Some people are lucky in that they are clearly and forcefully steered into the right career choice for them.
One such person is Dr. Alexander Macaulay, a professor in the history department at Western Carolina University. His destiny was clearly to become a teacher but never a lawyer.
“It was brutal,” Macaulay said of the LSAT. “It was so bad I quit in the middle of it. At that point, I decided I wasn’t going to be a lawyer.”
Instead, Macaulay’s interests continued to push him toward a career of a historical nature.
Born in Columbia, S.C. in 1972, Macaulay grew up in a small South Carolina town called Walhalla. Growing up, he said that he had “no clue what I wanted to do.” He took his cues from the major programs he was deciding between. Fate nudged at Macaulay in his decision-making. Because he did not want to write a large paper at the end of his studies, he chose to study history, the same major as his father.
After graduating from The Citadel with his bachelor’s, Macaulay tried the LSAT to get into law school. During the third section of the test, Macaulay struggled. While working on question number five out of 25, the instructor called that only five minutes remained for test taking. Macaulay “Christmas treed” the rest of the answers and walked out with another friend, who later became a lawyer in Florida.
“I do not regret that at all,” laughed Macaulay. “If anything, I regret trying to take it in the first place.”
Once again, fate had won, and Macaulay decided to take the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE.
“I did better on the GRE and got into a master’s program,” said Macaulay.
He studied history at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Afterwards, he received his doctorate from the University of Georgia.
“When I got to Tennessee,” Macaulay said, “someone said you can’t beat the job where they pay you to read books.”
From there, Macaulay “moved into the idea that I wanted to teach” and practice teaching, writing and reading at the college level.
By the time he got his doctorate, Macaulay was a family man with a wife and two kids. He needed a job, and quickly.
A position at Georgia College had opened due to a faculty member’s leave of absence, and the history department head, Dr. Caldwell, asked one of Macaulay’s professors whether he knew anyone who would be interested. The professor suggested Macaulay, and he jumped at the chance to apply. Macaulay got the job because, according to Dr. Caldwell, he was the first to call about it. He was offered a position teaching three European history classes for a year.
European history was not Macaulay’s strong suit. In fact, his area of study was specifically 20th Century United States. However, Macaulay agreed to the job and promised he knew about European history. The experience moved Macaulay out of his comfort zone, and he learned alongside the students.
“By the time my 1-2 p.m. class rolled around, I had my stuff down pat,” he chuckled.
In 2004, Macaulay searched for another job once the former Georgia College faculty member returned from his leave of absence. He learned that Western Carolina University had an opening and applied. WCU offered him the job, and he made a home for himself in Sylva, a town that reminds him of his hometown.
While Macaulay teaches at Western Carolina, his wife teaches at Fairview Elementary school where three of his four children attend. In 2009, he published his novel “Marching in Step: Masculinity, Citizenship, and The Citadel in Post World War II America.” The nonfiction piece focuses on his undergraduate alma mater The Citadel and its ideas of being a good citizen. Those ideas are then compared to “broader American notions of citizenship.”
“I learned a lot about the school that I didn’t know about,” said Macaulay.
Currently, Macaulay is the graduate director of history, but starting in July, he will become the interim department head.
“It’s something new every day,” Macaulay said about teaching. “It’s not always something good … but something new. Once you get to the classroom, you never know which way it’s going to go.”