College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Statements Feature: Rising with Opportunity

Rising with Opportunity

When John Gallagher, ‘83, started out on his academic journey, something didn’t quite feel right. As a freshman at Iowa State University, things weren’t falling into place. With a feeling that he just wasn’t at home on the large campus, Gallagher decided to reassess his college of choice and visit UNI. That fateful day, Master Sergeant (MSG) Jack Regan was in Maucker Union, presenting a brand new ROTC program at UNI. Gallagher excitedly signed up the very next day, joining the first class of UNI ROTC cadets.

The experience quickly taught him to not be afraid to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Thinking more about how that might translate into advice to current UNI students, recent grads or really anyone looking towards a transition, Gallagher narrowed it down into three specific opportunities: 

  1. Don’t be afraid to constantly learn or advance your education.
    Gallagher’s decision to join ROTC that day helped him find the direction he needed to achieve his undergraduate degree. His experience in the military after graduation gave him the confidence to later pursue a master’s degree. And he is quick to point out that this doesn’t only apply to achieving an advanced degree. Any opportunity to learn a new skill set or hobby is a new chance to grow and be involved.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and look for mentors.
    Throughout his time at UNI, Gallagher pointed to the many people who helped him throughout the way, from Deb Ackerson, who helped him through the UNI ROTC process, to MSG Regan and Major (retired) Doug Kangas, who taught him about professionalism. Major General “Curly” Hultman, who pinned on Gallagher’s second lieutenant bars during his 1983 commissioning, was and continues to be a guiding light through his entire career, both in and outside of the military.

    The best advice came from Gallagher’s father, who told him as he went off to college: “Choose your friends very wisely. The people you choose to surround yourself within the first two weeks of college will determine the outcome of your college experience either positively or negatively.” This advice, which he later gave to each of his own six children, can be carried over into a new career or where you choose to live. “Who you surround yourself with will set you up for success or failure,” Gallagher said. “The people at UNI helped me set up a very positive college experience and future success. Some of my closest friends remain those I made at UNI over 30 years ago.”
  3. Don’t be afraid to give back and become a mentor for someone else.
    Gallagher humbly admitted that he will “never be the General Hultman or Deb Ackerson’s of the world who have helped countless people.” But, he stressed the importance of striving to be “that positive individual who wants to help someone else achieve their goals.” He continued, “We all make mistakes in’s what lessons we learn and how, with help, we can turn those lessons learned in a positive direction.”

Needless to say, John Gallagher is a UNI alumnus we can all strive to be, or have, as a mentor.


John Gallagher commissioned as a Distinguished Military Graduate (DMG) out of UNI ROTC in 1983 before the program gained host status in 1986. Commissioning in the Regular Army as a Signal Officer, 2LT Gallagher embarked on a seven-year career of dedicated service in the signal corps. He served in multiple CONUS and overseas locations prior to resigning his commission to pursue a civilian career. Gallagher was inducted into the UNI ROTC Hall of Fame and the U.S. Army Cadet Command ROTC Hall of Fame in 2016. He is currently vice president of government relations at VGM & Associates.

For more information about the UNI ROTC program, visit