When he's not in class or chairing a meeting of the Student Government Association (SGA) as its president, he can be found cheering the Grizzly volleyball or basketball teams to victory at their home games, attending events sponsored by the University/Community Programs (U/CP) Department, or volunteering his time for a variety of other causes. But that wasn't always the case for Dakota. "In high school, I wasn't very involved at all. I didn't attend basketball games or many of the other activities. I just didn't feel like I needed to be involved," he explained.
That began to change his senior year when he served as student council president. Because of his duties, his presence was required at more events. But he found himself on the sidelines again when he started taking classes at Missouri State-West Plains, and after a couple of semesters of just taking classes, the transition to the college environment was beginning to take a toll on him. "I told former SGA President Tony Ary I was thinking about dropping out," Dakota admitted, "but he suggested I get involved on campus, so I started going to basketball games, volleyball games, anything sponsored by SGA or the U/CP Department, and it really began making a difference in my experience.
"To keep from getting burned out on classes and studying all the time, you need to have some kind of involvement," he continued. "It makes classroom life much easier because you know people, and it makes life outside of class easier because you have friends who can help you out or spend time with. If I hadn't gotten involved, I wouldn't have those friends." Dakota took "getting involved" to a whole new level this summer. Just weeks after being elected SGA president for the 2013-14 academic year, he received a call from Missouri State-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett asking him what he thought about a new initiative he was considering.
"Chancellor Bennett told me about a school in Oregon that set a goal of volunteering 50,000 hours to celebrate its 50th anniversary. He asked me if I thought it was possible to do here, since we were celebrating our 50th anniversary this year too," Dakota said. After some debate, he said, he finally came to the conclusion that it was doable. "I thought this was something students could get behind. We're a two-year school with a lot of students who commute, which adds to the cost of attending college for people who already live in one of the poorest regions of the country. I felt I could make the students understand that residents in area communities have given a lot for us to be here, and this would be a great opportunity to say 'thank you.' It really was a no brainer at that point," he explained.
In his first decision as SGA president, Dakota told Chancellor Bennett to count him and the student body in, and he began promoting the initiative among his peers. "The response has been outstanding," he said. "The students have been more than happy to take time out of their schedule to participate in a variety of service opportunities."
Since the Operation 50K initiative began this past summer, students have actively volunteered to help local Habitat for Humanity officials clean up People's Park in West Plains, joined West Plains Area Boys and Girls Club officials in renovating their new facilities, assisted with the set-up and tear-down of the recent Community Blood Center of the Ozarks' blood drive on campus, supported the Grizzly Volleyball team's community service projects, helped clean up Turner's Mill near Alton, and served as "road guards" for the Color Me for CASA 5K Run. Upcoming projects include assisting with the annual Trunk or Treat celebration in West Plains and supporting the Grizzly Basketball team's community service projects.
"I hope that through these opportunities students gain a better understanding of the importance of being involved in their communities," Dakota said. "I hope they take the initiative to give back every opportunity they get, to do something that says 'thank you' to those communities that have supported them."