Mike Harman

Briar Cliff University Professor Mike Harman wasn’t sure on a specific direction for college until his senior year of high school, when taking an Introduction to Psychology course. Harman was fascinated to learn there was an academic discipline that delved deeply into the motivations for what people believe and feel.

“We all are complex,” he said, adding that his goal is that the Briar Cliff Psychology Department students come to grasp “the ways and reasons for why they are the way that they are.”

Harman said students are fascinated with the hows and whys of those motivating factors in life. He hopes the students not only understand the reason for their own impulses, but also how someone can be entirely different in what moves them to make the choices they do.

“Everyone has experiences that led them to behave the way they do – they just might be different experiences than what you had,” he said.

A native of the Minneapolis area, Harman spent many years in universities in Wisconsin to get immersed in the field of psychology. He received degrees in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Superior for his undergraduate studies and then the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the masters and doctoral levels.

During his undergrad days at UW-Superior, Harman said Professor Eleni Pinnow made a key impact on him. He had a full circle moment when she nominated Harman for a Recent Alumni Achievement Award due to his ongoing work in the psychology field, an honor he received on campus in fall 2022.

Harman aims to have the type of impact on BCU students that Professor Pinnow delivered for him.

“I always challenge myself to be as passionate about and as fully invested in the discipline as I can be. I am passionate about the material and about students learning the material,” he said.

The Psychology Department is one of the larger academic departments at BCU, and within the department are majors and minors in both psychology and behavior analysis. There are usually about 50 students with such majors in recent semesters, and the minors also comprise one of the largest segments of any academic department minors on campus.

“They leave learning how to look at and think about the world in the way a scientist would,” Harman said.

Harman said teaching is a relationship where caring is a key component. He said a truism is that students in future years may not recall specific details learned in a classroom, but they will remember how they felt when a professor’s passion moved them to persevere in a college academic program.

Harman was an adjunct instructor at Cardinal Stritch University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2016 to 2018, then moved to Briar Cliff in 2018 in the professor role. Harman became the chair of the department in June 2023. He also serves as the director of the pro bono Behavior Analysis Clinic, where students get some very worthwhile frontline experiences.

He said many students with a psychology major often pair it with another major to make them better prepared for an expected career, such as to perform better as a businessperson, police officer, or teacher. Harman said the BCU Psychology Department also has a big goal prepping students for advanced college degrees, and a large number are readily accepted into grad school. After that next level of scholarship, they may become counselors, social workers, mental health therapists or psychologists.

This is part of a series of Faculty Stories profiling all the chairs of BCU academic departments in 2023.