From paper boy to academia
Mike O’Malley, a professor in the College of Education, took an interesting journey to get here
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Mike O’Malley, a professor in the College of Education, was not one of those children who knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. Instead, he found himself in Corvallis after meandering his way across the country in the unconscious search for his passion.
The son of Irish immigrants, O’Malley was born at Saint Elizabeth hospital and later moved to Quincy, Mass. as a boy. Quincy is the only town in the United States where two U.S. presidents were born — John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. Boston is a short train ride from Quincy.
“Boston is the Athens of America, a cultural citadel,” said O’Malley. “Being the son of immigrants, I was curious about the world, wondering how we ended up here.”
While his parents worked on a wealthy employer’s house one month out of the year, O’Malley was exposed to the employer’s vast library and “built up foundational knowledge” reading.
O’Malley’s first job was as a newspaper delivery boy for The Boston Globe, which O’Malley credits as one of the best papers in the world. He read the paper from cover to cover, learning about the world beyond his “parochial, Irish-Catholic upbringing.” He used some of his earnings to pay for tickets to basketball games.
“I’m a big NBA fan. When I was a kid, I saw all the NBA greats play,” O’Malley said. “I grew up going to the Boston Garden.”
When he was 16 years old, O’Malley quit his job working for the paper and began work at a meat factory.
“I’d go down to the meat factory and outfit the high pressure hose,” O’Malley said. “I realized that I didn’t want to do that work for the rest of my life.”
The working class neighborhood O’Malley grew up in had a two-track mind about higher education: either you were a doctor or a lawyer. He decided that he didn’t want to be a doctor, so that left law. O’Malley was practically “paid to go” to school by the University of Texas in Austin.
“I hated it from the get-go,” O’Malley said. “I went to law school five times, never finished. I’m really proud of it, by the way.”
After that, O’Malley became certified to teach at Harvard University. One of the history professors told him that in order to understand America, he must spend some time living in the Deep South.
“I went to the cockpit of the Confederacy where it all started. I taught in South Carolina for a year. It really helped me understand the racial dynamics of America that I wouldn’t have understood if I’d stayed up north,” O’Malley said.
South Carolina was also the place where he met his wife, Nell.
After teaching in South Carolina, O’Malley and his wife moved to Oregon, where he got a position as a substitute teacher and moved into part-time at both Oregon State University and West Albany High School. When he was offered a full-time position at OSU, O’Malley ultimately accepted in order to spend more time with his two children.
“Doors opened. Do we make decisions or do we make up ex post facto rationalizations?” said O’Malley, referring to his journey through careers. “Unfortunately as the domains of knowledge become narrower and narrower, I think it may be more difficult to move across disciplines to find out what they want to do.”
O’Malley considers two things to be important to him: family and awareness.
“I think it all starts with the family. When you go to the psychotherapist, they don’t ask you about who your Purpose, Structure and Function of Education in a Democracy teacher was,” O’Malley said, referring to one of his classes.
To O’Malley, it’s important that he not only devote everything he can to his wife and children, but also introduce his students to multiple perspectives.
“The other thing is making people aware so they can make informed decisions; a desire to bring myself and students to critical awareness so they can see the world with empathetic eyes, to minimize harm,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley hopes to be an intellectual role model to his students, presenting them to multiple perspectives with an entertaining spin to help them recognize injustice. O’Malley wants students to “become who they are,” a line from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
McKinley Smith, reporter
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