Using parents’ lessons, ‘Dr. Gaby’ ready to lead Hofstra
St. Leger is excited to guide Hofstra University into the future with her new ideas and unique perspective.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Fay
Gabrielle St. Leger has wanted to be “Dr. Gaby” since the age of 5. Now, with an Ed.D. and 17 years of student affairs experience, she has returned to her hometown of Uniondale to help guide Hofstra into the future.
St. Leger has held the position of Hofstra’s new dean of students since Monday, Jan. 14.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, St. Leger was taught from a young age the value of hard work and determination. Her parents’ core values of respect and education are instilled into all of the St. Leger siblings.
“The makings were in my foundation: respect [and] education,” she said. “You get the education, you get the respect. You get the respect, you get doors opened. I knew [a doctorate] was the top level. I just had to find a way to get it.”
St. Leger took her parents’ words to heart. She took her education seriously and got involved early on during her time in the Uniondale School District. “I was always engaged,” St. Leger said. “From elementary school doing the Long Island string festival and playing the violin and being part of drama club ... my parents made sure [that I was involved.]”
In her collegiate career, St. Leger continued to be involved. She attended West Virginia University on a track scholarship and was a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, as well as multiple honor societies. One activity that remained a constant throughout all of her life was track.
She began her track career at Lawrence Road Middle School and found her niche with hurdles and the high jump.
Her experience in track took her to Northeastern University on a track scholarship, before she ultimately transferred to West Virginia University for the remainder of her undergraduate career and beyond.
She chose Northeastern for track but turned down a four-year academic scholarship – a decision she later regretted when she got injured.
Northeastern just became too expensive for her to afford. “Sometimes you think you make the right decision and you don’t,” St. Leger said. “I have this uncanny desire to succeed ... it’s something inside of me that I think I saw in my parents: their hustle.”
The Uniondale native is also a first-generation college student. Her parents came from Haiti with barely enough money to settle down in Hempstead and start a family.
“Not knowing how the American system worked [and] being Haitian immigrants, I was on my own,” St. Leger said while talking about figuring out the FAFSA by herself.
“If you’re going to describe me, you have to say that I’ve been a focused person,” she said. “Not because I wanted to achieve so [much], but because I felt the weight of being a first-gen student and not wanting to be a burden onto my family of eight.”
She credits her parents’ work ethic for inspiring her to keep going when things get tough. Her father would get up at 4 a.m. to take public transportation to New Jersey while her mom ran a daycare in their home. St. Leger channeled that energy to get herself through school. “I worked two jobs, was a traveling track athlete on scholarship and [had] a full course load,” she said.
Growing up right around the corner, St. Leger has had her eye on Hofstra for a long time. “I did the summer camps here,” she said. “Seeing Hofstra sprawl and grow, from one unispan to the three walkways [now], it was great ... I looked at these facilities, having access to be on the inside, like ‘Wow!’ [and] my jaw dropped to see the growth of Hofstra.”
She has been in the world of student affairs for 17 years and has worked at West Virginia University, Ohio State University and New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) before coming to Hofstra this semester. “Being a student of higher education, being at different institutions ... I saw Hofstra putting in and investing like those other big-time state institutions.”
After spending years away from home after high school, St. Leger returned back to Long Island in 2011 to take care of her sick mother. “It was a no-brainer for me, because of all the sacrifices my parents made for me, to be here as a caregiver for my mom,” she said. “All the dreams and the hopes and getting the doctorate degree wouldn’t have mattered if I had made the mistake of not being there for my mom in her last year.”
Once her Ed.D. was completed, St. Leger was an adjunct professor at West Virginia University, where she had received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.
In 2014, she came back to Long Island for good, landing at NYIT as associate dean for campus life. In 2016, she was promoted to dean of students at NYIT, where she remained for almost three years.
This January, St. Leger officially became the dean of students here at Hofstra, bringing her full circle back to the town she grew up in.
“It was well worth the journey of figuring out higher [education] before I got here,” she said. “So now that I’m here, I think I have that specific background of seeing the growth of Hofstra and watching it from afar. It’s going to help the students here.”