Mount professor reflects on ties to college, career

Joshua Byers, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
·5 min read

Mar. 24—Michael Ryan has a strong connection to Mount Aloysius College.

Not only was his great aunt a Sister of Mercy who taught English at the school, but his mother, who grew up in Carrolltown, attended there as a young girl; his grandmother, who was raised in Cresson, lived at one time in the Admiral Peary House; and his sister attended the college, where he now teaches world affairs.

The adjunct professor applied for a position at the school in 2017, when he and his wife decided to move back to the area.

"My family has had more than 120 years of relationship with Mount Aloysius," Ryan said. "When I retired and came back, it seemed like the natural place to teach."

Before that, the Carrolltown native and Bishop Carroll Catholic High School graduate spent most of his life in the U.S. Air Force, serving around the world, and also worked for the government in various roles.

After high school, he joined the military in 1978, beginning an almost 30-year career.

He was commissioned in 1982 from the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he received a bachelor of science degree.

Ryan also has a master of science degree in international relations from Troy State University, European Campus; is a distinguished graduate of the Joint Military Intelligence College, Washington, D.C.; a National Defense Fellow of the Congressional Research Service in Washington, D.C.; and attended the Joint Defense College in Paris, France.

He also got to march in President Ronald Regan's inaugural parade as a cadet.

During his career, Ryan served all over, including Arizona; Texas; the United Kingdom, where he met and married his wife, Gloria; Belgium; Germany; and Washington, D.C.

The retired colonel's assignments have ranged from duties as an instructor pilot, Red Flag mission commander, assistant director of operations in the A-10A aircraft and flight commander to the Command Action Group in Air Education and Training Command.

He's also clocked more than 1,000 hours in the air and has flown an impressive array of aircraft, such as the AT-38B Talon, Mirage IIIB, Concorde and Jaguar.

While in Europe, he taught at NATO School and the Eastern European Security Cooperation before getting involved in international affairs.

From July 2003 to September 2007, he was the military adviser to the Secretary of Defense Representative in Europe for the U.S. mission to NATO and defense adviser to the ambassador for the U.S. mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.

"We were very blessed to have the career we had," he said.

After retiring from the military in 2007, he applied and got a job as a member of the senior executive service, where he remained for 10 years before returning to the area.

Ryan said he wanted to come back home because of the beauty of the area, how wonderful the people are and the low cost of living.

He and his wife moved into his family home in Carrolltown. Ryan wanted to continue teaching so he sent out his resume to a few area schools.

"We are very, very lucky to have Mike here," Mount associate professor of political science Matt Arsenault said.

He was the one who received Ryan's resume.

Arsenault considers his colleague a good example of a resident who's made something of himself, and that he provides an Ivy League quality education to the students.

"We are just so fortunate he chose to share his talents with us," he said.

The way Ryan styles his classes is through a reverse journey about world affairs.

He has his students read the Wall Street Journal every class, which he thinks brings an immediacy to the topics, then discuss the news.

Ryan said it's nice to teach awareness about the world, and described the students at Mount Aloysius as "fantastic."

That job had to be put on hold in 2019, though, because a friend of his suggested a different position.

The acquaintance was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy under President Donald Trump's administration who took a different job and recommended Ryan fill the space.

After some consideration, Ryan decided to throw his hat in the ring and later accepted the role.

For one year, he provided counsel for international matters based on his experience, and on occasion, was the voice of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Ryan said it was a rewarding and exciting experience that provided a lot of "pinch me" moments.

One of the those memories was when he was escorted across the United Kingdom's M6, the largest highway in that country. There was no traffic because the roadway was shutdown for the caravan.

However, the job didn't come without challenges.

One aspect he had to remind himself of was to be humble and open-minded.

He jokingly said his wife provided reality checks when necessary.

The reason he stayed in the position for only one year was because he accomplished what he set out to do and didn't want to overstay his welcome, noting how term limits can be beneficial.

Ryan said he decided that last October was a good time to get out.

Now, he's back teaching at the Mount and is happy to be there.

He and his wife live in Richland Township.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.