50 years in, Gallehr keeps writing new chapters

A faculty profile

by Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA '95

50 years in, Gallehr keeps writing new chapters
Don Gallehr

In April, Dean Deborah Boehm-Davis was privileged to remark on the career of a man who is one of a kind: English professor Don Gallehr is Mason’s first faculty member to celebrate 50 years at the university. Noting the profound influence that the “academic Cal Ripken” has had on his students, and the generosity and positivity for which he is known by his colleagues, Boehm-Davis expressed the university’s gratitude for the many ways in which Gallehr brightened the experiences of the entire Northern Virginia writing community.

In recognition of Gallehr’s longevity and impact, the Mason Spirit offered five facts about the well-loved professor.

He didn’t have his PhD when he started working at Mason. Gallehr was working on his graduate studies at Fordham University when he interviewed for the job. “Dr. Krug said, ‘You are going to finish your doctoral degree, aren’t you?’” recalls Gallehr. “And I said, yes, of course. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t.” Gallehr got the job and then finished his PhD at Catholic University of America in 1974, taking a class or two a semester while teaching.

He founded the Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP). Gallehr heard of the National Writing Project (NWP) before it went national and traveled to California to take part in one of the summer institutes. Mason held its first summer institute in 1978 and the NVWP was born. His leadership role in the NWP led to visits on Capitol Hill to get funding to support the project nationally.

He has taught more than 11,000 students. That number is based on a quick calculation (roughly 110 students per semester) and doesn’t include summer classes. He keeps in touch with many, especially the teachers he has mentored during his work with the NVWP, and he writes many letters of recommendation. In 2008, he received the David J. King Teaching Excellence Award.

He does his homework. Gallehr does every assignment along with the students. “It makes me a much better teacher,” he says. He also workshops his essays in class and tries to work with a different class group each week.

Tibetan monks think he is a stitch. When the Dalai Lama was looking for a writing teacher for his monks, he contacted the NWP, which sent him to Gallehr, who is well-known for incorporating meditation into the writing process. In 2010, he taught 33 Buddhist monks in a 15-day workshop in northern India. “They were the happiest group of students I have ever taught,” he says. “They would laugh their heads off. It was a wonderful 15 days.”

Don Gallehr in his element.

This article appears in the Spring 2017 edition of the Mason Spirit magazine.

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