Photo Credit: Brian Williams
By: Brian Williams
Dr. Bert Allen’s journey at Milligan started well before he began teaching here 33 years ago after earning his undergraduate degree in 1967. Despite spending most of his life at Milligan College, Allen has decided retire as a full-time professor at the end of this school year.
Shortly after graduating Allen, drafted by the U.S. Army, where he served in the 25th Infantry Division. After being discharged from the Army Allen looked forward to resuming his life as a civilian.
“When I came back from Vietnam I had no clue what I was going to do, except be a civilian and that sounded very good,” said Allen. “I didn’t realize that I was going to become a teacher, or wanted to be a teacher. I was a professional killer with an English degree. There’s not a lot of demand in the work market for somebody who can kill with good grammar and an awareness of literature.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, his teaching career would begin a few short weeks after returning to the United States as he was being urged to try substitute teaching.
“I prayed that they wouldn’t call me,” laughed Allen, recollecting his more timid days. But the phone rang at 6 a.m. the very next day, summoning Allen into a classroom of fervent kindergarteners.
“I said I’d be there, scared to death of those little munchkins, but that’s how I got into teaching.”
Shortly after his stint as a substitute, Allen was offered a permanent teaching job paired with a scholarship to go to graduate school at The University of Maryland, where he would enter the Master of Arts and Teaching program. Soon after he began teaching, Allen quickly realized that his passion resided elsewhere.
“I saw that the children I was working with were having a lot of problems beyond academic problems: comprehension problems, they had a lot of family problems, divorce problems, parent abuse of children problems.”
This is when Allen decided that he would pursue a counseling program, rather than a teaching program. His passion for counseling, and a certain lady, led him to transfer to Lehigh University, where he earned M.Ed. in 1972
“I have never really been a counselor,” said Allen. “Specifically because when I finished my masters in counseling, the folks at Lehigh said ‘we’ll pay you to go to school to become a school psychologist.’”
And that he did. Allen earned his Ed.D. in counseling in 1977 and after working as a school psychologist for a few short years, he decided to apply for a job at his alma mater: Milligan College. Dr. Allen was hired as the Dean of Students as well as a professor of psychology. His role as Dean of Students lasted for four years and ended in 1983, opening the door to become a full-time professor.
During his teaching career, Allen structured his teaching style around class discussion, rather than lecture.
“There is a thing I read in a book 40 years ago that says, ‘we are all learners, we are all teachers, we can learn from one another,’” said Allen. “That might not be true in the physical and other sciences, but when we are talking about life and relationships, I think that we can all learn from one another.”
Allen has applied this idea to his life outside the classroom, spending a lot of his time to the less fortunate people in the area. Allen took part in the implantation of the Johnson City downtown clinic, a place where local homeless people can seek shelter, food and friendship.
“They didn’t have it [Johnson City Downtown Clinic] until we started discussing, interviewing, surveying, counting, the homeless and those who were marginalized,” said Allen. “There was no place other than the emergency room for those people to go.”
But Allen’s service to the community does not end there. As a veteran of war, Allen has taken it upon himself to spend time at the VA talking to veterans who struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as being an active participant in Appalachian Service Project (ASP), an organization of volunteers who help the less fortunate repair old or damaged homes.
“For the past three years, Joy Drinnon and I have been doing research with the ASP,” said Allen. “ASP brings in 12,000-15,000 volunteers a year to rehab those homes with new roofs, new plumbing new heating systems.”
But despite his passion for the needy, his love for Milligan College has kept him teaching for more than a quarter-century.
“I love this place,” said Allen, “and I love the students. I love what its mission is; its purpose and I’ve just found it to be a great place for me and my family.”
To some, age can be a boundary of limitations. While to others, it is merely a number.
“I still feel like I’m 19 or 20, running around with a bunch of age-mates,” said Allen, “and I’m old enough to be a grandfather of one of these classes of students.”
Even in the wake of his career, Dr. Allen always has a large smile on his face.
“I have a little word that I carry around in my brain and I call it L.I.G.A.T.T.: Life is good all the time,” said Allen. “I just have to remind myself that life is good. Whatever life brings, it’s going to be good.”
And Allen plans to carry that same optimism with him in his retirement and throughout the rest of his life.
“I hope I live a long time,” laughed Allen. “Sort of like that country western song, ‘we all want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to go now’. I hope I’m active, I hope dementia has not set in, I hope I’m not in a nursing home drooling, I hope I have my wits about me and be physically able to live every day fully.”
Dr. Allen will be teaching a course at Milligan this fall, as well as one in the spring. He plans to continue volunteering his time with ASP to enrich the lives of those who are less fortunate.