Doctoral learner is still aiming high at age 80

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Before marrying Army Sergeant First Class John Miller, Dorothy Galiger had a limited knowledge of anything related to the military.

From left, Dorothy Galiger, Dr. Baron Smith and Robert Hockensmith attended this year's Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.

But three days into their 1990 marriage, Galiger found herself fully immersed into her new role as a military spouse. Miller, a U.S. Army Reservist at the time, had been activated for nine months for Operation Desert Storm and left for Saudi Arabia a week after the wedding.

Like most military couples, the pair faced plenty of obstacles during Miller’s deployment.

“Of course, there were all the issues in communication, and it was really tough to think about,” Galiger recalled. “We had to have wills, powers of attorney and all those types of things in place, and that was kind of daunting because you don’t always think about those types of things, but they were required before he could leave.”

She proudly filled her role as an Army wife through the final 10 years of Miller’s 24-year career in the military.

She continued to support him during his retirement.

And she hasn't stopped even though he died in 2018.

Galiger is 80 years old ... and yet she is pursuing a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership degree with an emphasis in Organizational Development from Grand Canyon University. She hopes her dissertation topic, “Female Army Combat Reintegration Support Efficacy, Resilience and Re-enlistment Intent,” produces research that supports female Army reserve combat veterans trying to reintegrate into civilian life.

Galiger also is an adjunct professor at GCU, and she was invited by a GCU colleague, retired Army Col. Robert Hockensmith, to ride on an antique firetruck at Phoenix’s Veterans Day parade last month. The firetruck paid homage to Miller by displaying his name as well as his birth and death years.

Another GCU colleague, Navy veteran Dr. Baron Smith, rode in his own display and met with the pair at the event. The trio also honored Galiger's committee content advisor, Dr. Vernon Wooldridge of the Air Force.

Galiger also got to ride in a helicopter at the parade.

The 2,500 marchers and 45,000 attendees made it one of the largest Veterans Day celebrations in the country, and it was huge for Galiger as well as she celebrated her late husband’s legacy and their lives together.

“I cried when I saw his name on there,” said Galiger, who also got a ride in a helicopter during the event. “I remembered all those beautiful years he had and the patriotism he had. There’s no question he’s probably one of the most patriotic people I know.”

What made the event even more special for her was having the opportunity to see multiple generations of service members from all branches of the military come together to celebrate and be celebrated.

“To see so many little kids, and not just really little but little children, around the parade route that had learned how to salute so that they could salute when the flag went by and things like that, that was just phenomenal,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw so many veterans of all ages wearing their military hats … but I saw every branch of the service out there, and these guys stood proudly.”

Much like her appearance at the event was to celebrate her husband's military career, her dissertation seeks to educate others about the Army reserves.

“Before John, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Army reserves,” she said. “When a reservist goes back home, very few people understand the military, including their doctors or their neighbors or their church. So they’re kind of in two different worlds.”

The firetruck Galiger rode displayed a banner honoring her late husband.

Galiger started her doctoral journey shortly after her husband passed away and quickly found that getting out of the house and engaging with others is therapeutic.

“It became, frankly, part of my grief journey,” she said. “My children really said to me, ‘You need to do something, Mom, and get out of the house. No online courses.’ That’s why I went to the cohort, and it was one of the best decisions because I’ve made so many good friends there.”

Galiger's experience as a GCU adjunct professor off and on for the past five years has given her a glimpse of the University's friendly atmosphere from two vantage points. She can recall multiple examples of kindness by both her colleagues and students.

“I think a Christian background makes a difference in the quality of the students and their behaviors,” she said. “I often say to people, ‘I can’t remember the last time I opened a door when I was there.’ Somebody was always there opening a door for me. It’s a little thing, but it’s those kinds of things that people did.”

There is a mutual appreciation between students and GCU faculty members, and Galiger's bond with her dissertation chair members is no exception. 

“Dorothy has an acute mind and a passion for learning,” said Dr. Jason Ward. “She takes initiative when met with frustration. As a result, she doesn’t accept something just because I, as her dissertation chair, tells her what she needs to do under certain circumstances. She wants to dig deeper until she fully understands what I am asking her to do.”

Working with Galiger has been an experience that Ward won't soon forget.

“I first worked with Dorothy during her first residency experience a couple of years ago,” he said. “The moment we sat down to discuss her research interest and the direction she wanted to go, I told myself, 'I want to be her dissertation chair.' Her drive and perseverance is something that I don't want to lose at any point.

“She is truly an inspiration.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Doctoral degree helped him fulfill a lifelong dream

GCU Today: Teaching and Learning doctorate filled with lessons


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