A Professor’s Passion and Respect Earns the Distinguished Teaching Award
Encouraging. Respectful. Challenging. These themes emerge from numerous student nomination letters about Patrick L. Gallagher, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish, which led to him being named a winner of the Distinguished Teaching Award. Judging by his reaction, we can add “humble” to the list of themes.
“My initial feeling was awkward. When people talk about me in front of me,” Gallagher said, “it’s awkward for me.”
The Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest teaching award a tenured or tenure-track professor can receive and has been sponsored by the Kent State University Alumni Association since 1967.
Gallagher said that the moment didn’t make him feel exceptionally different but it did make him think about his students. Gallagher thinks that in order for the student nominations to get through all of the rounds of the process, the letters from his students must have been exceptional.
According to those student nominations, Gallagher’s teaching style and interest in his students makes him unique.
“The impact that Dr. Gallagher had on my life went further than just being my professor. He also strongly encouraged me to study abroad and, despite my lower income situation, he convinced me to go on the Salamanca trip that he leads every year,” wrote Victor Benton, ’17.
The open class structure alone is unique, as it allows for engaging discussion and conversation among classmates, wrote graduate student John Baumgardner, a student nominator.
“He never relies on rehearsed lectures or prefabricated PowerPoint slides. Every class begins with an open discussion, during which students are encouraged to contribute ideas or questions about assigned reading,” wrote Baumgardner, “incorporating our comments with current events and assuming varying perspectives in order to lead us through the material in a way that helps us to truly engage with the topics at hand.”
“Professor Gallagher never made me feel foolish for my mistakes or opinions. He encouraged us to speak, and would help us find the best way to phrase something,” wrote Cianna Petrullo, ’18, in her nomination letter.
Gallagher challenges his students by enforcing a Spanish-speaking-only culture from the moment students enter the classroom.
“He has high expectations but is fair, and while he will take a stand on certain issues - especially when they pertain to justice and equality - he is always respectful of, and willing to engage with, contrasting views,” wrote Baumgardner, “Even taking the position of devil’s advocate in order to prompt meaningful discussion.”
Gallagher challenges critical thinking and opinions surrounding controversial topics as they relate to Spanish-speaking countries whether they be political, social or environmental. Gallagher ensures that conversations are thoughtful and respectful between students.
“The thing that I work hardest on in the classroom is creating an environment where people can feel comfortable expressing their ideas even if they are radically different than others,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher’s teaching style of today is different compared to years past.
“Fifteen years ago, I was much more focused and concentrated on the material I was teaching,” Gallagher said.“In general, I am less concerned about getting specific content across, as I am just trying to figure out how to connect with students and get them to learn as much as possible.”
Gallagher said there are skills and abilities he aspires for all of his students to have learned at the conclusion of each semester.
“My goal is that everyone continues to work hard at Spanish, like myself, since I am not a native speaker,” Gallagher said. “Also, for them to be more curious and open minded about understanding things that are not necessarily directly a part of their experience.”
Gallagher was celebrated at the University Teaching Council’s Fall Celebration of Teaching Conference on Oct. 25, 2019, with the other Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Teaching Award recipients.
To read more about Gallagher and the other finalist for the Distinguished Teaching Award, visit www.kent.edu/alumni/nominate-professor.