Been Here, Done Everything

By Sally Anne Flecker | Spring 2011

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In 20-plus years with the College of Business, Assistant Dean Sam Gaglio has mastered every skill, except how to say no. 

Let it be said that Sam Gaglio, assistant dean for Undergraduate Studies, has immersed himself in his work from the beginning.

In fact, during his first week on the job at the Notre Dame business school, a huge rainfall overwhelmed the storm drains and left the basement of the old Hayes-Healy building afloat in eight inches of water. Gaglio was called to go take care of it. One of his responsibilities, it seems, was building manager. He hightailed it downstairs, took off his shoes and sloshed around, checking things out.

Stepping into the faculty support center, he looked down to see the surge protectors for the computers underwater—with their red indicators still shining “on.” He froze. Water and electricity are a suboptimal combination—especially when you are shin-deep in the water. Then he thought, “If I was going to be electrocuted, it would have happened by now.” He located the switch, shut off the power to the building, and got maintenance over to pump out the water. Disaster averted.

That was 21 years ago, but in many ways, it’s an apt description of the role he’s always taken on at the College of Business—plunging in wherever he’s needed, solving problems, keeping things moving along. Over the years, he’s guided several graduate programs along as interim director. On committees within Mendoza and across the University, he’s helped to tackle curriculum review, undergraduate research and the university honor code, to mention a few. Gaglio even shovels a path between the College and the parking lot on snowy days. And he’s done it all without skipping a beat on his constant responsibility and primary interest—the Office of Undergraduate Advising.

Along the way, he’s transformed the very tenor of the office from a place where the students went to find out what classes they needed, to one where advisors know the students and help them develop their potential, as well as alert them to a wealth of opportunities. 

“In my first two years, I heard seniors say, ‘If I would have only known, I would have done this,’” says Gaglio. He made a promise to himself that no senior would ever say that on his watch. “It’s OK if they chose not to do something, but I didn’t want them to ever feel like they didn’t know that an option was out there for them.”

Gaglio has a few golden rules that guide interactions in the office, but perhaps the one nearest to his heart is to never say no. “I have told my staff that if they ever have to give a ‘no’ answer, they can never just say, ‘No,’” he says. “They have to include, ‘No, you can’t do this, but here are two other options.’ The logic behind this is that even if you have to give a person two less-attractive alternatives, if they get to choose, they will walk away saying, ‘I got to make a choice. I wasn’t told what to do.’”

Gaglio fully intended to retire this year. Having grandchildren, he says, has made him realize that time is not a limitless commodity. However, Dean Carolyn Woo came to him in late April and asked him to delay his retirement by a year in light of the steep increases in enrollment at Mendoza College recently. “We very much need his expert guidance, deep knowledge of our undergraduate student body, and his wisdom,” she says. 

Gaglio’s children will have to put away the lists of home repairs they were lining up for him. He and his wife, Gayle, may have to hold off on the impulse to pick up and travel wherever and whenever they please. After all, it’s not in Sam Gaglio’s nature to say no.

“I wanted to work at Notre Dame,” he says of his tenure here. “I’ve loved every minute I’ve been here.” And now he’s decided to love 525,600 minutes more—hopefully, without having to get his feet wet again.