Scholars Program Director Gives Attention to Detail

Michael Harnett, an English and Humanities professor, entered his second year as the Scholars Program Director with one goal: bringing the Scholars Program to the foreground of the Glendale College community.

His commitment to the program dates back to his first years at GCC.

Harnett began teaching at the college in 1997, but started teaching honors classes for the program in 2000. The more he taught the Scholar students, the more he enjoyed it.

“I got more and more involved in the Scholars Program,” he said. “As time went on, I got invited to Scholars events and started sitting in on meetings and here I am.”

Despite growing up in a family of teachers, Harnett did not see himself becoming an educator growing up.

“I told my father when I was a freshman in college that I was never going to teach for a career,” he said.

He attended USC with the intention of becoming an engineer, but quickly realized that that the major was not for him.

After considering a degree in music, he decided to major in English.

Harnett continued his education at Claremont Graduate University, where he acquired his master’s degree after one year.  He followed that up with a doctorate degree in educational psychology from UC Santa Barbara.

Following graduate school and during his early years in teaching, he met his future wife and UCLA alumnus, Wasylyna Rebenczuk.

Rebenczuk said that despite the rivalry between UCLA and USC, Harnett highly respects UCLA greats such as John Wooden, the former UCLA head basketball coach — to the point where he implements Wooden’s trademark sock ritual.

The ritual entails pulling one’s socks up and ensuring that there are no wrinkles. From the heel to the toes, each sock has to be wrinkle-free. The reasoning behind this is to prevent blistering, which could lead to missed playing time, followed by a loss in a crucial game, and ultimately to the head coach’s firing.

This meticulous attention to detail translates to Harnett’s classes.

He now implements more activities in his curriculum, compared to when he first started out. For example, in his English 101 Honors classes, he has students draw a pig. According to Harnett, the drawing can be used to analyze the motivation of each student. Various details in each picture describe the artist. If there are ears in one picture, the artist can be described as a good listener.

Activities like this are some of the biggest evolutionary changes that Harnett has seen in his teaching style. He’s also noticed that he takes more class notes and challenges his students more than when he first began.

“The goal is to make them as well prepared as what I hear people need when they are juniors or seniors [in four-year universities],” Harnett said.

However, the increased workload is offset by Harnett’s availability.

“[Students] text him and email him and he’ll answer them even on weekends,” Rebenczuk said. “It’s very rare that he makes people wait an extended amount of time to answer one of their questions.”

His availability is something Araz Majnoonian, a GCC scholar student, values.

“…He’s always there for his students,” she said. “He is willing to help you in any way with anything. His door is always open.”

To her, the fact that he is willing to go beyond the typical lengths of the average professor adds to his overall encouraging nature.

His efforts also extend outside of the classroom.

“We did a hike to Mt. Wilson and it was open to anyone and a big group of 20-25 students showed up. It was 16 miles round-trip,” she said.

Harnett attributes the student turnout to his overall attitude about teaching.

“I try to make play with the agenda,” he said. “I want people to feel like I take this seriously but we can still have fun.”

He said that adding entertainment to his classes keep his students involved.

“You can get people into motivation through curiosity and oddly enough humor is very similar to curiosity,” he said. “If you’re laughing, that means you got it.”

According to Rebenczuk, his playful nature and optimism are what attract people.

“He’s very much a listener,” she said. “And people can sense that there is something kind in him. They can sense that there is no judgment.”

That approach to teaching has resonated with students. In fact, Harnett’s office is often packed with multiple students at a time, with even more lined up outside of his door, waiting to get feedback on their papers or discuss the Scholars Program.

“Dr. Harnett always puts others before himself and is always willing to guide you in the right direction, no matter what he’s doing,” Majnoonian said.

Last week, during ASGCC’s Most Outstanding Club and Advisor Award event, Harnett took home the Most Outstanding Advisor award for the second time in the row, while the Scholars Program won for Most Outstanding Club for the third time.

“This recognition attests to Dr. Harnett’s dedication and endless efforts on behalf of the Scholars Program and the extensive growth in the overall organization,” said Melvin Dilanchian, a Scholars student and IOC representative. “Dr. Harnett approached the program like it is his family, and this is only strengthened it.”