Mark Vegter is an Illinois State University English graduate with an impressive resume. Topping his accomplishments are over 16 years of advising at Illinois State, the past few in the English department. He also serves as the outgoing PRIDE academic advisor and chair of the Academic Advisor Advisory Council, an area very near to his heart. By serving as an “advisor to advisors,” he keeps advisory staff on track as students change with technological and cultural movements, an initiative that didn’t exist 17 years ago.
“When I was a student, I rarely saw my advisor and advisors were rarely LGBTQ,” Vegter explained. In contrast, today’s incoming LGBTQ students are met with an understanding advisor that facilitates their success and relates to their needs. In his role as Council chair, Vegter stresses the importance of building relationships with students from start to finish while watching them grow and progress as both students and individuals. He is also creating a blog to serve as a resource for advisors across the nation. The blog will keep information and ideas in a central location allowing LGBTQ advisors across the country to learn and share their experiences.
Campus life has also changed significantly since Vegter’s time as an undergraduate. “Back then, LGBTQ students would meet privately in a single room on campus, and it was never advertised,” he said. “Since there were also no cell phones or e-mail, we just quietly established our meetings through word of mouth. It wasn’t necessarily a ‘secret’, but also wasn’t broadcast across campus. In the late 1980s, that was just not something that would be acceptable. Now, PRIDE students are hosting charity drag shows in the Brown Ballroom.”
Vegter’s responsibilities and accomplishment reach further than advising and teaching. He helped create the Safe Zone program steering committee, comprised of students, faculty and staff from a variety of campus departments and areas. The Safe Zone Program provides educational training, advocacy and awareness in a campus-wide effort to establish a network of allies within the Illinois State community to create a safe and non-judgmental climate that sustains the LGBTQ community in their academic pursuits.
He is also a member of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and the Illinois Academic Advisor Association (ILAAA). He has presented or co-presented 14 times since 2001 at state, regional and national conferences. Vegter co-authored a Region V NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) grant which provided seed money for a one-day advising/career related conference at Illinois State. He won the Team Excellence Award in 2007 with the other members of the planning committee for this conference.
In 2008, Vegter was elected a national commission chair with NACADA and successfully placed a bid for Illinois State University to host the 2011 Region V NACADA Conference. Usually held in Chicago, it will be the first time the conference comes to Central Illinois and will allow neighboring regions in states such as Iowa and Missouri to participate. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Herb Sanders Award for Outstanding Advisement and received the Partners in Diversity Award at the 21st annual Commitment to Diversity Recognition Ceremony held by the Diversity Advocacy Office.
Mark is a former president, treasurer and vice president of the Triangle Association, a faculty-staff group that also partners with State Farm Pride, Advocacy Council for Human Rights and McLean County Aids Task Force. On the first Friday of each month, the organizations share hosting a “First Friday” happy hour.
What the list of titles and awards fails to render is Vegter’s sincere concern and sense of responsibility for his students. Such emotions became visible as he shared his experience chaperoning 15 LGBTQ students to an overnight conference in Bloomington, Ind.
“When we arrived, I met another chaperone who only had three students with him, and one of them ended up in the hospital due to an extreme allergic reaction to her medication,” Vegter said. “Knowing I had five times as many students with me, I was extremely nervous and was up all night, glued to my cell phone in case one of them had an emergency or needed my help.”
Due to his full agenda, Vegter is currently transitioning his role as PRIDE advisor to a new, full-time LGBTQ advisor who will equally guide and relate to students. The transition has been made with extreme care so LGTB students can continue to thrive and succeed at Illinois State and beyond.