University salutes campus leader, veteran Placido
In a recent Twitter post, Robert Placido said, “I pity the people who stand on glass ceilings in the way of these two powerful women,” referring to Chancellor Carine M. Feyten, center, and Retired Maj. General Mary Saunders, right, a TWU Distinguished Alumna and executive director of the TWU Leadership Institute.
Texas Woman’s University has a proud history of assisting veterans who make the transition from military service to civilian life and careers. Participating in that boots-to-books focus, Robert Placido volunteers for veterans by providing training and coaching through TWU’s Veterans Center and the United Way of Denton.
A four-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Placido is TWU’s chief information officer and associate provost for technology.
His service to veterans is payback. “I serve veterans for no other reason than I believe in the mission. I love those guys and gals. They will always be my extended family. I was a mess before I went into the military. The discipline it taught me changed my life. I so appreciated what it did for me, “ Placido says.
TWU is academic home to nearly 300 student veterans and more than 400 dependents of veterans, and is recognized nationally as a Military Friendly School for recruiting and supporting post-military students.
Placido’s transition from military service to college was easy, and he assumed most veterans had similar experiences. In fact, his dissertation postulated that veterans would have a higher score on self-determination than their peers when returning to college. In reality, post-military men and women often lack the self-discipline needed for higher education as they function on their own for the first time in their lives.
“In the military, they are completely controlled. There’s always someone watching them, and they’re taken care of financially. Veterans leave the service with hidden anxieties because people view them differently and think they’re going to be better students when often they don’t even know how to take notes,” Placido says.
After completing his doctoral degree, Placido studied the culture shock that veterans face when they take a seat in classes populated mostly by regular freshmen.
The classroom behavior differences between regular freshmen and veterans are striking. Veterans make direct eye contact, are outwardly confident, and speak more assertively than their classmates. Veterans do not have the same experience during their time in service; however, generally speaking they are mentored to be loud and aggressive leaders.
“When veterans raise their hands, they’re assertive. That can be a bit jarring to traditional students and faculty because of their military bearing. We put highly trained adults in an environment with kids and faculty who aren’t used to that kind of behavior, and they can be perceived as scary,” Placido says.
Placido tells the veterans they need to mindful of the image they portray because essentially they are pit bulls in a roomful of poodles.
“Students love that reference,” says Brittanie Romine, director of TWU’s Veterans Center. “His skillful use of humor helps them laugh away some of their frustrations and remain focused on their central mission, which is graduation. The students value how, even though Dr. Placido is an associate provost, he can be so real.”
Fortunately, self-discipline can be taught, and that’s Placido’s goal. He coaches veterans on life skills and study skills and guides them on locating appropriate services. At TWU, veterans find answers to their questions and help with registration, financial services, communication and housing.
Placido soon will begin counseling veterans through a 12-hour course called Project Camo, a transitioning service sponsored by TWU and other partners thanks to a $50,000 grant from United Way of Denton Council. He will facilitate conversations around goal setting, aspirations and educational opportunities.
The training targets veterans who may not know how valuable their GI benefits are or where to find help with life skills, whether that be pursuing higher education, balancing a checkbook, or procuring a home loan.
“Dr. Placido is a leading community advocate and really invests in the lives of veterans throughout the community. He personally contacts numerous TWU veteran students to resolve issues the students may be experiencing provide encouragement and offer support,” says Alex Reed, United Way of Denton community impact director.
For Placido, it’s about focus: “You could spend your life doing service, but I focus on veterans.”
Placido began his civilian career in retail business, eventually working into management of all 15 Montgomery Ward stores in three states before returning to school for a computer science degree – an uncommon degree 25 years ago and one that changed his life.
Hired by TWU as a senior programmer about 20 years ago, Placido advanced into his current positions. As associate provost, he oversees academics, course evaluations and salaries. As CIO, he directs university programming for finance, payroll and human resources; leads the infrastructure team for network and database services; and supervises client services such as classroom support and computer repair. Placido’s operating strategy centers on providing services to make life better for students and faculty. He especially enjoys interacting with small groups and getting feedback.
“I spend a lot of time listening to and working with people across campus so I know what I should concentrate on and how I can contribute in the best possible way,” Placido says.
Change is the nature of technology. In the past decade, the TWU technology services team has reworked the university’s business operational systems, enhanced the student system twice and now is working with Marketing and Communication to redesign the Website for the third time. A major current focus is on the infrastructure needed to work with big data.
“Computer services are a bit like doing art in the sand. It’s beautiful for a time, and then the waves will come in and you have to start over. Everything I have done will be replaced by something new in a few years,” Placido says.
Out of the office, Placido has a reputation for being a bit of a character. He self-identifies as a geek and offers as evidence his participation in the United Way of Denton’s Dancing with the Stars competition. “They suckered me into doing it. I don’t dance,” he says. But he made it into the final round.
There’s valuable training and possibly some geeky behavior going on at home as well.
With some help from the rest of the family, Placido and his daughter, Kira, now 18, rebuilt a 1965 Ford Thunderbird. “Kira and I learned everything together online. It’s an amazing time to be alive. You can learn anything on YouTube. We have a running ’65 Thunderbird to show for it,” he says.
It’s all a matter of focus.