Mike Fales ’75 currently serves as director of service learning and campus ministries and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion, but it’s nearly impossible to sum up the true impact he has made and continues to make at Olivet College. Professor Fales has worked at OC for more than 25 years and was deeply engaged during his time as a student. He is renowned as a mentor, spiritual leader, friend, trusted adviser and teacher to all. Professor Fales truly embodies the Olivet College family; his wife Judy, also works at the College as director of Burrage Library, and the couple regularly welcomes students into their home.
Some of Professor Fales’s most prominent work includes organizing countless service learning and global learning opportunities for students. Through such trips, Professor Fales has made learning through service possible for hundreds of Olivet College students and has made a tremendous difference in communities across the world. And beyond simply organizing the trips, Professor Fales works alongside students during every volunteer opportunity.
What is your favorite memory from your time at OC?
There have been a number of international students who I was personally involved in bringing to Olivet College. Watching them come here, learn and mature, then leave here to make their individual ways in the world is a special memory for me and it is still happening.
Where do your passions for teaching, service learning and religion stem from?
My parents instilled volunteerism in me by their example. I think everything else comes from my study and admiration of the founders of Olivet College. They were remarkable people who gave all they had to help those in need and to make the world a more equitable place. I personally believe God created Olivet with a special purpose: to bring diverse groups of people together to grow and learn from each other. We don’t have to all agree on everything, but if we can at least learn to see things through the eyes of those who are different from ourselves, the world can be a much better place. With all of our service trips, I receive as much or more than I give. That has been true from the beginning.
What is your teaching style like?
I like to engage students by asking them questions that aren’t easy to answer. In more recent years my teaching style has also become very visual. I love using short video clips that pertain to the subject matter. I have fully embraced technology in the classroom.
What’s the average day in your role, or some of the unique things you are responsible for?
I do some very unusual things in my job. Last month I bought $2,000 of groceries because I was cooking for 30 people in a church in Florida while doing hurricane relief work over Spring Break. There have been several times when my college credit card was blocked because they saw no reason for a college professor to be buying $500 worth of groceries in New Orleans. This academic year I have done over $100,000 of business in foreign currencies for various international student travel trips. So, I spend a lot of time watching currency conversion sites and rates. I am currently watching the Japanese Yen very carefully. On an average day, numerous students come into my office. Some just come to say “hi”; others need someone to talk to about major issues in their life. I am glad we have always had an open door policy.
Why do you encourage students to attend OC?
I encourage students to come to Olivet because I have personally witnessed the transformation of so many children to adults over so many years, including my own time here. I have seen with my own eyes what this place can do for someone if they are open to trying new things and meeting new people. It isn’t always a perfect fit but when it is it is a beautiful thing.
What do you look forward to in your role?
I have been very excited to take 14 students and alumni to Japan in May to study religion and culture. In May 2020, my friend and colleague John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, and I will be team-teaching a class in Peace Studies, which includes a trip to Israel. Every year I look forward to our Service Learning Program, which includes at least one overnight service trip each month during the school year as well as weeklong trips in December, over Spring Break and in May. Many of those are disaster relief trips and the weather pretty much dictates where we go and when.
What advice do you share with students and alumni?
My best advice for both is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and try things that are new and difficult for you. It is the best way I know to grow as a person. I also encourage people to read — a lot.
What is an interesting or little-known fact about yourself?
I was an instrumentalist in high school, which I continued as a member of the first OC Marching Band in 1971. I had never done any singing prior to college but Professors Mel Larimer and Dan and Emily Byrens saw a talent in me I didn’t know I had. I ended up singing in multiple vocal groups during my time at Olivet including Concert Choir, Chamber Choir and Collegium Musicum. While I was in graduate school and working in Washington, D.C., I was invited to sing with a baroque and renaissance group called the Ron Freeman Chorale, which was made up mostly of professional musicians who sang in the various military choruses in our nation’s capital. Because the group was so specialized, we were invited to perform at the Kennedy Center, the Washington National Cathedral, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and at the White House Christmas Tree Lighting.
Learn more about the Olivet College family by visiting campus or contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.