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Russian political posters and other emblems of his varied career make Dr. Michael Bourke’s office unique.
Bourke’s unusual space reveals the diversity of his three professions: Slavic linguist, businessman and now, director of the Quality Enhancement Plan.
The QEP, an initiative to help students improve their writing through cross-curriculum and writing courses, is a program that Bourke proposed to the University administration in 2009.
The 2011-2012 academic year is the first year the entire plan has been implemented, which consists of the QEP faculty scoring student papers from chosen classes called W-courses and requiring instructors to provide extensive feedback to students.
“You can’t understand something until you have done the research and written about it,” said Bourke, a professor of business.
Bourke, a Boston native, began his collegiate education as a pre-med student at Boston College, where the curriculum required a foreign language credit, which he decided to earn in Russian. Bourke said the foreign film “The Cranes are Flying,” a Russian flick based on World War II that was released in 1957, had a powerful impact on him.
“I saw it through the eyes of another culture that lost 30 million people in World War II versus America’s 400,000 deaths,” Bourke said.
It was this movie which originally sparked his interest in Russia and fueled his decision to take Russian for his required language course at Boston College.
Bourke quickly developed a fascination with the foreign language and changed his major to Slavic studies, a decision that would take him across the world and into Siberia.
Bourke lived the summers of 1966 and 1967 in St. Petersburg, Russia. After returning from his cultural journey, he graduated from Boston College in 1967 with a bachelor’s in Slavic studies.
He proceeded to attend Brown University, where he graduated in 1976 with a master’s degree and a doctorate in Slavic studies.
While living in Boston, Bourke, then in his late 20s, decided to pursue another degree in a completely different career. Moving from chilly Boston to sunny Los Angeles, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles to pursue an MBA in finance, a degree that greatly benefited him in the future.
After graduating in 1981, Bourke worked for several different companies in Los Angeles for seven years until he was offered the position of director of information system planning at Texas Children’s Hospital. He accepted the position and moved to Houston in 1988.
“I was impressed by the state of Texas and the people ─ how sophisticated and diverse they were,” Bourke said. “I was honestly expecting Texas to be like something out of a John Wayne movie.”
After working at Texas Children’s for two years, Bourke was promoted to vice president for information systems, where he remained for another three years.
Afterward, he began teaching as an adjunct professor in the MBA program at the University’s School of Business because he enjoyed providing students with an education.
Bourke explained that having the ability to teach a subject is the only way scholars can know if they truly understand that subject.
Bourke was eventually promoted to director of the Master of Science in Management Information Systems, a specialized master’s degree program provided through the School of Business. With this promotion, he joined the University as a full-time faculty member, and has been here for the past 20 years.
Bourke said he respects the University greatly as a strong institute of higher education.
“I was drawn to the University by the good students and values,” Bourke said.
Ten years after joining the faculty, Bourke began campaigning for a writing program because he noticed a lack of writing skills among undergraduates.
In February 2009, Bourke submitted his proposal for the QEP, and was chosen to be the director.
The goal for the program is to give the University the reputation of producing prepared students who can write, and therefore think, clearly.
“If you can’t write, you can’t correctly and clearly formulate your thoughts,” he said, adding that it is difficult for graduates to thrive in the professional world if they cannot communicate properly.
This mentality helped to influence his students.
Senior Robert Buller is a member of the QEP’s student advisory board, a collection of students who offer feedback on all parts of the program. He expressed his appreciation and respect for Bourke.
“He benefits our campus by being a great professor who teaches students what they will need to become successful in their careers,” Buller said.
With the QEP still in the beginning stages, Bourke spends most of his time on his work.
Dr. Robert Stacey, interim-provost and dean of the Honors College, expressed his appreciation of Bourke’s work ethic.
“While many hands have contributed to the QEP so far, Dr. Bourke has led the team, and he has done so with unquestionable effectiveness,” Stacey said.
The different office adornments show but a small taste of the life of the man with many talents and the mind behind the QEP.