Barbara Gallagher, M.Ed.

When Assistant Professor Barbara Gallagher, M.Ed., explains how she became an exercise science professional, it is an amusing, if telling, story about cultural expectations. “I originally wanted to be a meteorologist,” she confessed, but in 1970, such ambitions were not considered realistic options for women. “I was told I should be a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. Well, I fainted when I was a candy striper so nursing was out. I couldn’t type, so I couldn’t be a secretary. I thought, okay, I’ll be a teacher and, since I was good in sports, the guidance counselor suggested I become a gym teacher.”

That kind of narrow thinking is unheard of today, but Gallagher has no regrets; if anything, she considers it a blessing in disguise that set her on the path she now travels. “I was a first-generation daughter to go to college, and my mother, who was a hairdresser with a secretarial background, told me I could go anywhere I could walk to.” That happened to be West Chester State College, where Gallagher worked two jobs to put herself through school, graduating in 1974 with a B.S. in health and physical education.

Gallagher initially had some misgivings about becoming a gym teacher, but she remembers a definitive experience when she realized that she was on the right track. “I took a summer job with a friend of mine as an athletic counselor at an all-girls camp in the Adirondacks, and it turned out to be the most interesting and best summer of my life. These campers would have much rather stayed in their bunks, but we eventually got these kids to enjoy getting outside and playing. That’s when I realized this was what I wanted to do. When we got those girls to enjoy being physically active, that was my ‘feel good’ moment. It was then that I realized how much I loved teaching.”

Gallagher went on to teach health and physical education at Lansdowne-Aldan High School, Lansdowne, PA, where she also coached girls field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. During her years there, she earned an M.Ed. in health and physical education from West Chester State College, now West Chester University, a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Instructional Certificate II for health and physical education, and an Advanced Aerobics Instructor’s Certification, and she served as a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association basketball, field hockey and lacrosse official. In 1981, she left on maternity leave and stayed home to raise her children. “I kept active while I was home,” said Gallagher. “I did a lot of part-time work, officiating, teaching aerobics, but I started to really miss the classroom.”

When an opportunity arose in 1988 to teach an aerobics class at Immaculata, Gallagher jumped at the chance. “A friend of mine worked here and told me about the opening. When I was asked to teach something else, whether it was fencing or fitness, I just did whatever they needed me to do.” Eventually, the chair of what was then the Department of Physical Education took a sabbatical and Gallagher was asked to fill in for her. “When she came back, she worked for another couple of semesters and then went to part-time and I took her place. It was being in the right place at the right time.”

In 1998, Gallagher was asked if she would be interested in launching an exercise science program at Immaculata. “When I first started here, we did not have a major in exercise science. We had a physical education requirement for all students, but I thought exercise science would be a really good offering. I have a passion for fitness and wellness, so I conducted research, benchmarking other good programs, and developed the program. In 2004, we graduated four women. Today, we have more than 112 students. We still have more women than men, but it’s a good major to attract male students.”

Gallagher chaired what is now the Department of Human Movement Science for 15 years until 2007. “In 2006, we hired Dr. Kelly Stalker, and once she had been here a while, she became chair and I was very happy to return to teaching full-time. Dr. Stalker is the first person I hired, and right now she is in the process of developing an athletic training program, which is awaiting accreditation by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.”

Gallagher, who co-chairs the Middle States Accreditation Committee with Maria Cuddy-Casey, Ph.D., knows about the work involved in that process. “We’re in full swing with that now,” she said. “Our site visit will be in March of 2014. It’s a lot to look at the University to see what we do well and where we can improve, but Dr. Cuddy-Casey is a great partner to work with.”

Gallagher is accustomed to regularly reevaluating and reassessing, considering it crucial to maintaining the department’s standards. “We assess and evaluate on a consistent basis,” she said. “We make sure our programs are meeting the goals of the department, that we are always updated, that we know what organizations are looking for in recent graduates.

“All of our students graduate with a B.S. in exercise science, but within the department there are different concentrations. We’re really broader than just exercise science.”

Pre-physical therapy and pre-occupational therapy are for those going on to graduate school, and IU has a partnership program in place with Jefferson University for students who qualify. Sports management is a combination of exercise science and business courses for the student who wants to enter the world of fitness with a solid science foundation, as well as a management and accounting background. The human movement track developed because there were students interested in exercise physiology, perhaps for the research aspect or to become a personal trainer, but not as much of the business side of the industry.

“All the concentrations are demanding,” Gallagher noted. “Our students study kinesiology, biomechanics, anatomy and physiology. They have to work hard. There are some serious sciences involved.”

Another challenge Gallagher sees for her students is learning how to think clearly and deeply in a rapidly-changing world with ever-evolving technologies. “Your knowledge of computers is usually inversely proportional to your age. Kids learn differently today. Social media is a big part of their lives, and keeping students engaged when they have come to expect instant responses is a challenge for them as learners, and for me as an educator. Getting them to think critically is key.”

Getting students to appreciate the power of networking and volunteer work is another factor Gallagher considers vital to their success. “Get out there and get as many experiences as you can while you’re still in school. I impress upon my students that it’s what they do now that will help them land better jobs.” And Gallagher knows how tough it can be to fit it all in. “I had to work to pay for college, so I tell them, ‘I know where you are.’ I worked day camps in the mornings and at ShopRite at night. That’s how I earned my money, but I had those camp experiences on my résumé. I was out there learning and networking.”

Gallagher gently but firmly pushes her students because she is fiercely passionate about her work. “I love what I do! I love getting up in the morning and coming to work and interacting with the kids. I’m very fortunate,” she added. “I’ve always worked with really good people.”

How good those people are was revealed even more clearly a few years ago when tragedy struck Gallagher’s family. In 2010, her 26-year-old daughter Caroline lost a two-year battle with leukemia, and Gallagher remembers with profound, heart-broken gratitude the love that surrounded and embraced her in her grief.

“It was like having another family here,” she said. “That was a wonderful blessing. I will be forever grateful for the support and prayers.”

Caroline was a graduate of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where she played four years of lacrosse and graduated with a master’s in environmental management.

Gallagher’s older daughter Lauren, who holds degrees from Duke in both economics and mechanical engineering, is following in her mother’s footsteps and has returned to school for teaching. Married to a lacrosse coach, she is currently head lacrosse coach at Haverford College, and mom to Gallagher’s two grandsons, Jackson, 2 ., and Ryan, 16 months.

Gallagher may be a grandmother now, but her schedule is as demanding as it’s ever been. In addition to teaching full-time and co-chairing the Middle States Committee, Gallagher is an adviser to IU’s Dance Company and Exercise Science Club, and she serves on the University Conduct Board, Recruitment and Retention, and Student Life and Development Committees.

“I’m not a good relaxer,” she admits. “But two things I do enjoy are cooking and hiking. My husband and I are very fortunate in that two summers ago we were able to hike through different parts of Yellowstone, and last year we went to the Grand Canyon. This year we’re going to Ireland with the whole trip planned around hikes.”

As much as she cherishes her travels, Gallagher has no plans to leave the classroom anytime soon. “I’ll teach until they say ‘I don’t want to take crazy old Gallagher’s class,’” she jokes. “Because crazy I can handle, but not the old!” 

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