Dr. Gyolai: A Year in Review
November 19, 2015
Dr. Kevin Gyolai is a busy man. In the time it takes for him to open the door to his spacious personal office, shake my hand, wait calmly behind his desk as I fumble to set up my recording system and finally begin the interview, his phone has pinged at least seven times, alerting him of the pressing duties of running an educational institution, which he has chosen to set aside to talk to a 16-year-old journalist. And, instead of checking the device to see what he’s missing, he makes small talk with me: he asks me how my school year is going, how I’m enjoying editing for the newspaper, and recalls when I played on the soccer team with his daughter. Although he’s the President of Benilde-St. Margaret’s College Preparatory School and is the utmost figure of authority when it comes to my education, I feel comfortable with his friendly nature, and surprised at his ability to recall detail about things I told him in passing.
Before his presidency at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Dr. Gyolai got his PhD in Biology and was a Biology Instructor and Professor at various colleges in North and South Dakota. He was also Chairman of the Mathematics and Science Department at North Dakota State College of Sciences, Director of North Dakota State College of Sciences STEM Scholars Program, and Dean of STEM at Inver Hills Community College. Although he had a “real passion for science and technology and how they can be used to help people,” he always felt that “[he] was a leader, even as a kid. [He] just was one of those people who would have naturally taken charge and been comfortable in a position of responsibility. At BSM, [he] has had the opportunity to bring a variety of passions together.”
From the first moments of Dr. Gyolai’s interview onward, his deep faith in God became increasingly apparent, along with its influence guiding him to his position now.Dr. Gyolai confidently states: “God called me to BSM. My professional path was leading me elsewhere, and the opportunity to come to BSM almost came out of the blue for me. It was a discernment, or a calling, that this was the right place for me, and I’ve been really glad that I’ve been led in this direction.”
Dr. Gyolai’s peers are equally as impressed with his energy and spirituality, and BSM Principal Dr. Susan Skinner recalls when “he talked about the holy spirit tapping him on the shoulder; I think that that’s such a great image. I really appreciate how he is a faith-filled man. An important part about being a president of a Catholic school is to have a sense of [one’s] own spirituality and [one’s] own commitment to what it means to be a Catholic school, and I really appreciate that in him.”
BSM Senior High Assistant Principal Mary Anderson speaks of Dr. Gyolai’s consideration for President: “He was considered a non-traditional candidate, because he had not been in the Catholic school system and had no Catholic high school experience. That was not anything we’ve ever had here, and it’s worked out well to bring in a brand-new perspective on things.”
Dr. Gyolai has brought many valuable qualities to the BSM community, including an “[understanding] about bringing people together and community, leading towards a shared vision, an understanding of higher education, a vision for STEM and what the next generation of schooling could be, and [an understanding about] healing and nurturing after difficult times,” in his words. Anderson adds: “even if he has preconceived notions [about an issue], he listens to all sides and makes a very educated and thoughtful decision.”
Since his inauguration to BSM,Dr. Gyolai has made significant changes, the most important of which is bringing “our new strategic plan to life. We’ve brought people together under a unified vision and direction. [Students] experience this through ‘Striving Together to Solve Problems that Matter’… and fundraising to help the next generation to continue that,” Dr. Gyolai explains.
One of the most notorious of Dr. Gyolai’s many contributions to BSM was a whiteboard that sits in the lobby. When asked about the whiteboard,Dr. Gyolai gave a small chuckle, and explained: “The purpose of the whiteboard was to help students, faculty, and staff articulate problems to solve. The use of that board will evolve; it will be different this year than it was last year, and hopefully it continues to get more sophisticated, but really it was meant to be an outward manifestation of what problems community members are passionate about solving.” Dr. Skinner adds: “The whiteboard was used to generate conversation and connect people in a low tech way.”
As far as BSM’s academics go,Dr. Gyolai is also “weaving into the curriculum problem-solving and all of the competencies that come with that; they’re called ’21st Century Fluencies,’ or next generation competencies. We teach students that it’s okay to be comfortable with ambiguity, and that if you continue to try and solve problems that there is a certain sort of grit that goes with that which will serve you well in life. We have the type of culture where it’s okay to fail at certain things, and that doesn’t mean that you’re not learning,” says Dr. Gyolai.
Since his implementation in 2014, Dr. Gyolai has been as dedicated to student life and diversity as academics. He set a fundraising goal “to continue to raise more money for financial assistance for families that are need financial aid and also to raise dollars that could be used to provide opportunities to increase accessibility and access to the school,”Dr. Gyolai stated. As said by Dr. Skinner, the goal is “lifting the student experience to the forefront is really the heart of the mission; making sure students have the very best experience, that class is engaging, that kids are interested, and that our students have that sense of ‘time flies’ in the classroom.”
Dr. Gyolai gets up close and personal when it comes to making sure students have a memorable time at BSM. “I try to go to as many student events as I possibly can; I try to participate in all of the masses. Last year I went into all of the STEM classrooms to make myself accessible. I have office hours on Wednesdays after school, I help with the planning and the visioning for what the experience at BSM is, and I make sure that the whole entire school is dedicated and thoughtful about providing an outstanding experience for BSM kids.”
BSM is known for the rigor of its curriculum, and the tough grading that accompanies tough classes. When pressed to grade himself on his performance as president so far, the ever-humble Dr. Gyolai gave a small smile, and stated: “That’s for other people to do.”
Maura Brew, longtime English teacher and speech coach, says that “[Dr. Gyolai] is admirable, as he has a blend of sharp intellect, spiritual sincerity and positive commitment. He really has this passion for learning and doing what [BSM] is ready for. I think he academically embodies who we are. We’re very lucky to have him as our president.”
Peek Into the Past Year: Dr. Gyolai in 2014-15