Gail Pavliga: Psychologist, Professor, Politician

Gail Pavliga, ’91, MA ’98, Ph.D., is a good listener, a quality that has been the common thread throughout her life as a student, mother, therapist and, most recently, state representative for Ohio House District 72.

Pavliga didn’t plan to be a politician. When she first enrolled at Kent State, she wanted to pursue a premedical degree and was moving toward that goal when she got married and started a family. Still, she knew she wanted to continue her education, so she pieced together the courses she would need from the Stark, Salem and Kent campuses to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, leveraging the affordability and accessibility of regional campuses to fit into her life at the time.

A nontraditional student, Pavliga enjoyed her time at Kent State and the many professors she had the opportunity to meet, including Elmer Day, Ph.D., who helped her discover her passion for art history as an undergraduate, and Rhonda Richarson who guided her through the master’s program for individual studies and counseling. 

“My experience here as an undergrad and grad student was exceptional,” Pavliga said.   

In 2008, Pavliga began her own private counseling practice, which she still operates today, and soon she also joined the faculty of the University of Akron to teach psychology courses there and earned a Doctor of Educational Psychology. She later went to teach at Malone University, where she taught until last year when the demands of her public office and her private counseling practice were requiring more of her time and attention.  

Along with being a mother, professor and entrepreneur, Pavliga and her family were actively involved in their community of Rootstown, Ohio. As she became more involved with the Republican Women’s Group, she realized that her experiences in higher education and as a mental health professional could extend beyond her students and clients. She could bring that expertise to the larger community by representing her home district at a state level. 

“You have to have a plan for where you want to make a difference. With NEOMED, Hiram and Kent State all in this area, I thought we needed someone in the community who was an advocate for and understood higher education,” Pavliga explained. “I also started to look at how, as a mental health professional, I could be a bigger voice for mental health.” 

Gail Pavliga

The more she thought about it, the more obvious it became to her that being an Ohio House representative was the right fit. She ran for state government in 2020 and won. Though she has only been in office a few years, Pavliga has thrown herself into her role, serving as the Chair of the House Behavioral Health Committee and Addiction Recovery Supports, member of the Finance and Higher Education Committees and member of the Finance Subcommittee on Agriculture, Development and Natural Resources. 

But District 72, which encompasses nearly all of Portage County, has its challenges as a bipartisan district with many competing views and opinions. Finding the middle ground where constituents can agree is a major focus, Pavliga said. 

“Not everyone is going to agree out here in the extremes of politics, but there’s an area here where we can all agree,” she said. “Do we not all want our children safe and well educated? Do we not want access to mental health services? Do we not want lower taxes, better lifestyle and access to parks and recreation?” 

One such focus was getting the 988 Sucide & Crisis Lifeline established in Ohio. Pavliga worked closely with the Ohio Mental Health Association and other mental health partners to set up 19 call centers throughout the state. The centers receive between 8,000 and 10,000 calls per month, 80 percent of which can be resolved or referred to appropriate services during the call. Some centers even have texting and chat options, making them more accessible for teenagers. 

Pavliga remains dedicated to the Portage County area and connected to Kent State University. She lives in Rootstown with her husband, Frank Pavliga, ’79, who earned a degree in architecture at Kent State. Her children, Kathryn, ’15, and Steven, ’18, are also KSU graduates. She speaks proudly of her Golden Flash Legacy family and the accomplishments of her children since their time at Kent State. 

Though she doesn’t currently aspire to higher public office, Pavliga understands the visibility and significance of her position. When Pavliga thinks about her legacy, she wants to promote a message of positivity and possibility. 

“I want people early on to have a vision for their life and an idea of where they belong,” said Pavliga. “Being a graduate student, being an entrepreneur, running for politics - these are high-level risks, and sometimes you’re not going to win the first time around. Too many of us are held back by fear of failure.”

POSTED: Monday, April 17, 2023 04:09 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 19, 2023 04:33 PM