Glendale College's Student Magazine
Monday July 16th 2018

Michael Harnett: Teaching a Man to Fish

Trying to find words to describe Dr. Michael Harnett as a college professor is like trying to find new ways to describe Magic Johnson as a basketball player. Both have amazing individual statistics and pedigrees to backup claims to their primacy. The Magic Johnson analogy is hardly a stretch, and it is no small irony that Dr. Harnett initially aspired to a career in athletics, both as a basketball and tennis standout in high school. “I constantly want to keep getting better, he says. “I’m not satisfied with the way things had been.”

With the utmost sincerity, I can  say that I owe a lot to Dr. Harnett, as it was his belief in me that pushed me to apply to the University of California, Los Angeles, and helped to keep me focus in the most stressful of times, including when my mother passed away. I’ll never forget the lessons he taught me, and, undoubtedly, neither will countless other students who walked through his office. So how did this outstanding instructor get his start?

Harnett initially intended to pursue an engineering degree after matriculating to the University of Southern California, but quickly realized it wasn’t the career path for him. He found that he preferred science, math and language far more than engineering, and soon he was off on a college career that culminated in a Doctorate in Educational Psychology from UCSB. Today, he teaches at Glendale Community College, a campus with a diverse makeup of students.

Before he was an educator at Glendale Community College, Harnett attended the high school where his father taught and coached the tennis team.  For most, that would be a kind of social suicide, but Harnett took it in stride (minus not knowing whether to refer to his father as “dad” or “Mr. Harnett” at first). He ultimately chose to call him dad. And he chose to follow in his path.

His career path, Harnett says, crystallized for him around the idea that he, “wanted to do something to help somebody.” He realized too that it was something he was good at and that he enjoyed “talking to people and helping them out.” He was also interested in a way to challenge himself and to challenge his students. “I wanted to teach at the highest level I could. Where I thought I could reach people.” Harnett relates how his father’s background as an educator informed his decision to pursue a career as an educator himself, citing his parent’s assessment of teaching as one of the “noble professions.” Indeed, his father would liken it to being a priest or a doctor (without the cool robes and all the pay), explains Harnett. In his household, his dad would often stress the importance of being achievement-oriented, not just to get something, but just to be a more well-rounded person.

Apart from teaching course in English, humanities, and psychology, Harnett also runs the scholars program at GCC. Why go above and beyond? “If there’s anything I can do [to help], I’m going to do it. I’m going to get these people where they need to get.” It’s a spirit of giving he says, that he saw in his home when his father would bring people over because they “looked like they needed a meal.” His father’s sense of altruism that he’s adopted and Harnett wanting to be “someone who could help someone else” is evident in the long lines that one often finds outside of the professor’s cramped office on the second floor of the library building.

Harnett believes in his students and treats his profession as his whole life, leaving it all out on the proverbial floor every time he sets foot on campus. Dr. Harnett talks about “not being ego involved, but being task involved” as a method of staying true to the goal of education and helping others and keeping his own ego in check.

For more information about the GCC Scholar’s Program:

About Louis Mathieu
Louis Mathieu is a student at Glendale Community College. He will be attending UCLA in the fall semester.

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