Sharing His Story

by Nicole Suter

Professor Lawlor provides insight into his past and why he chose to teach.

John Lawlor, Jr. is a man of many talents and a strong fixture at Reading Area Community College. On any given day in Professor Lawlor’s history classes, you can walk in and expect a lively class with someone passionate about what he teaches. Lawlor delivers history  through a mixture of funny voices, sly jokes, and acknowledged slips in grammar, to create engaging classes about the past, especially when the subject is the American Revolution. One thing is for sure, he loves his subject — past events — and what he is doing — making that past valuable for today’s students.

Though passionate about telling stories about the founding of the United States, Lawlor has worked a variety of jobs. Before staring at RACC, Lawlor worked for the Consolidated Railroad Company (Conrail) and as a programmer for AT&T. That diversity, he claims, has been valuable.

“I’ve always been very fortunate in that way, you know, going through a whole career, working since I’ve been young, in all different kinds of capacities and always had really nice coworkers for the most part.”

At Conrail, Lawlor began in the locomotive shops as a machinist’s helper and was eventually put in the fuel injector room. He worked with Conrail for a little over thirteen years. Near the end of his time with Conrail, Lawlor began learning computing.

That training in computing eventually lead to work programming at AT&T. He began with AT&T as a trainer.  But once he combined his training background with his computer background from Conrail, he was moved into a position of system implementation.

Seeing an industry shift happening, Lawlor left AT&T in 1990 to work for RACC, where he had taught as an adjunct since 1976.  That move to the community college gave him a chance to pursue his passion for teaching. Though he was shifting careers, his past experience was not replaced. His training and background in technology aided Lawlor in promoting the use of technology in instruction, and he wrote the grants and plans for a multimedia room in the Yocum library.

At RACC, Lawlor has taught a variety of courses over the years including specific history courses, survey courses, and an occasional education technology or government course. Lawlor, who holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in history from Kutztown University, has provided RACC with 39 years of service by doing what he loves. Some of his proudest moments are “when his students do really well at Beacon” a conference for undergraduates at two-year colleges, and when his students receive awards and scholarships, or are published. Lawlor finds the most rewarding part of teaching in his students’ success

Over the past year and a half, Lawlor has spent a majority of his spare time immersed in Native American Studies in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress. Though the subject is new, Lawlor is no stranger to that national library. In the past, Lawlor was involved in teaching conferences as well as other projects with the Library of Congress. He even presented a list of things his students wanted to see online from the Library of Congress. Prior to that work, he was involved in creating lesson plans for the library and currently has four lessons available.

This coming summer, Lawlor will be acting as a mentor for young researchers at the Library of Congress. He will also be continuing his study in the Native American summer institute. He plans on using the information for several extended writings from his research.

One conversation with Lawlor will tell you that he has a hard time separating work from his own identity. But he is not completely absorbed by scholarship and teaching. His hobbies include spending time with his grandchildren, working on his property, reading and photography.

In December 2015,  Lawlor retired. One thing he won’t miss is his 8 a.m. classes. He doesn’t plan on stopping work altogether; he is just changing his focus. He plans on spending his time on the many personal projects that he has going on at the moment, but he would like to teach again in the future. Eventually, he hopes to turn his Native American research into an upper level course, continue his work with the Veterans History project, and expand a project that looks at the gilded age of American history including “factors that went into racism.”

When asked what he would miss the most about RACC when he leaves, he said he would miss scholarly and instructional collaborations. He has collaborated with Dr. Donna Singleton, Dr. C.L. Costello, and many other faculty and students from RACC.

One particularly valued collaboration was with Professor David Leight. Lawlor and Leight taught a course that combines history and literature from America. But he anticipates that this cooperation will continue.

“David Leight and I are starting to research Native Americans and Mark Twain.”

He has already pulled several articles that look promising and had found letters from Mark Twain that were very negative towards Native Americans. Lawlor and Leight — the historian and the literary critic — want to look into what changed Twain’s view regarding the Native Americans.

Though he’s supposedly finished with RACC, his work here will continue.

“I’ll still be teaching the History of literature course with David Leight, and I’m branching out to do the History of U.S. 1 with American Lit 1 with John Fiddler,” he explained. “I’m going to enjoy retirement. I can guarantee it.”

Given the chance to change something about RACC and where he saw the school in ten years, he jokingly said he would move its location to Malibu. But his serious advice is about enhancing the educational experience. He would really like to see RACC encourage more collaborations and start utilizing service learning in order to build a stronger community presence for the school.

He also wants those at the school to continue working on the Veterans History Project so that local veterans know the school is there for them and their stories are shared.

Lawlor intends to continue working on service learning and the Veterans History Project throughout his retirement.

If there’s one thing he hopes his students remember him for, it is for being caring – and you can put that down in the history books.

“You only have so much time. If you have things you want to do, you need to do them.”