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Meet the First-Year Advisors

Agatha O'Brien GayesCritical thinking and education have both played significant roles in Agatha O'Brien-Gayes' life. Her father inspired these ideas in her from her childhood in New England, when eating dinner with her family required involvement in a discussion of the world events of the day. "You could not come to the dinner table without being prepared," she describes.

This preparation served her well for her experiences at Marymount College in New York, where she received her undergraduate degree in political science.  O’Brien-Gayes describes Marymount as a “very small, all-female, Catholic school” that was completely non-conservative. Her classes centered on debate, and “no intellectual thought was off the table.” These debates made her aware of her surroundings, and she believes that her college experience as a whole “made me who I am.”

One important thing she did not learn from Marymount’s all-female population was deference to the “clichéd approaches” to gender roles. Instead of an importance on gender, O’Brien-Gayes said that what mattered was “who had the better idea.”

Taking her experiences from college, O'Brien-Gayes began working as an executive in retail after she graduated. After holding this position for several years, she moved and started her family. She then decided to go back to school and obtained a master's degree in human resource development from Webster University. With this degree, she began teaching at Coastal Carolina University. 

Empowered by a depth of knowledge, her advice to students is to find wisdom whether from professors, staff or even fellow students. She said, “You never know where you will find wisdom once you start looking for it.”

Besides education, O’Brien-Gayes is passionate about art and equality. Her love for art transforms into paintings she has done over the years in her free time. She also enjoys reading and cooking. She also loves Coastal Carolina University sports and tries not to miss any home games. She also enjoys fishing, and her “claim to fame” was catching an 81-inch white marlin on a fishing trip.

Agatha O’Brien-Gayes
Kearns 213A  |  843-349-2720  |

Michele Varga, Academic Advisor/Bridge Transition CoordinatorMichele Varga joined University College at Coastal Carolina University in 2008. Prior to joining the Coastal family, she earned an Associate in Arts from Broome Community College, a Bachelor of Science in psychobiology from Long Island University (LIU) in South Hampton, N.Y., and a Master of Arts in social science from Binghamton University.

While attending LIU, she had the opportunity to do two things she loves–work with students in the Career Development Office and complete two experiential learning experiences: one at a wildlife rehabilitation center and the other in the Florida Everglades. Although she loved experience researching in the Everglades, Varga decided working with students was much more rewarding and required fewer mosquito bites.

Varga believes seeing your adviser, early and often, and building relationships with faculty members from your interest areas are key to achieving your goals with as little stress as possible. “Advisers are here to help you navigate the maze of college and hopefully lessen the number of obstacles that may be in your path,” she said.

When not in her office, Varga enjoys creating jewelry, quilting and the outdoors. When asked what someone would be surprised to know, she said, "I used to work on a goat farm; I miss the snow; and I am a reality television show junkie."

Michele Varga
Kearns Hall 213  |  843-349-6528  |

Natalia De Maio imageNatalia De Maio was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She transferred to Coastal Carolina University in 2007 and earned her bachelor's degree in psychology. During her senior year, De Maio’s research project “Procrastination and Self-Efficacy in Athletes and Non-Athletes” was selected and presented in the 2010 Celebration of Inquiry. As a result, she was recognized as "Student excellence in Research, Performance and Exhibition," at the 2010 University Honors Convocation ceremony.

Prior to joining Coastal Carolina University as a professional, she also earned a Master of Science in psychology with a concentration in industrial/organizational psychology. Her first job was as a bilingual forensic interviewer at the local children's advocacy center, where she also dedicated years to educating the community about the maltreatment of children, focusing on prevention and reporting. She later worked for a private boarding school and golf training facility in North Myrtle Beach where she continued to follow her passion to make an impact in youth’s lives. She joined CCU in July 2016 as a first year academic advisor in University College. She believes academic advisers are a great resource to support student development, academic progress, and the overall college experience. 

When asked about a favorite quote and what she does in her free time, she said, “My favorite quote is by Nelson Mandela 'May your choices reflect your hope, not your fears'”. She also stated “during my free time I like playing golf with my husband, spending time with my dog, Stella, and doing pilates. I also love reading and traveling the world. I have been to Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Canada, Spain and Germany, and 14 states (South Carolina, California, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Viirginia, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts). I enjoy learning from different cultures and trying different ethnic foods.”

Natalia De Maio
Kearns 213E  |  843-349-2755  |