Psychology student turning life around for the better

Michael Gallina
Gallina checks in a book at the library

Update: Much has happened to Michael Gallina since we introduced him to you two years ago. He: 

  • was awarded the Janet McCauley Award for Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • was named a University Scholar for being in the top 2% of undergraduate students   
  • graduated summa cum laude in April from Pitt-Bradford
  • is on his way to graduate school
Most significantly, he has transformed his life. Here is his story, in his own words, as told to his advisor, Dr. Warren Fass:

"Four year ago today, I was sitting in a jail cell with no idea where my life was heading. Well, I had somewhat of an idea, knowing where it would head if I kept doing the same sh*t, but I had no idea where doing something different would lead. thus, when I was released, I vowed to myself to at least give a gallant effort in trying a new way of life. This vow lead me to Pitt-Bradford and ultimately to your classroom.

"Now, as I sit, four years later, with a college degree and countless opportunities, I realize how significant that choice to try something new was. I learned so much about myself and others these past four years, and much of that knowledge came from you. Sure, I was highly receptive and driven, but I truly believe that had I been given another advisor of if you had not been there, I would have turned out differently with different conceptions and perspectives on a lot of things.

"I'm glad you were there to guide me, for with the knowledge that I gained from you both in and out of the classroom, my life is much more fruitful, both personally and economically. For that I thank you."      


    For Michael Gallina, a love of psychology is more than academic. It may have saved his life. 

            Gallina, a nontraditional student with a psychology major, was inducted this spring into both the nontraditional honor society and the psychology honor society, but he wasn’t always such a model student. 

            His road to Pitt-Bradford was long and winding. It included a time in Philadelphia, time smoking pot, time drinking, time abusing prescription drugs, time in the service, time in Potter County, time blacking out, time in jail, time drying out and finally, time in rehab. 

            On his very last day in rehab at Maple Manor in Port Allegany, an influential counselor asked him to write a plan for when he got out. He thought back to what a psychologist at Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Wellsboro had asked him, “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” 

            The day after he got out of rehab, he walked into the admissions office at Pitt-Bradford and said he would like to be admitted to study psychology. He was admitted provisionally, a gamble that has paid off for the admissions officer who made that choice. 

            For two years, he’s been a model student, and now his life consists of time at work, time in class, time studying, time on the Dean’s list. 

            “He is a rarity. I wish I had more students like him,” said Dr. Warren Fass, associate professor of psychology. 

            Fass said Gallina is very goal-oriented, has found out what it will take to meet his goal of going to graduate school in psychology and is doggedly working toward it. 

            Gallina credits the change from chaos to order in his life to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which he was introduced to at Maple Manor. Gallina said that for him, more standard approaches such as Alcoholics Anonymous were not working. 

            REBT emphasizes changing speech and language to change thought patterns. It fights the irrational thoughts that make good people interpret events through a dark lens. 

            “I didn’t know how to think,” Gallina said. “I need to think more. I need to think about thinking.” 

            It’s clear that he’s been doing that, starting at Maple Manor and ending up in a psychology classroom, where he enjoys applying what he learns to his own situation. To hear him speak now about what was happening in his mind during his earlier troubles is like being seated next to an aeronautical engineer on a plane. 

            He explores the biology and psychology of his own mind then and now and the effects of his thinking on himself and others. It’s hard work – this thinking about thinking. 

            “It takes a lot of effort to challenge yourself,” he said. 

            This fall, he’s taking on a considerable challenge, pursuing independent research with Fass to ready himself for graduate school. 

            Having taken Fass’s course in data analysis and writing in the spring, Gallina has developed a topic on religion’s role in psychological processes. 

            To conduct the research, Gallina will survey members of the incoming freshman class. 

            Once the data is gathered and examined, Gallina’s ultimate goal is to have it published and take the next step in his path toward success.