Kelly McFall, Ph.D., returns from productive spring sabbatical

May 07, 2020

A sabbatical is an excellent opportunity for a professor to focus on a specific project, learn more about their field of study or even to further refine their curriculum. During this time, some professors manage to do all three.

This fall, Kelly McFall, Ph.D., professor of history and chair of the division of humanities, will return from his semester-long sabbatical.

Over the course of his sabbatical, McFall was hard at work learning about various historical topics, beginning new projects and polishing older ones. 

“My main sabbatical project was to write the first draft of a Reacting to the Past game about the conflict in Algeria in the late 1950s,” said McFall.

Considering how popular these educational games have become at Newman, McFall has truly been enjoying this chance to compose a completely new one.

“Having read a great deal about Algeria, I’m getting to work on the first draft of the gamebook. It has section titles for launching a coup, assassination attempts, what happens if you die and terrorism as a military strategy. It’s going to be a great game. I’m not as far as I would like to be, but I should have it finished by the end of summer so the new honors students can play it in the fall Freshman Honors Seminar.”

In addition to simply enjoying the process of creating a new game, McFall is excited for a deeper exploration of this particular avenue of history. 

“I love plunging myself into learning about a new history and translating that history into a game that students can learn from. Everything I knew about Algeria I had learned in graduate school. Now I’ve read a dozen books as well as articles and I’ll continue teaching myself as I write. This is probably the thing I like most about a sabbatical, although the chance to introduce my eighth-grader to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ or watch ‘Schitt’s Creek’ with my wife is a close second.”

In addition to extensive research and catching up on Netflix, McFall had the amazing opportunity of interviewing the Deputy to the Ambassador of the United States embassy in Rwanda for his podcast.

McFall also explained how the pandemic has affected his sabbatical. 

“All of a sudden, I was sharing a house with the kids and my wife during the day. All of a sudden, I was reading about Algeria in the morning and then helping my eighth-grader with math in the afternoon. Weirdly, all of a sudden, I was spending more time in my office. The first part of my sabbatical I spent in coffee shops reading and writing. But when campus closed, all of a sudden my office became the quietest, most productive spot to be.”

McFall also returned his focus to the Honors Program to ensure that the needs of his students are met even though, and especially because, everything is currently being conducted online.

“Emily Simon still did most of the heavy lifting. But she and I have worked hard to recruit new students and to support current students and celebrate their achievements. We are doing everything we can to make sure honors students have the best possible experience.”

After a semester of research, writing, interviewing and plenty of other work, McFall is ready to get back to teaching.

“What I missed the most during the sabbatical is seeing students. Students are why I teach at a school like Newman. I love watching students understand their world a little better. I love hearing students work out what they’re called to do in the world. And I love seeing them celebrate winning a game or wrapping up a performance. I’m looking forward to being with students again in the fall.”