Professor's Loss Leaves a 'Big Hole' in a College He Pushed to Grow

Ressie L. Hall, Gateway Community and Technical College

Alan C. Hall, an associate professor of history at Gateway Community and Technical College, died this month after leading the Kentucky college's first study-abroad program, to France, in March.
July 27, 2009

To his colleagues at Gateway Community and Technical College, Alan C. Hall, an associate professor of history, was a man who seemed to do it all. During his 20 years at the college, Mr. Hall, who died on July 8 in a lawn-mowing accident at his home in Falmouth, Ky., moved from teaching electronics to information technology to history.

He held numerous leadership roles at the college and earned three degrees while on the faculty. When Kentucky's community colleges and vocational schools underwent a big merger, Mr. Hall was considered a pioneer in leading the transition at Gateway, in northern Kentucky.

And somewhere among all those commitments, Mr. Hall, who was 48, gained the reputation for being extremely generous with his time, his colleagues say, each of them eager to offer a story of him lending a hand at just the right time.

"That's the kind of person we lost," says G. Edward Hughes, Gateway's president. "It's a big hole in a little school."

Mr. Hall loved Star Trek and history, and had action figures from the show peppered among the books in his office. He was a hands-on type of guy, his colleagues say, knowing how to work all kinds of equipment and fix just about anything. On his childhood farm, 40 minutes from the college, he built a house for his wife and two children where he had pledged to spend the rest of his life.

Marinell C. Brown, associate provost for academic affairs, knew Mr. Hall for more than 20 years, at first as his faculty adviser when Mr. Hall was a student at the Northern Kentucky State Vocational-Technical School, which later became part of Gateway. Later she was Mr. Hall's mentor during a one-year internship before he became a faculty member at the school.

Ms. Brown, fighting back tears, recalls feeling as though she had little to teach him: "He was a natural-born teacher. He could make a connection with students and was very good at breaking down information to their level."

In 1989, Mr. Hall became an assistant professor of information and electronics technology. As he made his way up, he served on academic committees and coordinated programs with both Microsoft and Cisco Systems to help students prepare for information-technology jobs. In 2002 he was promoted to chair of Gateway's industrial- and transportation-technologies division.

When many were not, Mr. Hall was an early supporter of the plan to combine Northern Kentucky's technical programs, operated by the state government, with the community colleges run by the University of Kentucky. As a result of the merger, students who attended Gateway, traditionally a technical institution, could also earn associate degrees.

"Where we lived in northern Kentucky, there was not a community college," Ms. Brown says. "We saw it as a way to help our students get on the educational track—to be able to start at Gateway and take their credit hours to go anywhere. Alan was a big part of that transition."

While teaching electronics at Gateway, Mr. Hall received an associate-in-applied-science degree in industrial education in 1998 and a bachelor's degree in the same field in 2000 from Northern Kentucky University. He later went back there to earn a master's degree in liberal studies, to fulfill a lifelong dream of teaching history.

And in 2008, he began his career as a history professor. Knowing that most of his students were primarily interested in technology, Mr. Hall framed his lessons through the use of machinery and tanks in World War II.

"He always thought history classes were boring, and he wanted to make history fun," says Sam E. Collier, division chair of transportation technologies at Gateway.

With the hope of taking his students beyond the classroom, Mr. Hall helped develop the college's first study-abroad program, which took 15 students to France during spring break this year. The students spent a week exploring the country, including a trip to the beaches of Normandy guided by Mr. Hall.

"It was magical. He was absolutely in his element," says Melissa M. Fry, who developed the program with Mr. Hall. "Starting the program for the college will be his greatest legacy."

At the funeral, where there was standing room only, Mr. Hughes read a description Mr. Hall wrote of his teaching philosophy. An educator carries an "awesome responsibility," he wrote, one that comes with the "power to shape a student's view of not only the world but also of themselves."

The statement goes on: "It is often within the power of an educator to encourage a student, helping them realize hidden potential and grow as a person."

Mr. Hall truly lived that commitment, says Mr. Hughes. "Every faculty member has a last lecture," he says. "And I think Alan's last lecture would talk about our responsibility to find the hidden genius in everybody and bring it out."