more than enough and don’t understand what ‘enough’ means.”
His other reason for making the move to EWC was a simple desire to work at a community college. While some in higher education may look down on community college systems around the country, Appiarius believes it’s one of the last bastions of academia that really works. And, as funding for education continues to decline and be cut across-the-board, community college offer an available educational resource to a wide swath of the populace.
“Community college is the last type of post-secondary education that’s really affordable,” he said. “There’s kind of a heart-break around higher education in general and the cost of higher education.
“Higher education used to be seen as a gateway to success,” Appiarius said. “It still, I believe, is. And you have to invest in education. To not be investing in education in our own country – our own well-being, our ow global competitiveness – is both short-sighted and really scary.”