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Deneen Dygert to win Alumni Loyalty Award

Deneen Dygert has spent around 40 years with Drake, both as a student and leading events as Associate Director of Admissions. Photo courtesy of Deneen Dygert

There are two things Deneen Dygert must do every day: hug somebody and laugh. These are not one-and-done tasks. They must happen “every single day with multiple people,” Dygert said, chuckling. 

The Associate Director of Admissions at Drake University has a lot of love to give. She will be honored for such on April 25, when the National Alumni Association Board (NAAB) presents her with the Alumni Loyalty Award.

Dygert was born in southern Missouri. Both of her parents were professors. Her mother taught English, and her father taught art. 

Art was a major aspect of Dygert’s upbringing. On any given day, she and her family would pack the Volkswagen with art supplies, as well as blankets and snacks. They would ride through back alleys and her father would pull over wherever he saw a vision for art. Dygert would draw the landscape in her sketchbook. 

“I spent my life seeing the world…through a different lens, through his lens, that it’s such a beautiful place,” Dygert said. 

Dygert said losing her father was a hard blow. She was just 18 years old — about to begin her second year of undergraduate studies at Drake — when he died suddenly.  

Dygert said that helping others helped her cope with her father’s loss. Shortly after his passing, she began working as a Resident Assistant.

“That difficult time really gave me strength in a weird way,” Dygert said. “I needed to have a purpose, and I needed to know that I could carry on in a significant way, just like [my father] would have wanted me to.” 

As an undergraduate, Dygert made her role as a Resident Assistant top priority but saved time for other initiatives, such as serving on the International Awareness Committee. Dygert also took weekend road trips with her friends. 

“I’m out of southern Missouri doing big things, seeing the world, having people who care about me [and] I’m caring for others as well,” Dygert said. 

Dygert enjoyed life at Drake so much that after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric, she stayed. 

At Drake, she worked on a master’s degree in higher education, developed a passion for Admissions — and even started dating. 

One Friday night, Dygert wanted to go out. However, post-graduation, all of her buddies left Des Moines. She didn’t know anybody — except for the current athletic trainer at Drake. He graduated with her class. Dygert invited him to go to a party with her. 

dygert photo2

Photo courtesy of Deneen Dygert

One evening turned into a long weekend, which turned into 38 years. Dygert married Dave Dygert in 1989. 

Shortly after, Dygert applied for the associate director of Admissions position at Drake. It is the same title she holds today. 

At 29 years old, Dygert became a mom. First, she had Ben. Then Zach and Mel came along. 

“There are no words,” Dygert said. “The love is so big…You get to see this little [child] grow into something…It’s joy.” 

Because she is a mother, she has a greater degree of empathy for the parents of prospective students. 

“I get the idea that you’ve nurtured this person and now you’re letting go — and the intensity of that,” Dygert said. “I love to listen, and then validate, and then provide hope that beautiful things are in store.”   

Supporting parents is one of her many jobs. Dygert’s main role is to coordinate the construction of Admissions programs. She used the metaphor of an artist to describe it. 

First, Dygert has a blank canvas — an opportunity to create a new event. Then, she passes the paintbrush to other departments. They add their ideas, coloring the program. When the planning is complete, Dygert enjoys the masterpiece.

This is not to say that her job is never challenging. 

The pandemic, during which Dygert had to lead Admissions events online, was a major disruption. Then, when in-person gatherings began again, she had to align programs with public health regulations. 

However, when problems surface, Dygert is willing to learn from them. Before the pandemic, Drake Admissions was “inflexible” and “arrogant,” she said. As an example, she cited how applicants for the National Alumni Scholarship had to visit the campus to obtain it. Today, that is no longer a requirement. 

“We have made Drake’s higher [education] more accessible,” Dygert said of changes in Drake Admissions. 

Her proudest accomplishments in her career have not come in the form of trophies and certificates, but rather moments and people. After Admissions events, Dygert has the task of reading the feedback from attendees. 

“One kiddo said, ‘I didn’t know how I’d fit in. I’m leaving as a Drake student. I can’t wait to start,’” Dygert said. 

Knowing that she played a role in creating a magical moment is reward enough for Dygert. Still, Drake and the NAAB will give her an award.

“I want people to feel lifted. I am lifted by lifting others,” Dygert said.

The annual Alumni Awards celebrate graduates who contribute to their communities and the University in exceptional ways. The NAAB presents the Alumni Loyalty Award to somebody who models Drake spirit and devotion. 

“Deneen absolutely exemplifies that,” said Nikki Syverson, the president of the board. 

Syverson said that Dygert takes her commitment to Drake beyond her daily job — a notion that Mel Dygert, a current Drake student and Dygert’s daughter, confirmed. 

“She absolutely loves Drake,” Mel said. “She goes to every single sports event. She’s been going to Relays since I was in the womb — and before that.” 

When explaining why her mother deserved this award, Mel emphasized her love.

“The lengths she goes to make every interaction super special and make everyone feel cared for — I just think anybody who comes into contact with my mom knows that they are loved,” Mel said.

Dygert will receive the Alumni Loyalty Award at the Alumni Awards Ceremony. The event will begin at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 in Sheslow Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

 

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