Spotlight On: Tom Grites

Tom grites

Susan Nelson-Brown, chairperson of the ISU Alumni Awards Committee, presents Tom Grites with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Galloway, N.J. —  Tom Grites has worn many hats during his nearly 47 years at Stockon—from his notable role as assistant provost for almost 43 years to holding director and interim dean positions to currently being an academic advisor to many student-athletes and an adjunct faculty member. 

In addition to the significant impacts he has made as a member of the Osprey community, Grites was recognized by two separate organizations with prestigious awards in the last six months. 

In March, Grites received the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Lifetime Achievement Award during an awards ceremony in Chicago. The following month, his alma mater, Illinois State University (ISU), gave him the Distinguished Alumni Award. 

To say it has been an overwhelmingly exciting time would be an understatement. 

Tom Grites

Tom Grites after receiving the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Lifetime Achievement Award.

ACPA Lifetime Achievement Award 

Grites, who has been a member of the ACPA since around 1973, said he felt elated and surprised when he learned he had been chosen for this honor. “However, I must admit that I requested specific Stockton individuals nominate me if they felt comfortable doing so. This was about two years before I received the award,” he noted.

When asked how he felt his work at Stockton helped contribute to being recognized this way, Grites said, “I think it is because I have always worked closely with staff in both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, on committees, in developing programs, and making referrals to various offices or people that I felt a student really needed to visit.”  

Being part of this organization also allows Grites to maintain his interest in and current knowledge of the student affairs field. 

“I held an ACPA leadership position in the early part of my career, and ACPA was the only organization that recognized academic advising as a significant student support area of higher education,” he reflected. “I learned a great deal about professional organizations and used what I learned from ACPA to implement many components that I could transfer in the development of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA).”


Illinois State University Distinguished Alumni Award

When Grites learned about the Distinguished Alumni Award nomination, he thought he had already been given it and would receive some notice to that effect. He then realized that the Alumni Achievement Award he received in 1983 and his induction into the College Hall of Fame in 2007 were actually prerequisites for this larger award, and he was just thrilled.

Grites, a first-generation college student, shared how his time at ISU helped shape his career path, eventually leading him to Stockton and higher education.

So, my experiences were circumstantial - not planned – but I (unknowingly) turned them into opportunities.
Tom Grites

“First, I got a campus job as a UPS-like delivery person. One day the Dean of Students mentioned that I should consider higher education, so that was the first hint I got. On another day, the Dean of Education and Psychology asked what I was going to do after I graduated; I mentioned possibly counseling since I was pursuing high school teaching, but I might not have the GPA for admission. He said, ‘Bring me your application.’  I did, and he said, ‘You’re in. Do you need an assistantship?’ I didn’t really know what that was, but I accepted.”

Grites then worked for a Psychology professor in two 100-seat sections of General Psychology, where he really started to work with college students by reviewing preps and subsequent results for their exams and fostering one-on-one conversations with them.

Finally, his graduate advisor alerted him to residence hall positions available at Eastern Michigan University, so he applied, was hired, and started his higher education there in 1967.   

“So, my experiences were circumstantial - not planned – but I (unknowingly) turned them into opportunities,” said Grites.


Pulling back the curtain

What have been the most rewarding parts of his career?

Reflecting on the hundreds of students I have encountered and feel that I have helped to graduate through teaching, advising, forming and/or revising policies and procedures, especially for transfer students; being on the original Steering Committee that formed a national professional association (NACADA) that has around14,000 members now; and being able to contribute to the field of higher education in general, but especially academic advising, through writing, presenting and consulting in many venues.

The most challenging?

Knowing when to stop. I still enjoy every day I am on campus and helping students.


Fun facts that may surprise people about you:

💭 My first career ambition was to be a professional bowler. 

💭 Also, I hold two records that will never be broken: the 100-yard dash time in my high school, since everyone runs 100 meters now; and I am the only person who has attended every National Conference on Academic Advising (1977 – 2023 and counting).

Who has inspired/made an impact on you and why?

First, my high school football coach, who encouraged me to go to college and even drove me to ISU to meet the football and track coaches there. 

Certainly, Bill Daly enlightened me about what General Education could and should be.

Many authors whom I read, quoted, and met during my career.


Your secret to success:

Try to develop every circumstance, incident, obstacle, disappointment, etc., into an opportunity. 

I really didn’t plan to do any of the things I have done.  Two examples: 1) I left student affairs per se due to a disappointment in a specific decision made in an institution where I was working, and I took a lower-paying job that opened my eyes to academic advising, and 2) I didn’t realize that I enjoyed writing and publishing until I was doing my dissertation.   


Reported by Mandee McCullough

Photos submitted