Within 10 minutes, students usually disclose something personal to him, even if it’s an issue as deep as depression or sexual assault. He’s one of those people strangers tell their life story to at the store. Coworkers drop in and talk. And it’s not about the wheelchair and straw hat. It’s just about Dave.

Within 10 seconds, you know why. Dave Pletcher listens, really listens. And he reads body language. If you say you’re fine and you’re not, he’ll know.

“I know what it’s like to want help and feel like no one’s going to give it to you,” he said. “I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who comes into my office, but also anyone who needs help.”

And that means students with disabilities, veterans, first-generation students, even students just struggling to choose a major find their way to the University College advisor.

“They see a guy in a wheelchair and they see a guy who’s probably been through some stuff,” he said. “They have people in their lives who care, but they just need a person who cares who is here. Maybe they just need someone to listen to them for a half hour.”

When he was 2 years old, Pletcher was involved in a car-train accident that left him an incomplete paraplegic. That was his earliest memory, which is why he can identify with those who’ve experienced trauma. He was sent to an elementary school for children with disabilities, in the same classroom with students who were mentally challenged. At 16, he dropped out.

But none of that comes up in conversation because he doesn’t want students to feel like their pain is less significant. Maybe a student has a hidden disability, like bipolar disorder, or has been a victim of domestic violence. Once it’s disclosed, the door is open and he walks through it.

“It’s really about knowing where to go in a crisis,” said Pletcher. “ISU is a great place for students with disabilities. They just have to know they have a disability.”

He helps them navigate the system and tells them it’s their right to advocate for themselves, whether they need adaptive equipment, extended time on tests or an interpreter in the classroom.  And then he holds them accountable.

“If you divulge something to me, I’m going to hold you to it,” he said. “I’m going to ask you about it every time you come to my office.”

The Ball State University alum with a master’s in academic advising has only been here one year, moving from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

“You can’t reach everybody and that’s the hardest thing,” he said. “I try but honestly, that’s my job. Personal life and academics become one here and if I’m not helping with people’s lives, I’m not helping with college.”

When Pletcher does a self-evaluation, he marks that he needs improvement on everything. “I’m hard on myself. I like to advise because I don’t know any other way of living. Advising is what I do. It’s who I am.”