Understanding a Criminal Mind
Psychology courses equipped an FBI Special Agent with skills that helped launch his career.
Andy Kirchoff ’06 has served in the FBI for more than 10 years, primarily investigating terrorism and counterintelligence matters which impact the greater Houston area. Additionally, Andy is a certified FBI SWAT tactical operator and has served as an FBI Headquarters’ Law Enforcement Liaison with foreign intelligence partners. In 2016, Andy was nominated for two of the Department of Justice’s most prestigious awards related to National Security Investigations.
Andy has been married to Ashley (Totter) ’09 for 11 years and they have two sons, ages seven and three. He served 13 years in the Army National Guard during which he was deployed twice, once for a combat tour to Afghanistan. He is an Ironman triathlete, an ultramarathon finisher, and has completed over ten marathons. He loves to scuba dive when traveling. Andy was honored with SUNY Brockport’s Recent Alum award in 2020.
Please describe your path from SUNY Brockport to your current position.
SUNY Brockport was not necessarily my first choice. I grew up in Brockport and went to High School there. I was ready to get out of town! After High School I joined the Army National Guard and showed up to Basic Training four days before the events of 9/11. Like most, my world changed, and It made more sense for me at the time to stay closer to home, so I enrolled at Brockport for the 2002 Spring semester. I am happy I did as I immensely enjoyed my experience at SUNY Brockport.
I tried to involve myself in as much as I could in different ways such as student government, clubs, and events. My senior year I was able to get an internship with the University of Rochester Sleep Research Lab. I loved it as it was a small team environment and it exposed me to different facets of clinical psychology, grants, and high-level research. I was honored when they hired me after I graduated. Had things worked out differently, I would have absolutely pursued further education and a career in clinical psychology. I believe my time at the lab as well as my experience deploying with the Army to Afghanistan to train Afghan police provided me with a competitive application for the FBI.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned while at SUNY Brockport?
Most important to me was being a good listener. It is the foundation of being an excellent communicator. Whether it was my professors, peers, or even those I frankly didn’t agree with, I tried to expose myself to and consider what others had to say even if it felt uncomfortable or foreign to me. To hear different views and share my own when appropriate allowed me to make friends and find connections with folks whom I would have never thought possible or relevant. I am a very big believer in service. I treat leadership as a service, and it all begins with listening to what others have to say to understand what is important to them.
What is your favorite memory from your time at SUNY Brockport?
Graduation day is a special day for everyone, and it was absolutely my most memorable day at Brockport. Since I was in the ROTC program, the day began with a ceremony where I was commissioned as a U.S. Army Officer. It was particularly special that I had both of my grandfathers there to pin my Lieutenant bars on me as they were important influences in my life. From there it was on to the graduation ceremonies where Senator Chuck Schumer delivered a speech, and we were officially graduated. Finally, it was off to all the old haunts along the canal to celebrate. Being around my friends, family, and professors that day to celebrate a culmination of hard work is truly one of my fondest memories.
What advice would you give to current SUNY Brockport students? Any special advice for our psychology majors?
Don’t become so locked into a plan or goal that you are unable to be flexible when life gets in the way. Be proactive in creating that flexibility to achieve your goals by seeking out unique opportunities and making personal connections with folks in the field that you trust. I always knew I wanted to be in the FBI and believed a major in Psychology would better prepare me for that line of work. I also understood a degree in Psychology opens a lot of doors into work in that field but can also be limiting if you are not able or interested in pursuing graduate level education, depending on the career field. I didn’t let that dissuade me and instead embraced it.
I knew I would leave Brockport with a bachelor’s degree, but I was leaving the door open to continuing education if practical application and work experience wasn’t going to be enough. While we all want to land our dream job straight out of college, it often times isn’t a reality. College sets you on the course, but it is ultimately up to you to navigate. Be prepared to initially find work that may not be exactly what you studied for. But make the work relevant and work hard at it. If you want to be a counselor, perhaps you volunteer nights on a crisis line while working days at a job that allows you to communicate with people and work on those skills. Ultimately you can put it all together when the timing is right to reach your goal.
What learned skills and/or experiences from your time at SUNY Brockport were the most transferable or useful in your current position?
All of my Psychology classes at Brockport encouraged me to think about how the mind works. Whether it was a neurophysiology class or adolescence psychology, I was fascinated in not only understanding why people say and do the things they do but how could I become better at perceiving those behaviors. I am by no means clinically certified and don’t pretend to be. However, at even just a surface level, I feel better able to pick up on recognizable habits or predictable behavior.
It isn’t me going around psychoanalyzing everyone, in fact, I bet most people do it without thinking but may not be fully conscious of it unless they have taken the time to hone those skills. For example, picking up on a person’s mannerism, eye contact, or tone of speech tells me a lot about where that person is in a moment. Are they having a good day? Is there something they are purposefully not telling me? Are they under a lot of stress and is there anything I can say that will make a difference? You may find being a good listener and picking up on some of these cues can lead you to a better deal on a purchase or avoiding a later argument with a loved one. I have found these skills to be especially beneficial in my line of work when engaging with the public and coworkers.