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From West Point to the East End

Retired Army Colonel Alan Vitters inspires new leaders at SJC


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

— From Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

In an office on the second floor of the Business Technology building at St. Joseph’s Long Island Campus sits a very mild-mannered gentleman in casual business attire. His office is full of family photos and the different places that he has been. He is Alan Vitters, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration and accounting, and retired United States Army colonel.

Dr. Vitters has taken the road less traveled, and he believes that it really has made all the difference. “In some respects I think that that’s very typical of my life,” Dr. Vitters says after quoting the poem by Robert Frost.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Northport, Dr. Vitters spent 24 years in the armed forces, during which he was awarded two Meritorious Service Medals, seven Air Medals, three Bronze Stars with valor and merit, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Soldier’s Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, the Legion of Merit and a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

As humble today as he was when he began his career with the U.S. Army at the age of 18, Dr. Vitters reflects back on his initial decision to join the Army and apply to the United States Military Academy for his college education.

“I think what initially drove me there was the idea of being a whole person,” he says. “In other words, being in an environment where you pursued academic things, athletic sports and physical conditioning — and also a spiritual environment as well.”

According to Dr. Vitters, the words of then-President John F. Kennedy also aided in his decision. “He was talking about serving your country,” he says, “and ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ That whole idea, that whole spirit, kind of said that maybe a military career was for me, and all of those things were in my head at the time as an 18-year-old.”

In the Army, Dr. Vitters served as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division and as a platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam. From 1971 to 1973, he was commander of the Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., directing the casket team for the state funerals of former Presidents Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He later served on the faculty at West Point in the Department of Behavioral Science and Leadership from 1975-1978, and commanded the 4th Battalion, 54th Infantry at Fort Knox, Ky., from 1983 to 1985.

After retiring from the Army in 1992, Dr. Vitters taught a junior ROTC program in Florida. “When I retired, I knew that I wanted to go into teaching,” Dr. Vitters says. “It’s a great way to make a difference in young people’s lives.”

After returning to Long Island, he began to look around for colleges that would be a good fit for him, regarding his teaching experiences and his military background.

“St. Joe’s chose me,” he says, “and I very much enjoy being here with the St. Joe’s student body.”

Now in his ninth year as an SJC instructor, Dr. Vitters teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels in organizational management. “I’m drawn to the teaching mission here, I really enjoy teaching and being with the students, I hope that I can make a difference in their lives,” he says.

During the academic year, Dr. Vitters teaches seven courses and brings his military, leadership and teamwork experiences to the classroom as a teaching aid. “I like to think that we are seeding Long Island with world-class innovative concepts for management, and I like to be a part of that,” he says.

He is also involved in the Armed Force Association on the Long Island Campus.

“St. Joe’s has a great tradition now of helping military students and it’s a very military-friendly campus,” he says, noting that there are about 180 military-connected students now involved at SJC in one way or another. Dr. Vitters has been the moderator of the group since its inception five years ago.

The club holds events raising awareness of the hardships soldiers endure, such as movie nights and hosting keynote speakers, including World War II veterans. It also serves as a social function for its members who periodically gather to watch the Army-Navy game and other events.

“We’ve been doing some fundraising for the Wounded Warrior Project and also sponsoring events that will spark people’s awareness of what the military is all about and the sacrifices that military people make,” he says.

Dr. Vitters offers what he called the “three ingredients to success in any organization” for students. The elements are focus, feeling and time.

“You’ve got to learn to focus on the areas that really matter and have feeling for what you do, try to find a match between your skill set and your interests and the kinds of positions that you want to go into,” he says.

“My last bit of advice would be that they should be adaptable, and should prepare to give a lot of time. To be successful it’s not a 9-to-5 job with anybody today.”


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