Dr. Burnett: Teacher, Psychologist, Officer

Dr. Burnett: Teacher, Psychologist, Officer

Harvey Burnett, PhD, MDiv
Associate Professor of Psychology
Chair, Department of Behavioral Sciences


What are some of the things you do?
I am a licensed psychologist and have been with Andrews University for 15 years; I was with the counseling staff for six years before moving to the Department of Behavioral Sciences where I teach and conduct research.

Being a pastor, police officer and a psychologist, you have a variety of work experience. Which job is your favourite?
I can’t say I have a favorite. Being an elder at my home church is enjoyable because it is a family experience. As for the law enforcement side, the fun is in the community building and the relationships I have been able to build with the public.

I have learned to see what I can do to make communities better, for example, when I teach about drug abuse to elementary students or even being part of the Andrews University experience. We can say the students are eager to learn but what I like most is when students hang around and post things on my door or just come around and tell me how their day was; it shows how comfortable the students are, which I find really satisfying. It is truly rewarding. Yes, teaching is fun and so is research, but the relationship I have with my students is very important, plus, I get to work with the best faculty on campus.

What is your greatest professional achievement?
I think am still pursuing that. When I was in high school, I wanted to be President of the United States, and maybe some part of me still wants to do that. Yet, even though I have not become President of the United States, I have still become president of our community Board of Education and president of our local Michigan Crisis Response Association that focuses on being able to provide crisis interventions and helping people in trauma.

Where is the most unforgettable place you have been to as a result of your career?
Most of my traveling to other countries has been with AU; the most memorable experience was being a part of a response at a study tour where we went to the Adventist University of Haiti six months after the earthquake took place. Not only were we able to have our students learn, but we were able to help our sister school, the students and their families with some of the trauma. I had never experienced something to that magnitude.

Are there ever times when you are able to use the skills of all jobs at once?
Yes, it mainly comes out when I am called to do critical and stress management briefs for first responders in the community. One time I can remember was when there was a courthouse shooting and I lost two of my friends one day. I had to bring the community together and give them support even though I was hurting too. I had to find ways to be empathetic to others. I can recall another time I had to respond to a crisis situation where I had to try to get them to surrender peacefully so they would not hurt or kill others or themselves. It did not end well, but trying to do that required active listening skills, using therapy and trying to share some spiritual advice.

How do you prepare for your jobs and the tough situations it brings?
For law enforcement, I have to remember to be cognizant of where I am at and the role I am in, knowing that it's not just me, but others that are relying on what I say and do. The biggest one is practicing scenarios in my head and asking myself what would I do if this happened. It is something to be mindful about because I don’t always stay armed (which my law enforcement colleagues don’t like). I also have to think of the worst case scenario like what would I do if I get shot or hurt to the point where I could die; when I do that, I think about a mentality of survival. In relation to teaching, I think of ways I can get a student to learn in a fun way or I may come across something I like and want to share, so I see how I can make it relevant to learning.

It’s hard to comprehend how someone who has been through and seen so much is as cheerful in the classroom as you are. What gives you that mentality to teach every class with so much positivity and high energy?There are a few things; the first, is my experience with so many young people including kids. One thing I have learned is that I am blessed to be able to communicate well despite what is going on in my life. There are some days when I am teaching and know that I am really hurting, some of it is because I would come and teach after tragic events. For example, there was a time when I was performing CPR and the person did not live or sometimes it’s road fatalities or I may just be thinking of my youngest daughter who passed. What helps is when I see the face of my students where I am able to look at them and be encouraged and know that I am here for a purpose. I am able to take it one moment at a time. Another part is having fun; you have to show that you can be professional but also remember to be yourself. It's better to live life at the moment than to be a grumpy old person. Being a leader, the roles I have have shown me how crucial life is and it has given me hope.


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