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News & Stories: 2009-10

Faculty Profile: Garth Pauley July 31, 2009

Once upon a time, Garth Pauley thought he would be an accountant.

Now a professor in the Calvin College communications arts & sciences (CAS) department, Pauley was an economics major as an undergrad. However, after working as an assistant auditor and an accountant as a student, Pauley realized that the field was not for him.

"It didn’t help me find what I wanted to do, but it did help me find what I didn’t want to do,” said Pauley with a laugh. Another thing that Pauley realized he did not want to do was join the U.S. Air Force, as his father did.

Moving around

Because of his father’s military career, Pauley’s family traveled quite a bit. Pauley was born in Dover, Delaware, but lived in Massachusetts, Louisiana, Delaware again and Guam before moving to the San Antonio, Texas area. He attended Trinity University there.

Pauley became interested in speech communication because of the impact great civil rights-era speakers such Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis had on their audiences. “My main interest in history is looking at these main moments in history where it seemed like rhetoric played a significant role in shaping events,” he said. By the time he graduated from Trinity University speech communication was his major, and economics was his minor.

After Trinity, Pauley attended Texas A & M University for his master’s degree in speech communication, where he met his wife, fellow CAS professor Kathi Groenendyk.

"Texas A & M was a very small program then, so we did get to know each other very well,” said Groenendyk. “It worked out really well.” The couple married in 1995, the year Pauley finished up his master’s degree. Together they moved on to Penn State University to pursue doctorates.

Jazzy guy

Pauley picked up another interest while in grad school: jazz music. “I had to take a course on jazz history,” said Pauley. “I liked jazz music before then, but that class really solidified my interest. I became a super-avid listener after that.”

As to individual artists, Pauley likes Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. “I always have found Monk’s music kind of interesting because he doesn’t really fit into a category,” said Pauley. “The way he resolves harmonic progressions are very unusual.” When asked if he plays an instrument himself, Pauley just laughs and says: “I used to play alto saxophone, but it has been so long that I would be embarrassed to play it.”

While at Calvin, Pauley has taught a jazz history interim course— for which he takes students to Manhattan jazz clubs.

"His mission is to convert people to jazz,” said Groenendyk in a fit of laughter. “I humor him and listen to it. I like it fine, but I am not going to be as fanatic as he is.” She said that Pauley also teaches pre-school groups about jazz. “He enjoys talking to young kids too because they are very responsive,” said Groenendyk. “They are less inhibited to move along with the music.”

The power of speech

When he is not listening to jazz, Pauley continues to research the speeches of the American civil rights movement. “I am mainly interested in the protest rhetoric,” said Pauley, “and how is it that  … civil rights leaders were able to bring about significant social change. ”

Pauley’s scholarship has won him recognition outside of the department and a couple different awards. He is a past recipient of the National Communication Association's Karl R. Wallace Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Discourse.

Pauley and Groenendyk  enjoy working together in the CAS department. “The students often don’t know that we are married,” said a smiling Groenendyk. “That way we are not kind of lumped together. But there is a good collaboration between the two of us.”

In addition to working together at Calvin, Pauley and Groenendyk are raising children together at home. They have two sons: Sean, who is nine, and Liam, who is seven. 

"Liam and I both love baseball,” said Pauley, “so I play a lot of baseball with him. Our family likes doing outdoor stuff. Nature is a big part of our lives. So we do a lot of hiking and sometimes canoeing and going to the beach.”

The couple wonders if their sons will follow them into communications. "We are pushing them into the sciences,” said Groenendyk with a laugh. “They do talk a lot though. They do know how to express their feelings.”

~by Matt Decker, communications and marketing

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Garth Pauley, professor of rhetoric


communications arts and sciences


BA, speech communication and economics, Trinity University, 1993; MA, speech communication, Texas A&M University, 1995; PhD, speech communication, Pennsylvania State University, 1999

Research interests

• Protest rhetoric employed by leaders of the civil rights movement.
• Significant sermons in American history

Selected publications

LBJ's American Promise Texas A&M University Press (2007).

Little-known fact

In high school and in college he repossessed cars.