Michael Heenan -- 100 Alumni You Should Know

Michael Heenan

Michael Heenan -- 100 Alumni You Should Know


During the last four decades, he’s worked in America, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and East Asia – yet his journey began in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Michael Heenan, a 1971 graduate of the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (now USAO), says that his education at OCLA greatly influence his life and career.

“The influence my education at OCLA has had on my career and life is clear and lasting. The cohesive nature of the core curriculum ensures each student develops the essential skills of self-expression, written and oral -- and these radiate outward into the spheres of mathematics and the natural sciences to achieve a better comprehension of our physical world; how one functions in the present society; acquiring knowledge of the history, literature, government and a grasp of our American heritage; and then onward into an acquaintance with and appreciation of world thought,” Heenan said.

“The Socratic method works. By asking questions rather than issuing prescriptions and engaging the works of the finest minds so as to involve us in the Great Conversation, we come to learn that life is most always not a "textbook" answer, but too often a non-linear story. Each USAO student, regardless of concentration, graduates with this formation. The nature and circumstances of my work these past four decades often necessitate thinking on one's feet. My experience at OCLA not only readied me to navigate the choppy waters and keep on course, but provides a compass for what yet lies ahead.”

Heenan is the chair of English and sociology at the main campus of the University of Hafr Al Batin, in Saudi Arabia. He graduated from OCLA in 1971 with degrees in English and sociology. He went on to earn his master's in English from the University of Central Oklahoma in 1973.

“As my career has evolved to lecturing and administration at universities as well as assignments in international companies, the overarching sense of achievement comes from the times one successfully ‘thinks on one's feet’ and navigates the often choppy waters of mentoring students having a rough go of it or work toward a meeting of the minds among faculty; spending all morning (or day) ‘walking through’ a piece of paper needing several immediate approvals in order to move forward; initiating recruitment and staying connected with those involved in each step so the process is not unnecessarily stalled. In short, the past 40 years have given a sense of achievement measured more in terms of solid base hits from curve balls rather than ‘out-of-the park’ home runs,” Heenan said.

While in Chickasha, he had a particular appreciation for the Tutorial Scholars Program in operation at that time.

“The Tutorial Scholars Program was a wonderful feature of the university. When President Martin and Dean Donald Wells approved me as a tutorial scholar, I had the good fortune to be mentored by Jerry Holt in English and Art Scott in sociology. In addition to this, permission was granted that I substitute an independent study in jujutsu for the usual physical education requirements.

“This proved to be a turning point in that it put me on the road to earning not only my initial black belts, but eventually my master's license. I taught jujutsu in several countries and have promoted a number of individuals who have carried on the tradition. I was admitted to the official roster of the World Head of Family Sokeship Council in 2002 as headmaster of Bei Koku Aibujutsu Ryu while I was living in Osaka, Japan. The seeds of my teaching career in English, the sociology I have applied administratively and the lifelong practice of a physical culture were planted at OCLA and through the Tutorial Scholars Program.”

Heenan says that many of the people he meets are interested in America. “My country people want to know about America -- anything ranging from everyday life to its history, government, why we hold certain policies, etc. This was especially true during my years with the Bi-National Fulbright Commission in Egypt, but it has been a feature of each and every country where I have lived and worked.

“At the main campus of our university, my fellow chairpersons represent such areas as mathematics, biology, physics and electrical engineering. Most of our graduates enter into the petrochemical industry, but English is the medium of instruction. This focus is very unlike previous postings where I could hold my own discussing Chaucer, Milton, Hawthorne and Hemingway, I stay afloat at some meetings on the basis of my liberal arts math, biology and physical science -- and the great goodwill of my fellow department heads,” Heenan said.

“For those who would question the ‘utility and practicality’ of the humanities, I can say I would have been, and would be, out of luck had I not become acquainted early on with Buddhism, Islam, Coptic Christianity, aspects of world history and literature. In my day, these were called the ‘Principal Ideas’ courses and their content has been indispensable in smoothing interpersonal and social relationships everywhere I have lived and worked.”

Heenan says his family is at the top of his life achievements. “I have the ongoing joy of being a father, grandfather and great grandfather. My daughter graduated from USAO in 1993 and has been an elementary education teacher for many years.”

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