Rowan's Dr. Tom Gallia leaves campus after 51 years
When he was an undergraduate at then-Glassboro State College back in the early 1960s, when he was looking for a quiet place to which to escape, to read or just to think, Tom Gallia would climb a ginkgo tree on the Bunce Green and perch on a branch, far from his classmates.
Fast forward 50 some years, and Dr. Thomas Gallia called his work home an elegant office adjacent to Rowan President Dr. Ali Houshmand’s own office in Bole Hall, just on the edge of that green, a 30-second walk from the ginkgo tree.
In a day where people uproot on a moment’s notice, where they switch jobs multiple times in a career, Gallia is retiring from Rowan University after 46 years as an employee and 51 years as a member of the University family. He most recently served as vice president of University Relations and the president’s chief of staff before becoming vice president emeritus. Gallia was a professor of education in the departments of Teacher Education and Educational Leadership while a vice president. He also had been, among other roles, academic department chairman (1981-87) and executive associate dean (1984-92).
Gallia has witnessed a lot of changes at Rowan during five decades, but he’s hesitant to select one experience, one position, one event as his favorite.
Worked way through school
“I enjoyed my time as a student, but I had to work really hard. I was determined to pay for everything myself. So I had multiple jobs – I was a student worker in the science department here in the biology area. I also worked at a men’s clothing business in Vineland. I worked at K&G Men’s Shop in Millville. And I worked in the family beer wholesaler business in Landisville,” Gallia said.
Dr. Gene Vivian, professor and chair of the Department of Science and a national leader in environmental education, was an important mentor to Gallia.
“I especially enjoyed my time with Gene, and he’s the one who really got me interested in environmental science and biology,” said Gallia.
He remembered fondly Vivian introducing him to a Russian scientist with a penchant for belittling questioners when he spoke to his class.
“He intimidated everyone. He was very brash. Strong Russian accent. Imposing man. And every question that was asked of him after the lecture, he insulted the person. That was just his nature. I promised my mentor I would ask this question – I think it was about petroleum deposits. I asked the question, and I was trembling as I asked the question,” Gallia said. “His return to me was ‘How do you know that?’ I thought that was an insult.” Actually, it was a compliment. The lecturer could tell by the question that Gallia had read his books. Afterward, the student joined the guest at Vivian’s house for dinner, and the visitor wound up teaching them Russian folks songs on the front porch as Vivian played accordion.
Earned multiple degrees
The Vineland native earned his bachelor’s degree in biological and physical sciences with a minor in science education in 1966 and later earned two master’s degrees in science education and school supervision and educational administration from the College in 1967 and 1970, respectively. (In 1979, he earned a doctorate in science education with minors in cognitive psychology and science, technology and public policy from Rutgers University. He also completed post-doc studies at the Moral Education Institute, Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.)
In 1967, after Gallia finished his first master’s degree, the College’s Vivian asked him to join his grant in environmental education. “The local education agency was Glassboro Public Schools, so I was an employee of Glassboro funded by the College, and I functioned as a demonstration teacher in environmental sciences,” said Gallia, whose class was the focus of a PBS television program. During his three years at GHS, he also coached varsity wrestling and served as junior class, senior class and student council advisor.
Gallia went on to work under another grant from the Far West Research Laboratories in California, teaching techniques to prospective teachers. Sometimes he had as many teachers in his classroom as students. Soon after, GSC invited him to teach pedagogy in the sciences, and he joined the faculty in 1970.
Built bridges to China
Among the highlights of his higher education career was taking part with the late College of Education dean, Dr. Marion Rilling, in a Fulbright program in China in the 1980s.
“We went to China in the early days of China visitations. We lectured and taught for most of the summer. We were among about 25 faculty and administrators from across the United States who made this trip, and from that we formed a U.S.A.—China teacher education consortium. They visited us. We visited them. We had sister school relationships, exchange students, and it was a very early program with China,” Gallia said.
Gallia also was at then-president Dr. Herman James’ side just after Henry and the late Betty Rowan contributed $100 million to the college in 1992. James requested that Gallia, until then executive associate dean and certification officer in the College of Education, assist with the transition from GSC to Rowan College of New Jersey as executive assistant to the president and chief of staff.
“I helped with the initial activities, with the colors, the mottos,” Gallia recalled. “I visited with alumni. I was like an ambassador for Herman to help with the name change.”
At the same time, Gallia held a joint appointment with the college’s Educational Leadership Department, which was developing the school’s first doctoral program.
Petitioned for change
He was part of a small group that authored the petition for the name change to Rowan College of New Jersey and that later petitioned the State Commission on Higher Education for university designation.
Among other career highlights, Gallia also was the institutional representative who helped spearhead the development of Rowan Boulevard, the $300 million public-private renewal project that the University partnered on with the Borough of Glassboro and private developers. Today, Rowan Boulevard, which connects the campus to the historic downtown, includes a Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, a Barnes & Noble Collegiate Superstore, restaurants, retail, housing, a parking garage, academic space and an ice skating rink. “That’s something I’m very proud of,” Gallia said.
Among his many honors, Gallia was the recipient of the Glassboro Rotary Community Spirit Award and the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow Award for Community Service in 2011. Rep. Rob Andrews presented the long-time educator with Congressional Record Recognition for service in 2011. In 2012, Dr. Gallia received Rowan University’s Dr. Harley Flack Outstanding Mentor Award for his many years as a volunteer mentor of college students and young professionals. The Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce awarded Gallia Business Person of the Year honors the same year, and Reps. Andrews and Frank LoBiondo presented him with two separate citations honoring him as Business Person of the Year in 2012, as did the Gloucester County Freeholders.
During his tenure at Rowan, Gallia has been exceptionally active in the community. He is or has been vice chair of Main Street Glassboro and a member of the Rowan Boulevard Planning Committee, Central Business Redevelopment Authority, Mayor’s Economic Advisory Committee, Glassboro Code Enforcement Authority, Town-Gown Relations Committee, Glassboro Rail and Transportation Center Committee and Glassboro Public Schools Special Initiatives. A member of St. Bridget Church, he serves as an usher, is on the parish Finance Committee and was a member of the Bishop’s Task Force and Transition Team as the church became a university parish. He is an executive board member of St. Anthony’s Mutual Aid Society. Gallia is a trustee of the Southern New Jersey Development Council and has been a member of the Glassboro Chamber of Commerce, Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce and South Jersey Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the Kennedy Health System Board of Trustees and Health Facilities Board.
Gallia and his wife, Donna, are the parents of two and grandparents of four. They reside in Glassboro.
“Tom Gallia has made invaluable contributions to Rowan University, to Glassboro and to South Jersey,” said Houshmand, Rowan’s president. “We are sorry to see him retire but trust he will remain active in the Rowan community.”