Don’t let her smaller stature or quiet demeanor fool you; Stacey Dixon has shown she is a powerhouse with a purpose. In her new role as director of military and veteran services at Kennesaw State University (KSU), she is on a mission to revitalize the program to reach more students.
“The hardest part is seeing students not getting what they need and not knowing there are resources available to them,” the Kennesaw resident said. “We have more than 1,700 military-connected students at KSU, and they need to know we are here. That’s my mission.”
A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Dixon has lived a life of setting lofty goals and achieving them all.
Her motivated and passionate spirit started at an early age. Dixon wanted to join the Marines when she was 17, after she saw the transformation it made in her brother. However, her mother was adamantly opposed and refused to sign the consent form for underage admission.
“So, I turned 18 in October, and I was on a bus to boot camp in December,” Dixon said. “There was no turning back after that, but it was difficult. This was in the ’80s, so as a woman — a Black woman — in the Marine Corps, it was hard. Very, very hard.”
Dixon and her brother were stationed together for a time, and she recalls he was one of the most intense noncommissioned officers she had ever dealt with.
“He was one of those Marines who didn’t like women being in the Marines,” she said. “He did everything to try to turn me away. But everything he said I couldn’t do, I proved him wrong.”
Her brother medically retired after 12 years in the service, but Dixon kept going, with her sights set on becoming a warrant officer. Year after year, she applied but was continually denied, and she finally stopped submitting her application.
“Being a warrant officer was part of my plan,” she said. “It was what I was supposed to do.”
Dixon’s commanding officer initiated her 10th application on her behalf, and Dixon finally was selected. She officially was the first female to be selected as a meteorology and oceanography officer in the Marine Corps.
While Dixon spent much of her career working in meteorology and oceanography, one of the final jobs she had was casualty assistance call officer, the official representative of the secretary of the Navy who is tasked with going to see the next of kin in the event of a casualty. Between the heavy heartache of the assignment and some ongoing health issues, she realized it was time for her final salute. After two decades of service, she retired as a chief warrant officer 3, a high-ranking position officially appointed by the secretary of the Navy, commissioned by the president and considered to be advanced in technical and tactical areas of leading in the field.
After her service, Dixon earned a master’s degree in business administration from National University in San Diego and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Argosy University in Chicago.
She spent time as a financial advisor in San Diego, which taught her the art of talking to people and engaging the community. In Chicago, she taught Junior ROTC until she stumbled upon an application for a program at National Louis University in which she would be an advocate for military education and veterans’ services. In that position, Dixon realized the program was something she had needed but did not have when she was a student. She set out to revamp it and expand its reach. When the director left, she was promoted, and the program took off even more during her five years there.
Luckily for KSU’s military and veteran students, Dixon has a daughter and grandchildren who live in metro Atlanta, and she was eager to move south to be closer to them.
“I love it here,” she said. “I love the community, and the KSU leadership has been so welcoming. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Goals for the New Job
For KSU, Dixon’s ideas are big, and her self-created timeline is short — she wants it all done before the end of this year.
“I spent the first two months here just trying to meet everyone I could,” said Dixon, who believes wholeheartedly that the biggest key to success is engaging the KSU community. “What I learned is that the community is there. I see it. There are so many open gates here.”
One of Dixon’s first goals is to improve tools used to connect students with military and veterans services.
“We know students may not open all their emails, so we want to engage with them through social media or monthly in-person events,” she said. “Our task is to communicate who we are, what we do and what we offer. It’s building camaraderie, being around people who have had similar experiences. Our goal is to help these military-connected students have a life outside of the classroom.”
Another goal is to implement a training program for all faculty and staff on how best to teach and interact with student veterans. Dixon said when she was a student, she experienced many classroom discussions that included comments about military services that were disrespectful or upsetting to her and others who had served, and the professors simply were unaware that what was said was offensive.
Dixon also wants to implement a process that refers prospective students to veterans’ services from the moment they check the “military connected” box on their KSU application. She wants students to know KSU provides mental health services, health and wellness, school advising, help with housing, Social Security Administration help and community engagement. After military-connected students are enrolled, she wants to make sure they are contacted every term to assess their needs.
Dixon’s priority is ensuring that the needs of military-connected students are met and their voices are heard.
“I want students to tell their stories,” she said. “It’s hard for us, for veterans, to talk about ourselves and what we’ve done, especially if it’s been traumatic. I especially want female veterans to tell their stories. Often, they are forgotten about, or their service is diminished. I want them to talk about what they’ve accomplished. I want all our military-connected students, including our student veterans, active duty, reservists, national guard, spouses and children, to have a voice and tell their stories. That’s my mission at KSU.”