Jeff Barker, Faculty Master
Jeff Barker, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental
Education: PhD, geophysics and seismology, Pennsylvania State University, 1984
Research interests: seismology, geophysics, earthquake hazards
Teaching specialties: I’m interested in bringing science literacy and necessary critical thinking skills to students who feel they are not good at science. I'm also personally interested in the acoustics of musical instruments.
How long have you been at Binghamton and what assignments have you held on campus?
I came to Binghamton in 1987. Within the Geology Department, I spent five years as undergraduate program director; I also chaired the Institute for Student-Centered Learning Steering Committee for six years.
How long have you been a Faculty Master?
I became Faculty Master of Dickinson Community in 2008.
How do you think Faculty Masters help students academically? Why is that important?
Simply being visible and accessible to students helps break down the barriers between students and faculty, making it more likely students will go to their professors’ office hours. We are also available during our own office hours to advise students, both academically and in a mentoring role. We reach out to students on academic probation and congratulate students who make the dean’s list. We set up learning community sections of courses in which all the students live in the same community and, if possible, the section meets in the community. Faculty Masters also work with RAs and community government leaders to provide faculty resource people for academic programs and events in the community. Finally, in Dickinson, I sponsor and arrange a series of lectures by faculty or community leaders on a range of topics of academic interest to our students.
What is your favorite thing about being Faculty Master?
The best thing about being a Faculty Master is having direct contact with more of our really great undergraduate students. I get to meet every one of them at Orientation, and I wish it were possible to keep contact with most of them throughout the year. My goal is to make education outside the classroom meaningful for Dickinson residents, since I see the Faculty Master role as being a facilitator of learning.
You said you see the Master’s role as that of a “facilitator of learning.” Since there isn’t a job description for Faculty Master, how did you define the role for yourself?
In the same way that each community has its own character, each Faculty Master brings his or her own interests and strengths to the position. I’ve known current Faculty Masters Tony Preus and Al Vos and former Dickinson Faculty Masters Libby Tucker and Burrell Montz for a long time. Each of them serves as a role model of sorts for me, but at the same time, I know I’m not Tony or Al or Libby or Burrell… and each of them is quite different from the others! So, I try to take a bit of each, add in my own strengths and weaknesses, and hope for the best. And, each day I redefine my role and try to do it better.
What is the difference between the relationships you have with students as a Faculty Master versus those you have in the classroom?
Being Faculty Master is like a blend of the teacher and parent roles without the baggage we associate with either. I have a role in nurturing student learning, making sure that coursework is a priority. However I’m interested in the whole student, not just what he or she is supposed to learn in my course. At the same time, I have a guidance role as our students learn to become responsible adults living away from home for the first time in their lives. I support and attend their outside-of-class activities in the same way I went to my kids’ band concerts and sporting events. And I try to be available and accessible if they ever need help, academic or otherwise.
Is there something you’ve learned as a Faculty Master that would surprise your faculty colleagues?
Faculty Masters have one foot in Student Affairs and one foot in Academic Affairs. It has surprised me how different those two sides of campus operate and how little each knows about the other. However, our students live and function in both sides, so in a sense, the Faculty Masters have the greatest appreciation of what it is like to be a student on campus.
Working within the residential communities, what have you learned about them that surprised you?
I think most faculty don’t know what students do when they leave the classroom. They hardly appreciate that students are juggling different courses at the same time they are learning to live away from home, meeting new people and cultivating deep friendships, and learning how to be responsible adults. Students may make some bad decisions along the way, but basically, they are intelligent, good young people, and some will absolutely amaze you!
Would you recommend being a Faculty Master to a colleague?
Yes, but with the knowledge that a great deal of evening and weekend time is involved. It is possible to maintain a private life off-campus, but there will always be something going on here on campus, so difficult decisions need to be made about which to attend and which to skip. You can never do everything possible as Faculty Master, but anything you do is important and enriching beyond your role as professor.
Then your involvement as a Faculty Master has been meaningful to you in ways you wouldn’t have experienced if you’d remained solely in the classroom?
Many of our students are involved in creative arts and performances, recreational sports, journalism, community service, environmental or political activism, leadership roles, tutoring, being a tour guide, being an RA, or many other aspects I would never know about. Our students are great! I had a certain degree of exposure to this before becoming Master because I played in the pep band and was a member of the fencing club. Oddly enough, since becoming Faculty Master my schedule is such that I’ve had to drop these other activities. Now, rather than being part of these student groups because of my own interest, I am involved in a broader range of student activities because of their interest.
If you could mold your learning community any way you wish, what would it look like?
The term “learning community” has several meanings. It can apply to particular class sections open only to students living in our community. These are valuable and important because they help make this large university feel like a small college. However, these courses serve only a small fraction of our students. In a broader sense I want Dickinson Community to nurture students’ intellectual development through lectures, discussions and debates on general topics, bringing in faculty and community experts. I want to nurture students’ creativity and expression through performance opportunities, poetry readings, art shows, etc. I want to encourage tolerance and open-mindedness toward other people and other ideas. And I want to encourage and nurture leadership among our students. All of these things combine to create what I would call the Dickinson Learning Community.
How do you think the renovation of Dickinson Community will affect you?
In two years Dickinson will move from the oldest buildings on campus to the newest, from corridor-style living to suite style, from halls without a community center to a collegiate center shared with another community. My greatest challenge between now and then will be to strengthen and support Dickinson’s character so that it is maintained and continues to grow as the students move across the road.
Last question: Will you share your favorite Dickinson tradition with us?
My favorite Dickinson tradition is not an event or activity or place, but an attitude: Dickinson students are open-minded, creative, accepting, innovative young adults. It is the Dickinson students who define what Dickinson is, and I like what they’ve come up with.