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The Student News Site of Principia College

The Pilot

The Student News Site of Principia College

The Pilot

Get to know Galen Benson

Laura Mayo
Galen Benson outside the School of Nations building at Principia College.

Most people know Galen Benson as a professor in the educational studies department, but in this new spotlight Q&A series, The Pilot aims to highlight the lives of the faculty and staff of Principia College.

The Pilot: Where did you grow up?

Galen Benson: For about the first 11 years, I did not live in the US. My dad was in the military and then the foreign service, so we moved around. I lived in Turkey, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, San Diego, and then outside Washington D.C. in Virginia. For pre-K I was in Mexico, and for kindergarten through third grade I was in Saudi Arabia. For fourth and fifth grade I went to school in San Diego but I lived in Mexico so I would cross the border every day for school, and then in sixth and seventh grade we moved to San Diego and I went to the same school. For middle and high school I was in Virginia. 

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

GB: I went to Principia College and I majored in political science. I was interested in going into the foreign service or working for the government, so that’s why I majored in political science. 

Have you worked other jobs other than a professor at Principia? What were they like?

GB: As a senior I interned in Congress and that was really fun, but when I graduated there was a federal hiring freeze so there were literally no jobs. After graduation I went to D.C. and tried to get hired, but then I realized nothing was happening. At that point, I had really good connections from people in the office I worked at and from these social events Congress had, but there were no jobs. I had some friends from Prin who were teachers in Japan, and they told me there were lots of jobs in Japan, so I went there to be a teacher for a couple of years.

On my way back to the U.S., I stopped in Mexico to visit my parents, and before I unpacked my suitcase I was offered a job at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, so I stayed there for a year. My job was to be the writer and editor for a newspaper for about 2,000 readers that went down to all the consulates and embassies in Central America.

At this time, there wasn’t a federal hiring freeze, but I was kind of shifting my thought, so I went back to grad school for a masters in business because I thought that would be good to have. I didn’t want to jump into the corporate world quite yet, and an opportunity came up to work on cruise ships, so I did that for four years. My role there was to run the onboard teen activities. When I look back on it, there’s this theme of working with teens because I’ve coached on the side and been a camp counselor, so teaching seemed to be a theme that I hadn’t really considered. Even on the cruise ships, I found myself teaching classes. [After my time on the cruise ships], I went into corporate America for a while and worked at a mutual fund in Denver.

My wife Portia (professor of business administration and economics) and I decided to ‘get out of the rat race’ and moved from the city to the suburbs and then the mountains, three hours away from the city. We didn’t really know what we would do, but we decided we needed a big shift. A job ad came out in the local paper to teach in prisons, which was a competitive job with about 100 applicants that I applied for and was hired. The reason I got that job was because I had all these prior experiences. And, the guy who was my boss’s boss and on the interviewing panel was familiar with Adventure Unlimited and saw that I had been a counselor there and was very impressed. I worked in the prison for nine years in the medium-restricted level. Over half of the inmates I worked with were supposed to be at the max restriction level but couldn’t be because of a lack of space, so we had some tough people. 

Through that job, I became qualified to teach here at Prin. The education department was looking for someone who had a niche and could teach classes like communication and character education, and I had been teaching classes just like that in prison. I was also on the negotiation team for hostages in crisis, and all of that training is part of interpersonal communication. I learned about classroom management, building rapport, communicating compassion, and a sense of respect that everyone deserves because inmates are still people. Those are the reasons I got this job. I never thought about being a college professor ever, but here I am.

What’s the coolest thing that you’ve experienced in your time as a professor at Principia?

GB: I think the coolest is when I see the graduates walk across the stage when their names are called. That’s very fulfilling and I’m proud of each person, especially if I know them.

In the mornings I spend time praying and clearing my thoughts and I like to think about each student as a perfect expression of Mind. I like to open my thoughts to ideas that I haven’t considered in terms of class planning. If an idea pops up that is different from what I’ve done in previous semesters, I allow myself to implement that idea, and more often than not it goes well. That’s exciting.

Relationships with the students especially as an assistant soccer coach are another thing I cherish because I get to know more about who those students are.

What is something that students and maybe even other faculty and staff don’t know about you?

GB: I really love scuba diving. And a lot of people don’t know that Portia and I intentionally went on a cageless shark dive. It was 70 feet down and there were about two dozen gray reef sharks circling around us as we were kneeling on the sand. You could reach out and touch them.

What’s your favorite snack?

GB: I eat a lot of cereal because when I was on the cruise ships the food was amazing, but really rich and fancy, so I ate a lot of cereal to counter that and it’s a habit I still have.

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