Alumnus's career steeped in Benedictine values, willingness to learn new things

May 27, 2015

Padraic-Gallagher-(2)-webGraduate learned to repurpose degree, build upon life experiences while gaining new skills to meet the changing workforce

Lisle, Illinois ~ Most people change careers throughout their lifetime. Obtaining a liberal arts degree helps make these transitions easier as graduates have a wider breadth of knowledge and skills in which to utilize. A great example of this is Benedictine University alumnus Padraic Gallagher.

By taking positions that have allowed him to protect both people and the environment from harm, Gallagher doesn’t just employ Benedictine values – he lives them.

Gallagher, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from Benedictine in 1996, has rebuilt trails for national parks in southern Utah, sought applications for wildlife refuges in New Mexico and worked to conserve some of the most endangered birds in the world as a park ranger for the Kilauea Point National Wildlife refuge.

Recently, he accepted a position as director of disaster services for the Kauai Office of the American Red Cross, where he will help lead disaster awareness and preparedness efforts for more than 67,000 Hawaiians on the state’s fourth largest island.

In his new role, he will draw from previous experience as a Red Cross volunteer during which he organized and provided clothing, food and shelter for victims recovering from severe flooding and house fire emergencies.

“One of the tasks I am hoping to accomplish as director is awareness and preparation,” Gallagher said. “It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ a major hurricane is going to hit this island, and if I can help people understand that, it will be easier for all of us to prepare and we can all weather the storm easier.”

Gallagher’s life could have easily taken a different path. After Benedictine, he landed a job with the Chicago office of Accenture, training and advising employees for the management consulting and technology services company.

However, when the economy took a turn for the worse in 2001, Gallagher lost his job and was forced back to the proverbial drawing board to contemplate his next career move.

“I applied with Americorps VISTA as a volunteer where I learned and taught fire fuels reduction and chainsaw skills to Navajo and Ute children through the Canyon Country Youth Corps, and then did pretty much the same type of work for the Great Basin Institute in the Tahoe area,” he said. “After a year of that, I decided to get a job with the Bureau of Land Management in southern Utah. So I gradually worked my way west, starting in Utah, Nevada, back to Utah, New Mexico and then to Hawaii.

“Working in isolated places like southern Utah got me out of my comfort zone and I learned to live with what I had,” Gallagher added. “I also learned that despite regional differences within the United States, there are so many more things we all have in common and it’s those commonalities that you look for to help you expand your comfort zone.”

As a park ranger at Kilauea Point, most days Gallagher did the work of three different people – everything from washing away bird droppings and fixing toilets to parking cars and giving tours of the wildlife refuge.

“It was challenging because the work I did wasn’t always viewed as the best use of government funds,” Gallagher said. “I was constantly asked, ‘Why should my tax dollars be used to help save a bird I’ve never heard of?’

“My goal in educating the public was to help them understand why it was important to care about the environment, because we saw constantly how the birds and plants were not able to adapt to some of the rapid changes we as humans were doing to the environment.”

He cites monitoring one of only 15 successful births of the critically endangered Newell's shearwater seabird in a 12-month period and launching a tour of the 100-year-old Kilauea Point Lighthouse as among his biggest contributions to the refuge.

“The lighthouse had sat there locked up, and all that interesting history and technology was hidden from the public,” Gallagher said. “So I took it on my own, with backing from my supervisor, to develop a tour. I worked unpaid hours and nights developing the tour, logistics and training for volunteers, presented it to management and got the green light to start regular tours of the lighthouse for the first time in its history.”

He credits his time at Benedictine for encouraging him to stretch himself and to work with people of different backgrounds.

“Benedictine is where I started to really learn to work with people from diverse backgrounds,” Gallagher recalled. “As a History major, I would study and work through problems with fellow students, which was such a helpful experience because I was able to hear other’s opinions. I learned that just because someone has a different view than my own doesn’t mean we can’t see the other side and agree that it is valid and worthwhile.”

Despite being so far away from his alma mater, Gallagher participated in Benedictine’s “Wish You Were Here Postcard Project” during which he sent postcards to admitted students encouraging them to complete the enrollment process and attend the University.

“I thought this was an interesting way to give back to Benedictine and potential students,” he said. “I mailed them while I attended training at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, so that they had that postmark on them.

“I mentioned the close-knit community, how their world is full of so many opportunities and that they should try to enjoy the time they spend at Benedictine,” he continued. “I also told them how being a student is a lot of hard work, but the reward is worth more than I could have imagined. I never would have thought that pulling an all-nighter would have led to a job that allows me to see the ocean and hear the waves crash every day.”

Gallagher isn’t the only alumnus who has found his way to the Aloha State. Out of the throngs of tourists he’s worked with over the years, he’s encountered more than a few friendly faces showing off their BenU pride.

“Even being 5,000 miles away from Benedictine and Lisle, it is surprising how many times I will see someone wearing a Benedictine shirt or hat,” he said.

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Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, admissions@ben.edu or visit ben.edu.

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