New college president has passion for teaching

From the The Brunswick News

Gregory Aloia had a little unfinished business to take care of in West Virginia before he could begin his drive this weekend to start work Monday as president of College of Coastal Georgia.

Aloia had some people to thank and a budget to finalize at Concord University, where he has been president.

Now he is ready to head south to join a new campus family - and his wife, who has been in Glynn County unpacking at their new home.

"I can't tell you how highly I've been treated by everyone down here (in the Golden Isles). I feel like I'm really a part of the family," Aloia said of College of Coastal Georgia.

Though this will be his second college presidency, Aloia did not always think this was his calling.

As a student at St. Mary's College, in California, he was a member of the football, rugby and wrestling teams. He later became football coach at the college and then at San Francisco State.

"My first love was athletics ... but I found myself kind of backing into teaching. Working with kids with special needs as a lifeguard one summer, I found a great attraction there," he said.

"It was a great parallel to taking an underdog team, like a last place tee-ball team, and making it to the championship the next year."

Inspired by his older brother who had completed a doctorate at the University of California at Riverside, Aloia stepped away from coaching and into an academic program related to his new passions: teaching and special education.

He continued in sports, scouting for a football team and coaching a wrestling team, but eventually became a full-time doctoral student.

Once he finished, he applied a lesson to his work that he had learned at St. Mary's College: "Come to learn, go to serve."

"I worked for a year in the federal government on a piece of legislation called IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). I got a view of the national landscape in special education across the country," he said.

Aloia became a professor in Arizona, but found a need to experience more of what he was passing along to his students. He decided to work at a youth center as a teacher, working with emotionally disturbed children, and then returned to being a high school teacher.

Aloia says taking time to experience what he was teaching students to do was some of the best years of his life. He applied the lessons he learned working with parents and teachers as he began training teachers at Arkansas State University.

It was after Arkansas State that he was approached to start taking on more leadership roles.

Aloia became a department chair in the City University of New York system, recognized for its commitment to academic excellence. From there, he took another leadership role as a graduate dean, running a research office, at Illinois State University. But his calling to serve and teach grew stronger.

"I'd been there five years and felt it was time to go back to being a faculty member, so I served six more years as a professor," Aloia said. "I've been at three universities where I've been named faculty member of the year, and been very privileged."

Next, Aloia became dean of the College of Education and professor of special education at Florida Atlantic University, at Boca Raton, finding it both a challenge and a great opportunity. After that, he moved to the presidency at Concord University, in West Virginia.

Now he is looking forward to being president at College of Coastal Georgia, and students can expect to see him in more than just a leadership role.

"I might have had the titles of dean and president, but every (business) card I've had since 1983 also says 'professor,'" he said of his passion for teaching.

It would appear that that same passion runs in his family. Aloia says his wife, Mary, of 39 years is an accomplished Montessori teacher, and most of his seven children, ranging in ages from 19 to 37, found callings in academia.

"I often joke, my boys are all accountants and my daughters all went into education, thus my sons will be rich, but my daughters will be enriched," Aloia said with a laugh.

With one daughter completing a second master's degree and several others considering graduate school, Aloia couldn't be happier. His sights are now on helping build College of Coastal Georgia into an even greater beacon for higher education.

"I have a great love and excitement for what I do. If we can put together a campus, especially one for a first-generation kid, and they get that degree, they can change their entire family tree.

"My brother was first in the history of my dad's side to get a degree, and we had 61 cousins," Aloia said. "I've had very good mentors in my life, and I've worked with very fine professionals who've taught me to be a leader; I'm looking forward to doing that again."

Aloia is succeeding Valerie Hepburn, who since 2008 shepherded College of Coastal Georgia from a junior college to a baccalaureate college with an expanded campus. Hepburn is joining the staff of the University System of Georgia and will return to Glynn County next year as chief executive of Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation, which helps fund a variety of community programs.

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Release Date: 6/30/2013
Source: The Brunswick News

By SARAH LUNDGREN