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A Minute With Summer 2013 Executive Dean John Burkoff

Executive Dean, John Burkoff has worn many hats during his lengthy career as an educator and law professor.  A graduate of the University of Michigan (A.B., J.D.) and Harvard University (LL.M.), Burkoff boasts an impressive career as a teacher, public speaker, lawyer, and expert witness.  John Burkoff is also a prolific author, publishing thirty-nine books and numerous articles in the areas of criminal justice and legal ethics.  Professor Burkoff has been awarded both the Chancellor’s Distinguished Public Service Award and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award by the University of Pittsburgh, and has been voted Teacher of the Year by the graduating class of the Pitt Law School.

Of his many accomplishments, perhaps his long association with the Semester at Sea program ranks high on his list of one of his most rewarding.  (He’s traveled as Academic Dean, Executive Dean, or as a faculty member six times since 1990.)

I spoke to John Burkoff recently onboard the MV Explorer about his work as an educator, the rewards of working with the Semester at Sea Program and the similarities between being a Executive Dean and being a rock star.

Q: What first drew you to the Semester at Sea program?

A: Because it’s so cool.

Originally I applied to teach on the Semester at Sea program, but I didn’t get the position.  Later, there was an unexpected opening, and I was offered the job.  It took me about twenty seconds to accept the position.  We went around the world on the Spring, 1990 voyage, traveling with our two children.

Q: You sailed with your children when they were young and now you’re sailing with your three grandchildren, ages 12, 9, and 4. What’s that like?

A:¬†Our son was a Middle School student while I was the Academic Dean, and he sailed as a college student.¬† I sailed as Dean with two of my nieces and my mother sailed as a Lifelong Learner during the summer of 2007, when she was 80.¬† Semester at Sea is a significant part of our family.¬† I’m looking forward to being the Dean when our grandchildren will attend as college students.

Q: What are some of the challenges working with students sailing around the world while attending classes onboard?

A: There are a lot of moving parts to the program. I learned to always expect the unexpected and to be careful not to be too set in my ways.  Flexibility is the key.

Q: And the most rewarding?

A: I get to travel to all these wonderful places, but I also get to experience all the vicarious thrills of watching these students flourish in their own lives.  I hear from students who have joined the Peace Corps, the Foreign Service.  I get as much pleasure seeing the evolution of these young people who have participated in the program as I do from my own travel.

Q: On the eve of the 50th Anniversary Fall Voyage, what advice do you have for students considering the program?

A: The adventure right now is as fulfilling and rewarding as it was 50 years ago.

The world may have gotten smaller, but there is still as much to learn as there was 50 years ago.  Maybe it’s less mysterious, but it still teaches us a lot.

Q: So what do you want to be when you grow up?  No seriously, if you were not a law professor, Executive Dean, you’d be…

A: Like every young kid, I wanted to be a rock star.  I can’t sing, but maybe being a Law Professor and Executive Dean is just my way of getting attention.

  • Life at Sea

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