GCC Dean of Student Affairs Retires After 34-Year Career Helping Students Succeed

Monday, February 25, 2019
 

After a 34-year career in the state’s higher education system seeing Gateway Community College (GCC) through significant growth and change, Dr. Wilson Luna will soon be viewing the College through a new lens.  Luna, Dean of Student Affairs, is retiring from GCC and will be leaving at the end of February. 

While his retirement will remove him from the everyday work that consumes his time, his passion for helping students continues and he plans to remain engaged in education and with GCC.  Luna will continue to make a difference in the lives of GCC students  as a member of the Board of Directors of the Gateway Community College Foundation, Inc.  He also plans to support higher education through his work with the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education (CALAHE), which he helped found in 1979.  A non-profit organization, CALAHE is dedicated to promoting the participation of Latinos in different areas of post-secondary education in Connecticut.  In April, Luna will travel to his native Puerto Rico to continue his other work for the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) which includes evaluating and collecting data about other institutions of higher learning to determine their compliance with established criteria for accreditation.

Luna’s drive to continue helping students who face challenges when many would look upon retirement as a well-deserved vacation is no surprise to those who are familiar with his workstyle.  GCC alumnus Edwin A. Martinez, Manufacturing Technology Manager & Senior Manufacturing Engineer at DRT Aerospace-Meriden and an adjunct professor at GCC, said that Luna has always gone above and beyond to serve students in the community.  Martinez came to know Luna while when he was a student 18 years ago.  He said that Luna saw his potential and believed in him, which gave him hope.  Martinez said that he credits Luna for helping him to achieve any level of the success he has today. 

“He believed in me even before I believed in myself,” Martinez said.

Thomas Griggs, nominating chairman of the Gateway Community College Foundation Board, said that Luna will be a great asset in his new role.  “The Gateway Community College Foundation is thrilled to have Wilson Luna join the Foundation.  His wealth of knowledge about Gateway Community College, incredible network of relationships and dedication to the support of our students will be invaluable to our ongoing mission,” Griggs said.  

Luna’s interest in education and, specifically, helping students facing challenges, developed when he was a junior at Southern Connecticut State University and he was hired for the summer as a tutor/counselor for a federal Upward Bound program at the University of Bridgeport.  The program helps students from low-income families or those whose parents don’t hold a bachelor’s degree to prepare to become college-ready.  Entering an environment where he could have a direct influence on teenagers and see that they could succeed against the odds, he got a glimpse into the work that would become his calling.  He said that his success in that summer job continued into the school year when he worked with Upward Bound teens on Saturdays.  He helped students with SAT preparation, college admissions questions and financial aid.  Noticing his knack for getting through to students, his mentors encouraged him to apply for graduate school to earn a Master of Science in Counseling.

Upon graduating from University of Bridgeport’s master’s program, he was hired in the counseling office at Sacred Heart University, soon transitioning to become the associate director of admissions, where he worked for nine years.  Eventually, Luna’s dream of raising hope of a better life for at-risk and non-traditional students convinced him to seek a career shift.   

“I wanted to make a meaningful impact on students at risk,” he said, noting that for many students, community college is their only chance to continue their education and move beyond their current circumstances to the next level. 

A job offer from the Greater New Haven State Technical College in 1985 and a merger in 1992 with South Central Community College put him on the path that would lead to GCC.  His experience grew into various student service areas.  

As Dean of Student Affairs, Luna oversees Enrollment Management, the Center for Educational Services, and Student Engagement and Career Services, so his role at GCC puts him in touch with a large staff and every credit student is in some way impacted.  Luna fluidly moves between speaking English and Spanish throughout his day as he speaks to students who may know English, but find it challenging to put their thoughts into words.  He has seen a host of changes over the years – staffing procedures, facilities, reorganization, enrollment, requirements, and wraparound services to name a few.  His job has allowed him to help shape how GCC responds to the needs of the community and he continues to be a tireless advocate for Latino students, raising money for scholarships while serving as chair of the CALAHE annual golf tournament.  The organization has awarded over one-quarter of a million dollars to high school and college students going to any college.  

“Dr. Luna has made invaluable contributions to student success at Gateway Community College,” said GCC President, Paul Broadie II. “It is no surprise that he will continue to make an impact after retirement by serving on the Foundation Board, and through his work with CALAHE. Our students are the beneficiaries of his dedication and commitment, which has been unwavering.  How fortunate we are to build upon his legacy as Dean of Student Affairs, and even more fortunate that he has chosen to stay engaged through his work with the Foundation.”

Even though he will remain involved at GCC, Luna said that he will miss the daily interaction he enjoys with students, faculty and staff.