My mother, a waitress and unmarried, was unable to care for my younger brother, Daniel, and me, so she placed us in foster care in the suburbs of Baltimore and elsewhere when I was just 3 or 4. One of the foster homes where my brother and I lived for 5 years sent us to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a small Catholic school associated with the Redemptorist order of missionaries. It was perhaps no surprise that without a real father as a role model, the men I most admired at that time were missionaries who, when they visited our school, thrilled students with their stories of paddling canoes down the jungle rivers to bring the “One True Faith” to primitive natives. When I announced to my eighth-grade class of 13 girls and 5 boys that I was going to enter the seminary, our teacher, Sister Rita Alberta, was thrilled that one of “her boys” was going to become a priest. I had hoped that my mother would also be pleased, but she showed little enthusiasm for my decision and even expressed some skepticism.
Nonetheless, in September 1961, I took a train to the small Pennsylvania town of North East, about a mile from
the shore of Lake Erie, the home of St. Mary’s College, a Redemptorist minor seminary for prospective missionaries. I “studied” for the priesthood for the next four years, but I spent more time on high jinks than academics. One of my most infamous pranks was coloring the water in Father Superior’s prized aquarium green for St. Patrick’s Day using lime Fizzies. In the end, the Redemptorists decided I just wasn’t serious enough in my vocation to continue. Although I was devastated at the time, I don’t believe I would have been able to remain a priest for the rest of my life, and so it was probably good that I was dismissed then. This image allows me to contemplate what might have been but viewing it, I have absolutely no regrets that I did not become “Father Tom.”
The impetus for becoming an elementary school teacher and eventually a university professor can be traced back to the two years I spent in the U.S. Army as a Chaplain’s Assistant. To
prepare me to show “Character Guidance” films to soldiers, the Army sent me to an Audiovisual Training Course at Fort Hamilton, New York. It was there that I first perceived the potential of technologies such as films, programmed instruction, and overhead transparencies to help people learn.
In 1973, during my first year of teaching 7th Grade in a suburban Atlanta elementary school, I completed a life-changing Masters-level course at Georgia State University
titled “Games and Simulation Design,” taught by Dr. Francis “Skip” Atkinson who had recently completed his Ph.D. at Syracuse University. Skip, who has been a treasured friend ever since, encouraged me to attend graduate school at Syracuse, and I was fortunate to be awarded scholarships and fellowships that allowed me to graduate debt free in 1979 with two Masters degrees and a Ph.D. After one-year academic appointments in Peru, South Carolina, and Germany, I joined the faculty at The University of Georgia in 1982, where I spent the next 39 years as an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, and eventually Professor Emeritus of Learning, Design, and Technology.
As an academic, I enjoyed teaching and research most of all. I served as the major professor for 35 doctoral students, and co-authored 7 books and 200+ research journal articles and book chapters. My scholarly work has been cited enough to place me in the top 2 percent of most-cited scientists in the world according to a recent Stanford University bibliographic study. Becoming a professor has also allowed my wife, Professor Emerita Trisha Reeves, and me to travel beyond our wildest dreams, giving keynotes and workshops in more than 30 countries and all over the USA. While I am officially “retired,” I still enjoy research, writing, and speaking. And though it is difficult to contemplate life without continuing these kinds of scholarly activities, it’s time to focus on more quality time with my wife, family, and friends.