Meet Associate Director, Michael Busch

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Meet Michael Busch, Associate Director in the Office of Student Success at the Colin Powell School.

At the heart of our vision for the office of student success lies a vast expansion in the idea of what advisement should be. Narrowly conceived, advisors guide students through the classes they need to graduate. Properly expanded, student success connects young people to the requirements, opportunities and capacities they need to succeed on campus, and after they leave.

Michael Bush, Associate Director of the Office of Student Success, immediately grasped the possibilities inherent in this expanded definition of student success. As a teacher on this campus he’d spent years working with students on research papers, nurtured countless rough ideas into fully formed research papers. But in the world outside the classroom, student papers needed to speak to a broader audience.They needed to refine and struggle with first and second drafts, and to determine more precisely the need to which their work spoke. To prepare students to better shepherd their ideas, Michael devised the concept of the Annual Colin Powell School Undergraduate Student Research Symposium.

As participants in the symposium, now in its third year, students strengthen their intellectual connections with one another, and with their faculty mentors. Drawn from across the different disciplines, but arranged in thematically coherent panels, student research builds a problem centric approach to some of the more pressing problems we face. And that’s consistent with the entire evolution of the Colin Powell School. Michael notes that a key consequence of our transition from a loose grouping of departments to a school has been profoundly stronger connections among the different academic disciplines. The research symposium, with its focus on specific issue areas, provides that same kind of intellectual cross pollination to our students.

And it’s been a hit. Over the past three years, the number and quality of student panels has grown, as have the numbers of students who come to hear their classmates present.  What started as an effort to provide a venue for students to polish their research has hence evolved into a pivotal moment in the construction of a student based intellectual community.

And that’s the kind of work Michael has been doing at the Colin Powell School—and at the Colin Powell Center before it—for years now.  As he describes it, his core motivation, in the classroom and beyond, has been to provoke students toward a more active engagement with their work—initially through a more critical reading of books and articles and more precise writing, but more critically, by undertaking a search to fully develop the ideas that they think are important, and that will guide their work. This semester, while teaching a course on social change, he’s asked his classes to ‘think about why they are thinking the things they do’ and to take their natural passion, their good ideas and their talents into the real world of public policy, social networks and global issues.

A native of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Michael left New York to attend St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he received joint degrees in philosophy and the history of math and science. He returned to the city to teach elementary school and middle school in the South Bronx.  In the midst of his graduate education at CUNY, Michael met Andy Rich, then Associate Director of the Colin Powell Center, and agreed to teach one of the seminars for Colin Powell Students.

As he learned more about the programs housed at the Center—programs that emphasized critical thinking, leadership development and service—he saw a way to build a bridge between academic theory and students’ personal expertise and commitments.  That connection lies at the heart of his approach to working with our students.  A dedicated professor who still teaches classes in political science and international studies, Michael marries classroom work with constant prods to students: that they travel widely as he traveled, that they write about issues that matter to them, and direct that writing to audiences that care.  That they think about education as equipping themselves to move through the world in a meaningful way.

When asked what he’s most passionate about, Michael doesn’t hesitate. “Colleges,” he says, “need to think long and hard about what they need to do in order to produce successful and sustainable futures for our students.”  Finding ways to make an impact at earlier and earlier stages of a student’s life drives his work, and because that’s the case, he’s become one of the central figures in the office of student success—an architect and steward of its animating vision.