Dara Hagen - Vice President of Student Affairs

"It's important to reach outside of your comfort zone and you'll find your way," said Dara Hagen, Normandale Vice President of Student Affairs.  

Dara is currently the Vice President of Student Affairs at Normandale and was a first-generation college student. She grew up in Duluth and was raised by her mom. 

Dara's story is her mom's story, and her success is a reflection of her mom. She grew up in a working-class household, but Dara never felt she went without. Dara's mom made sure she had every opportunity and always stressed the importance of education.

She describes her mom as her best friend and role model. Dara grew up knowing that she didn't need to get a perfect score, but she had better work hard and do her best. If she even thought about missing a class in high school, Dara knew her mom could make true to her promise of walking her there in her pajamas!

When Dara was just 5 years old her mom asked her if she wanted to learn dance or take piano lessons, but Dara wanted to play the accordion! Playing the accordion opened her life to many opportunities and her mom made sacrifices to make it possible. At one point Dara's mom sold their car to buy her a new accordion. Dara made lifelong friends and was able to travel throughout the U.S. and internationally because of the accordion. Leaving home and her mom to attend college was not an easy choice but one she knew she needed to make.

Dara decided to attend the University of St. Thomas.

"I remember it was my first Friday being on campus and my roommate, who was my best friend from high school, had plans," said Hagen. "Everyone else on the floor seemed to be busy with their friends. I felt like I was the only one who didn't have plans or someone to hang out with. I remember turning off all the lights hoping nobody would notice I was still in my room and calling my mom from the dark. She of course answered and told me to see if my resident assistant (RA) was around."

Dara, at first mortified by the thought, warmed up to it and went to visit her RA. That started not only a lifelong friendship with Alicia, but helped her to find her own sense of belonging in college and sparked Dara's interest and involvement in residence life. 

Dara wants you to know as a first-generation student you may feel as if you don't belong, but if you are willing to risk getting out of your comfort zone, you will find your place.

Dara graduated in 1996 (her mom was there of course!) and has since gone on to get her master's degree and is currently pursuing her doctorate.