Senior Profile 2021: James Galanits

Elementary education veteran graduateDegree: Elementary Education/Middle School Dual, BA, emphasis in math, science and social studies
Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa

Why did you pursue this degree at UNI? It is the best education university. I was born and raised in Waterloo, so I knew that UNI had a solid teaching program. My wife works at UNI, and I knew I wanted to stay local, so it seemed like the right choice. It also meant a lot to complete my degree at the same school I started with many years ago. I wanted to prove that I could do it, and I did.

What path did you take to achieve your degree? I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I got out of high school, but after a short stint at UNI in 1987, I decided that I was not ready for school yet. That was when I realized that I wanted to join the U.S. Army. After serving for a while, I was discharged due to a physical injury to my knee and was struggling with some undiagnosed mental health issues involving anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I found myself at a low point, trying to figure out what was next in my life. This was when I decided to get my bachelor's degree in computer science and business management from another school. I proceeded to work for the State of Iowa for 16 years helping disabled veterans overcome their challenges and find employment opportunities. While I enjoyed helping others to overcome challenges I myself had personally faced, it became clear that this career path was taking a toll on my mental health and was no longer sustainable for me. Finally, I decided to return to UNI to pursue my original passion: teaching! Achieving this degree is something I have always wanted. I just needed to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

What does completing your degree mean to you? What it means for me to complete my degree in teaching is twofold. The first significance in completing my degree is that I was able to follow my dreams of becoming a teacher. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had teachers who motivated me and teachers who made me dislike learning. These individuals opened my eyes to how influential the role of a teacher is in the lives of students. Later in my life, I saw my daughter have a few teachers who were not really able to connect with her. This made me want to go back and get my education to help guide students who do not feel like they have that connection. The second significance in completing my degree is that I’m getting the change I need. When I decided to go back to school and complete my degree, I wanted to move out of my current job and find a new job I was passionate about. Teaching was always there waiting for me, and completing this degree reinforces that it is never too late to follow your true passion.

What challenges did you face as you worked toward this degree – and how did you overcome them? One challenge I faced was going to school after many years of working. I had to do my best to readjust to school life and study hard so that I could finish my degree at UNI. Disability issues were also a challenge and I had to overcome many damaging mindsets which continued to hold me back. I learned how necessary it is to advocate for yourself. Mental health issues are invisible, so people do not always go out of their way to help you when you are struggling. Once I realized that I was not a failure but an extremely intelligent and misunderstood person, I learned how to shift my thinking and reach out to family, family, and others for support. Finally, I was able to achieve what I wanted!

How did UNI help you achieve your goals? During my time at UNI, I had outstanding professors who were always willing to help me. They were aware that I was a veteran and were always willing to work with me and accommodate my needs. My wife was also a crucial support system to me during this time. As a secretary at UNI, she was able to help support me both as a spouse and as a student. Many other employees within the secretarial staff at UNI were highly supportive as well. Individuals like Julie Johnson and Ryan Scholl were often available to help answer questions and provide support/guidance when needed. These incredible individuals, and UNI as a whole, gave me the support and the belief that I was capable of achieving the goal I set in front of me.

What’s your best memory of your time at UNI? My best memories are from the time I spent with the secretarial staff that I had the opportunity to talk with in-between classes. They were always there to chat with me, joke around with me, and help me out when possible. They made my experience at UNI even more enjoyable. They truly do not get the credit they deserve for all they do for the students.

What advice would you give to students considering UNI? There are three pieces of advice I would give to students who are considering UNI. One, get involved. My first time at UNI, I did not get involved, and I had no idea the great activities/organizations I could participate in on campus. Participating in these organizations helped me succeed in school and allowed me to meet awesome friends that I know I will lean on when I begin teaching. Two, get to know the support staff. These staff members are always in the know and can help guide you to where you need to be. Lastly- three, do not be afraid to ask for help. My first attempt at UNI was less than successful, partly because I tried to do it on my own. Support systems are out there, don’t be afraid to use them.

What’s next? Educating our future generations, I hope! My dream job would be to work in the Waterloo School District, teaching kids from 2nd-8th grade. For now, I am looking forward to whatever opportunities may come my way.