Story by Tamara Tiethoff, Saint Reporter
Photo courtesy of Andris Visockis
Once a Saint, always a Saint: If there is any one person who embodies this saying, it is our very own Dean of Students, Andrea Wirgau. Following the footsteps of her grandmother, father, and sister Andrea chose Aquinas because of her strong roots here, her Catholic heritage, and the overwhelming sense of community. After graduation, Andrea worked across the country and traveled from state to state doing experiential education work to enjoy the outdoors. Recently, she found herself back in Michigan and decided that Aquinas would still be a good fit for her.
“It’s very satisfying to be able to give back to the exact same population I was a part of,” said Wirgau.
While studying communication at Aquinas College, Wirgau got involved with the various opportunities Aquinas has to offer. She was highly involved in Campus Ministry, led the CYBIAC retreat, participated in study abroad in Ireland, participated in many service projects like Into the Streets, played intramural sports, was a student worker in the advising office, and an intern in the alumni department.
“I was the equivalent of the folks that dabble in everything,” explained Wirgau.
When asked about some of her favorite parts about her college years, Wirgau was quick to choose her trip to Ireland. Along with the many memories from the trip, she felt like it was one of the biggest things that contributed to her growth. The trip was one that truly opened her eyes to a new way of living.
“I learned [that] I can choose my own path and not live by default, nor by other people’s choices or perceptions, whether that be for good or bad. I chose my own path with intention,” stated Wirgau.
After careful consideration, Wirgau realized that input, learner, intellection, empathy and positivity, as defined by Gallup through the Strengths movement, were some of her greatest assets and the most logical place to use those for her was in student affairs.
“I like to gather every resource I can get my hands on (input). I knew I wanted to lead, and I knew I wanted to work with others who were in the business of learning and thinking (intellection). My personal mission in life is to facilitate positive growth opportunities (positivity), and I wanted to do all of this within the context of higher education (learner),” said Wirgau.
One way to view Student Affairs is through the lens of what takes place on campus to support and bolster the learning in the classroom. At Aquinas College, it envelops Career and Counseling Services, Campus Ministry, Academic and Learning Services, Campus Safety, Campus Life, Residence Life, and more.
“I like to think of it as facilitation of life lessons outside the parameters of the classroom,” stated Wirgau.
Wirgau felt like being a part of student affairs would give her the opportunities to help as many students grow as much as possible in whatever way or manner they could. She strives to have people understand that they are unique and can be exactly who they want to be. Recently she was at a community panel discussion talking with K-12 educators about what were the most important things to teach students. Although there was many great answers she really felt that allowing students to find and use their uniqueness to succeed resonated the most with her.
“The best thing a student can do is to use their voice, trust their voice, and learn to advocate for [his or her self]. I think there are a lot of competing things in this world and a student knows him better than anyone else. The best thing anyone can do in any walk of life, but specifically as a freshmen at Aquinas, is learn what your voice is; not your parents voice, not your best friends voice, not your roommate’s voice. What is it that you believe, and what you feel is your path, and use that to succeed,” encouraged Wirgau.
Along with giving students the opportunity to grow and be exactly who they want to be, Wirgau has a few long-term goals for Aquinas College as a whole. She hopes to be a part of the sustainable future and to help build and sustain systems for the Aquinas family. One of her major long-term goals for Aquinas is to increase and improve the safety systems that are already in place at Aquinas.
“My goal is to make it … the strongest place that it can absolutely be. Much like the rope which draws its strength from many individual threads, my vision is to strengthen and tie together the support systems in place for students. There is a lot of good going on at Aquinas which can be brought together to be even better,” said Wirgau.
Along with giving students growth opportunities, Wirgau has many things that she has enjoyed about being the Dean of Students so far.
“My absolute favorite thing is the pleased look on people’s faces in the community when I tell them that I work for Aquinas. Everyone has a story of connection [to Aquinas],” explained Wirgau. She is also looking forward to fostering that connection to Aquinas for her husband, Dustin, and three children, Gabriel 3yrs, Nora 2yrs and Kaitlin, 9 months.
One of her favorite things about being on the campus specifically was having the opportunity to teach one of the freshmen experience classes this year. She wanted to give a special shout out to the eighteen girls in her class. She is thankful for the many laughs and experiences they have shared and the way that they have all come together.
Overall, Wirgau encourages college students to spread their wings and embrace everything that comes their way.
As Wirgau said, “This is the time to stretch and grow and it’s an awesome opportunity. I want students to know that failing is growing, fail forward, use all the opportunities to reflect and learn what you could do differently or what you did well. I think our culture focuses so much on the weaknesses that we don’t celebrate what we actually do really well. … It’s in large part up to the students, along with advice and input and learning experiences in the world, to define success for themselves.”