Volunteer Spotlight
Gavin Engel, ’97, Gives Back in All Aspects of His Life

By Eva Richards

gavin-engel-and-kimberlyGavin Engel, '97, and his wife Kimberly show their Cardinal and Black support during Cram the Convo 2020. 

In his roles as a counselor at West Chicago Community High School and a mental health therapist for a private practice, Gavin Engel, ’97, knows the value of human connection and community service. Throughout his life, he has strived to be a positive influence in the world around him, and that has extended to giving back to the NIU community, which he credits NIU with paving the path to his life’s successes.

NIUAA: Tell us about your life leading up to choosing NIU.
Engel: I originally thought I wanted to go into business, and that is why I chose NIU. I did not receive a lot of career guidance or college major advice when I was in high school, so, since my father was in business, I thought that would be the right fit for me. My high school counselor actually told me not to apply to NIU because, according to her, my ACT score was too low. Can you believe that? I guess my good grades in high school got me into NIU and I'm forever grateful that they did.

NIUAA: What was your experience at NIU? 
Engel: I lived in Stevenson North 10D my freshman year and majored in sociology with an emphasis in criminology. The camaraderie with that group of guys was second to none! Dr. Minor in my criminology classes was a wealth of knowledge and was so down-to-earth and really cared for his students. I actually had an undergraduate internship over a summer in which I worked for the juvenile courts in Cuyahoga County in Ohio. I also was an active member of The Delta Chi Fraternity on campus. This experience enabled me to do community service projects, which is something that is near and dear to me. 

NIUAA: What has your career journey been?
Engel: After graduating from NIU, I worked for a residential treatment facility for children and adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral difficulties. From there, I worked for a special education cooperative and was the lead counselor in their therapeutic alternative school. Now, I am a high school counselor full-time at West Chicago Community High School. I also work part-time for a private practice as a mental health therapist. 

NIUAA: In a few sentences, please share the impact NIU has had on your life: 
Engel: NIU has helped shape me and paved the way for where I am today. My education and experiences were first rate. The diversity, the learning environment and experiences make it an institution you want to be a part of. Each year, I participate in NIU Cares Day with my oldest son to pass on our tradition of giving back to those entities and communities that have made a difference in our lives.

NIUAA: Why is volunteering such a meaningful part of your life?
Engel: I volunteer because giving back is very important to my family and me. I truly believe you get back a hundred times over what you give. It's who I am. I have been very lucky in life and giving back to the entities that have been so gracious to me over the years is a no-brainer. I think time, effort and commitment go a lot further than writing a check, for instance. Forming relationships and seeing how a group can make a huge difference now and into the future is what it's all about. Since I sponsor the Interact Club (a school and community service club) at the high school I work at, I hope I am emulating service in action without any strings attached to my students. At NIU volunteering seems natural. To be able to interact and volunteer with fellow alumni, administrators and current students is second to none. You hear so many different stories about how NIU has had such a profound effect on so many people. It's amazing to be a part of that. 

If you are looking for other ways to be an NIU volunteer, please check out NIU Nexus, or contact Liz McKee at lmckee1@niu.edu or 815-753-7400.