Student Spotlight: Michael DiMaio '23 is a veteran dedicated to serving others
For some adult college students, going back to school is driven by career interests. For others, it becomes a life changing experience. Michael DiMaio epitomizes the second group.
DiMaio is a veteran who overcame a variety of obstacles before finding his way to the College of Professional Studies at Villanova University. Now he is on track to graduate in May of 2023, poised to take new steps in his career, prepared to continue operating a non-profit organization he founded, and ready to capitalize on a new outlook on life.
His journey to higher education started long ago. DiMaio served in the Air Force until he suffered an injury. He found the transition to civilian life very difficult. He worked as an electrician for 28 years, but his body and his past made that career path untenable.
“I have some injuries to my knees from my time in the service. In the civilian world, those injuries got worse as time went on,” Michael explained. “I decided to retire my work boots and change my career.”
Michael began his foray into higher education at Montgomery County Community College.
“I was 45 years old and hadn’t been to school since 1987. I pushed through the fear and applied online.”
After finishing with his associate’s degree, Michael was unsure of his next steps. He knew Michael Brown, the Director of Villanova’s Office of Veterans and Military Service Members, who encouraged him to learn more about Villanova’s offerings. At the time, DiMaio was, and still is, in recovery from prior struggles with substance abuse in his life. He was unsure if Villanova was the right fit for him, since his battles with substance abuse occurred in nearby in West Philadelphia and Delaware County.
He credits the life-changing of advice of a friend who said in December of 2019, “You’re a free man now, Michael. You can go anywhere you want. Go check out Villanova.” For Michael DiMaio, this was exactly the advice he needed.
“I went to campus and I fell in love with it,” Michael remembers. “I met with the folks from CPS and I knew it was exactly where I needed to be and where I wanted to be.”
After having trouble "self-advising" during his community college years, Michael DiMaio cited the CPS advising team's efforts in going the extra mile. Beyond the resources he found in CPS, DiMaio thrived thanks to Michael Brown and the Office of Veterans and Military Service Members.
“As an adult veteran, it’s really important to have someone in your corner at the school. Unfortunately, I know other veterans at other Universities don’t have the support we have at Villanova.”
Michael DiMaio cites his relationship with Brown and his colleagues as a key factor in his success at Villanova and outside of the classroom.
“Mike Brown ignited a passion inside me for my fellow veterans. He has a love for veterans and it's infectious.”
That infectious spark for helping their fellow veterans led DiMaio to found a non-profit organization called Infinite Mission. The organization offers aid to veterans and others in need.
“We’re committed to those who are struggling with substance abuse and homelessness,” DiMaio said. “Our mission has two components. The first is to provide outreach for those dealing with substance abuse and homelessness, by providing food, clothing, wound care, and eventually a pathway for those who are struggling. The second component is to empower others to serve with a higher compassion.”
DiMaio and the other members of his organization look to help with life’s simplest needs, making life easier for those battling obstacles.
“I believe in harm reduction and meeting people where they are with basic necessities like a meal, clean socks, or a warm coat,” he stated. “There’s so many struggles that homeless people have and if you can provide a meal for that day, it’s one less challenge for them to deal with.”
Michael credits his classwork at Villanova for providing the foundation he needed to make his passion project into a reality. A class in Non-Profit Management gave him the specific tools and ideas to hatch his concept into a working organization. Classes in Leadership go a step further, helping him pilot the organization’s efforts.
“The leadership component is really important. I’m constantly thinking about how I can grow, how I can communicate more effectively, and how I can be a better leader.”
DiMaio is working toward a bachelor's degree in Public Service and Administration, with eyes on a career in the criminal justice system at the federal or county level. He has previous experience with the public defenders office and the district attorney’s office of Bucks County.
No matter where his career takes him after graduation, Michael believes his time at Villanova will help him continue to grow as a servant for others.
“Gratitude is an action word. In order for me to remain grateful, I need to stay rooted in community service,” he said. “I believe whole-heartedly in serving the community and I come to Villanova and learn of the values of Veritas, Unitas, Caritas. Villanova as a community is so selfless.”
For Michael DiMaio, the experience at Villanova will go far beyond the grades on his transcript or his name on a diploma.
“I saw the banners on campus that said, ‘Ignite Change’ and I wondered what kind of change could be ignited within me. My passion for serving others has been rocketed into a whole new dimension.”
“I found my home,” DiMaio said.