Pam’s People Profile: Steve Hartman takes CBS viewers on journeys across America with his “On the Road” series of stories. Here, Pam Clifton takes readers across the Parkland by sharing stories of local residents.
To teach is to touch a life forever, and that’s what Dr. Amy (Brinkley) Harrison has done already. She’s from a long line of public school teachers and administrators.
Her original plan was to go to law school because she wanted to help kids and thought she could do that best from inside the judicial system.
“I realized, however, that by the time a kid gets to the courtroom, their lives have already started down a trajectory, and I wanted to be in a position to steer kids away from that trajectory,” said Harrison.
She decided on education as a career because she really loves working with kids. She is the assistant professor and program director for Missouri Baptist University’s Higher Education Leadership master’s and doctoral programs. She has been at MBU since January 2016. She earned her doctoral degree in higher education administration.
In her current role as an adult educator, Harrison doesn’t get to work with young kids standing at the crossroads of life as much, but she works with adults who are at a kind of career and personal crossroads.
“It’s really been an honor to come alongside my students – many of whom have become my friends – and close the gap for them as much as I can,” she said, “to help them get from where they are to where they want to be.”
In addition to her passion for teaching, Harrison loves traveling. The first time she traveled abroad was to China in 2007. At the time she attended a university for her undergraduate degree which required a “cross cultural experience” in order to graduate. She felt led to travel to China. She and a group of students studied with professors at a partner university there and traveled all over the country for an incredible experience.
“China shattered this American idea I had unknowingly adopted that I had to get a degree, get a job, marry, and have kids,” she said. “I remember so clearly thinking that 1 billion people are getting along just fine and nothing like what they do is like what we do. That thought really made me approach my life as a young woman differently.”
She began asking God what was possible and was open to anything and everything – no limits and no parameters.
Since then, Harrison’s travel has been mostly to Africa and Asia. For her, being in a foreign country is a reminder that the world isn’t so big after all. “Most anywhere you want to go is but a night flight away.”
Harrison has had wonderful experiences traveling because she is open to new experiences. Actually, she said she craves these experiences. The people tend to be very friendly, and this has allowed her to meet many interesting people abroad just by starting simple conversations.
She said the language barrier hasn’t really been a problem for her. Many people speak English around the world.
“It’s amazing how much non-verbal communication helps. I try to know a little of the local language if I’m going somewhere I intend to stay for a while, but I would never let a language barrier stop me from going anywhere,” she said. “It’s all part of the adventure!”
Harrison has visited many countries: China, Thailand, India, South Africa and Ghana. And at this point in her life, she’s already lost track of how many times she’s been to Ghana. Her first time was in 2010 as a teacher. That was the trip that cemented her love for kids and travel. She went back in 2011 for about three months to work with a child’s rights organization that rescues and rehabilitates children who have been trafficked into child slavery or forced child labor.
There is where Harrison met her dear friend, Stephen, who manages the rescues. She describes him as “incredible.”
“He literally walks into villages with a child’s name on a list and walks out with that child – passing through the invisible shadows from slavery to freedom,” she said. “It is an honor to call him my friend and brother.”
In 2015, the two started a school called First Step Academy which serves as a “lighthouse” for vulnerable children and their families.
“Everything about First Step has been walking out of faith,” said Harrison.
The school now enrolls more than 150 students and employees seven full-time staff. They’re also in the process of developing an economic empowerment program for some of the mothers whose children attend First Step.
Harrison’s next trip for Ghana is already planned for May. She’ll be taking a group of MBU students, which she does every year.
Her travel plans are not limited to Ghana, though. Harrison said she would literally go anywhere in the world, but a few of the places she’d like to visit soon are Israel, Zambia, Egypt, France, Iceland, and Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Harrison recently got married, so she’s eager to travel with her new family, which consists of husband Josh and his children, Kobe and Hailee. She would especially like to travel to a Spanish-speaking country with her new family.
“I am very excited about international family travel!”
She and Josh went to West County High School together and later reconnected in 2018 when she began attending the church his father pastors in Leadwood at the old middle/high school, West County Community Fellowship.
“Josh is more of a homebody, but he’s actually much more adventurous than I when we do travel together,” said Harrison. “In that way, we are a really good balance and push each other out of our respective comfort zones.”
Harrison admits she doesn’t think Josh gets quite the thrill like she does about traveling. “I love being somewhere new – the novelty, the unknown – are excitement enough for me.”
She recalled one of her trips to India, where she did not know one single person in that huge country. “That thought really gave me a lot of thrill.”
Harrison said Josh is a “helper at heart.” He’s also a skilled tradesman, so he enjoys going places with her where he can be of service to others like Ghana.
The couple, who reside in Park Hills, plan their travels by keeping it light. Harrison’s luggage was lost in India one time, and for two weeks she had one set of clothes, one pair of pajamas, soap, and a toothbrush. While this would be upsetting for most, Harrison felt free.
“It was exhilarating to have all I needed to fit in one backpack.”
There are two things she never travels without – her music and a neck pillow.
Harrison said people should explore the world around them, wherever they live.
“Even though St. Francois County is a small corner of the world, don’t let that intimidate you if you want to travel,” she said. “People say to me all the time, ‘Oh, I wish I could travel!’ You can. It’s as easy as buying a ticket and just doing it.”
She said they will learn to trust people in a whole new way and do things in other countries they would never do in the U.S.
“I’ve found people are generally good and helpful, but you should also trust your gut. You learn to do that in a whole new way when you’re out on the road like that.”