NASPA Membership Spotlight: Otterbein University

Tune in each month as we feature individual and institutional members. Our members will share their experiences in the field, their personal and professional accomplishments, and exciting initiatives that they have happening on their campus!

This month we are excited to spotlight Dean Robert Gatti and Otterbein University. Dean Gatti shared a few things about his professional journey, his department’s accomplishments, and how NASPA has been a resource for himself and his campus community. A recipient of the 2010 Pillars of the Profession Award, Dean Gatti tells us what makes Otterbein University a model community!

Founded in 1847, Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, offers over 70 majors and 8 Graduate Programs to 3,000 students. Otterbein University has been a pioneer institution for 170 years, being the first institution to include women as both faculty and students, as well as being an institution that embraced diversity by admitting students of color prior to the Civil War and being a place that welcomed Japanese-American students who were sent to internment camps in WWII. Read more about Otterbein’s history and continued innovations in higher education here.

Robert M. Gatti began his career at Otterbein University as a residence hall director, progressively moving to various positions until 1992, when he was appointed Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs. He oversees a variety of areas including: the Office of Residence Life, Student Conduct and Wellness, Center for Community Engagement, Center for Career and Professional Development, Chaplain, Counseling, Food Service, Diversity, University Health Services, Police Department, and Athletics.

Bob has been both president of the Ohio College Personnel Association (OCPA) and the Ohio Association of Student Personnel Administrators (OASPA). He helped to develop a proposal to NASPA to establish the Student-Athlete Knowledge Community and serves as inaugural Co-Chair. He served as the NASPA representative to the International Association of College Law Enforcement Agencies (IACLEA) Accreditation Commission from 2005 to 2014; was Co-Chair of the NASPA Small College and University Institute in 2012; serves on the NASPA Advisory Services Task Force; and is currently a member of the NASPA Foundation Board. He was a contributing author to two New Directions of Student Services series: Dealing with Behavioral and Psychological Problems of Students: A Contemporary Update (2009) and In Search of Safer Communities: Emerging Practices for Student Affairs in Addressing Campus Violence (2008).

Bob is a past recipient of the NASPA Region IV-E Outstanding Performance as a Dean; OCPA Outstanding State Division Leader; the OCPA President’s Discretionary Award; and the Phillip A. Tripp Distinguished Service Award. He was recognized as a NASPA “Pillar of the Profession” in 2010, was the first recipient of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Distinguished Alumni Award and received an Honorary Alumnus Award from Otterbein College in 2003.

How has being an institutional and individual member of NASPA benefitted you personally and Otterbein University’s campus community? The professional development opportunities at both the regional and national conferences and Small Colleges and Universities Institute have been extremely beneficial to our university and me. In addition, the opportunity to network with colleagues that I can call upon with questions or insights has been very helpful.

Is there a NASPA resource that you and/or your staff continue to use year after year for programing and professional development? The publications, in particular, Leadership Exchange, and the Foundation-supported publications. We’ve also benefitted from the Small Colleges and Universities Institute, Student-Athlete Knowledge Community, and the resources from the public policy. 

What events that Otterbein University’s student affairs staff been involved with this year that everyone is especially proud of? The opening of the Promise House, which is a resource center established to meet the needs of under-resourced students at Otterbein. It includes a food co-op, resource center to help students with tax preparation and financial literacy, access to social services, textbook needs, transportation, and food. This was a program we first heard about while attending a NASPA conference, and we were able to replicate it on our campus. We opened in the spring of 2016 with 56 registered shoppers; at the end of 2017 we had over 300 registered shoppers.

What NASPA event do you and your staff look forward to attending every year? We always look forward to the annual conference along with the Small Colleges and Universities Institute that’s held every other year.

Have you and/or your staff used any NASPA resources as you addressed issues on campus this year? We are currently undergoing a remote review of Otterbein University’s Division of Student Affairs through NASPA Advisory Services.

How have you supported new student affairs professionals on campus? By providing quality professional development through NASPA resources. What NASPA resources have you directed them to use? Just recently, the Small Colleges and Universities division published a blog entitled, “Five Things Early Career Professionals Can Do in a Transition to SCU.” I shared that with our new professionals and we had a conversation regarding the article.

Favorite quote or words of inspiration as it relates to the student affairs profession? I have a framed plaque of a verse entitled, “The Student Is.” I look at it often.

          The most important person on campus.

Without them there would be no need for the institution. 

Not a cold enrollment statistic,

but a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own.

 Not someone to be tolerated so that we can do our thing,

they are our thing. 

No dependent on us. Rather, we are dependent on them.

Not an interruption of our work, but the purpose of it.

We are not doing them a favor by serving them. They are doing

us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.

What is your favorite time on campus and why? Orientation and commencement are the two favorite times -- when students are arriving on campus with a future ahead of them, and completing their degrees.

Why should an institution consider a NASPA membership? NASPA is an outstanding value for institutions. It provides current information relevant to the field and in higher education. It also represents student affairs in Washington, D.C. The Foundation raises money to support the vision of NASPA through scholarships for graduate students to attend regional conferences and to advance innovative programs.

Why should an individual consider a NASPA membership? I think for the same reasons as an institutional membership. I would like to add on an individual basis, you get more out of NASPA if you become engaged in the organization. I had the opportunity to become engaged with the Small Colleges and Universities Institute serving as institute chair. This gave me an opportunity to develop a cohort group of institute attendees to which we still connect to this day. I also had the opportunity to be involved in the creation of the Student-Athlete Knowledge Community, and I’m a member of the NASPA Foundation Board and the NASPA Student Affairs Review Task Force. Again, these were opportunities for me as an individual to engage with professionals throughout the field. All of this work has been extremely rewarding.

You recently received a grant for $10,000,000 to use for any student affairs program or initiative. What is the first thing you would do? Advance our work with under-resourced students, whether to help provide affordable textbooks or resources on financial literacy.

What makes Otterbein University’s Student Affairs staff stand out on campus? We are engaged at all levels of the campus community. We work collaboratively with Academic Affairs; a number of staff actually teach for credit classes. We are heavily involved in the university strategic planning, and we are well respected by students, faculty, staff, and trustees.