Director of Campus Security, April Vournelis, has been on staff at the University of Bridgeport for 25 years. We sat down with her recently to get an insider’s look at what it’s been like to work at UB over the years.
I’m a female in a man’s job. And that’s a big thing. When I go to seminars, the people there are mostly men – you see very few women in this position. It’s an asset for me and the University that I’m here, because safety is my highest priority – and that’s not just because I’m the Director of Security, but a stronger side of that comes from being a mother and protecting my own. That instinct kicks in when I’m dealing with students. It’s like I see these kids as if they were my own.
Being who I am here, I’m inspired most when I talk to my peers from other schools. I find that a lot of them are held back in what they want to do and in what they need to do to accomplish their job. However, I’ve been lucky at the University of Bridgeport where the administration sees how important security is, and they always walk hand-in-hand with me to make sure we get things done.
Yes, it does, because “courageous thinking” is thinking outside of the box. And if people aren’t willing to do that and they stay focused on the smaller picture, they never get to experience what’s outside. I think that’s something UB thrives on, the fact that they’re open to what’s outside of the box. That’s helpful to everyone who works here.
I had this one particular student who was constantly getting into trouble, and I’m thinking in the back of my head, this student is never going to make it here. We had a conversation, him and I, and I kept telling him, “You’re taking the wrong path to where you want to go,” and I told him I truly wanted to see him graduate but I wasn’t sure that he would. He took that conversation to heart and changed who he was. For me, the best thing I ever saw happen here was watching him graduate. Now that young man has come back again and again over the years, to see and talk to me, and basically thank me for caring about him. You see, most people see security as the bad guys. That we only get involved with people when they are doing something wrong. But they don’t see behind the scenes – how much we really do care.
Of those descriptions, “diversity” stands out in my mind the most. I remember when I first came here I started meeting people from all over the world, and for me these countries had only existed in a history book. However, even though I knew they were real, I didn’t feel it until I finally got to meet people who said, “I’m from Spain,” or “I’m from Africa!” Getting to know their culture and understanding them, and fully grasping the fact that these people come from another country, was new for me. And they’re here alone. So I always took an extra step to make sure that they didn’t FEEL alone. I always said to myself, well if I was somewhere else, I’d want someone to help me.
Just the other day, there was a student from Greece who dropped by. It’s been 15 years since he left America and I just couldn’t believe it was him. It was a great feeling for me. I met him years ago, we got along, I really cared for this young man, and here it is 15 years later and he walks through my door!
I mean, on TV you’re seeing people from different countries who don’t get along, and all of a sudden you get students from those very countries here, and all of that’s gone. It’s like, okay, our countries may not get along, but here at UB none of that matters.