Baldwin City, Kan. — Some of them pursued other career opportunities before returning to academia. Others realized as undergraduates or in graduate school that they had a calling to teach.
Eight faculty members on the Baldwin City campus — Molly (Hunt) Anderson, BS ’99; Michael Barbush, BS ’78; Jake Bucher, BA ’02; Martha (West) Harris, BS ’79; Gary Irick, BS ’79; Scott Kimball, BA ’99; Robyn Long, BS ’00; and Darcy Russell, BS ’80 — studied at Baker and teach at their alma mater. A few of them, upon their return, taught in the same building with professors they learned from when they were undergraduates. Others stepped in and filled positions vacated by their mentors who retired.
A consistent theme: all of them enjoyed their Baker student experience and wanted to make a difference in the lives of their students like the faculty before them.
As one of the professors described, “I like investing in students and the connections I make.”
Molly (Hunt) Anderson, ’99
Molly Anderson fell in love with Baker the moment she and a high school classmate visited the campus.
“My experience was idyllic,” says Anderson, who majored in chemistry and biology with a minor in German. “I met great people here, including my husband, Josh, BS ’98, and had wonderful professors. It was a perfect fit for me.”
Anderson, an assistant professor of laboratory instruction, is in her fourth year teaching chemistry and biology courses at the Ivan L. Boyd Center for Collaborative Science Education. The facility includes Mulvane Hall, where she devoted countless hours under the guidance of chemistry professors Gary Giachino and Michael Barbush.
“I spent more time in chemistry than in biology because it wasn’t as easy for me,” she says. “I had to work harder at that. The experiences in that department defined my career in graduate school at Johns Hopkins. I never would have done as well as I did without those two professors.”
Roger Boyd, BS ’69 , and Cal Cink were her primary biology professors.
“They gave me different opportunities for learning and a different way to organize content,” she remembers.
Now a colleague, Darcy Russell joined the science faculty toward the end of Anderson’s undergraduate years.
“Up until her arrival, there were no female teachers in my majors — no role models in that respect,” Anderson recalls. “Her class really forced me to be better at going beyond the text, another important one for grad school.”
Anderson connected with her professors as a student.
She hopes, as a professor, she is able to do the same.
“I love working with students,” she says. “For me, this age group is my favorite. It is when logic is tested the most, and I think that process is really important. I love being a part of it and the fact that I get an opportunity to do this as a job still blows my mind.”
Michael Barbush, ’78
A professor of chemistry, Barbush has taught at Baker for 30 years, the longest active tenure among faculty alumni. He majored in biology and minored in chemistry before earning a master’s degree and doctoral degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
Because of the subject matter, chemistry professors Barbara Schowen and R. Milford White had the most impact on his time at Baker. Barbush is the chemistry department chair, which is named in White’s honor.
A position opened in the chemistry department as Barbush completed his Ph.D. He has been a Baker faculty member ever since. He teaches organic chemistry, biochemistry, instrumental methods of analysis and basic chemistry.
“I most enjoy learning from the students,” Barbush said. “When we share our experiences with each other, we are all the better for it.”
Jake Bucher, ’02
Bucher, who grew up in Oskaloosa, Kan., visited Baker in the late 1990s on a basketball recruiting trip. He majored in sociology, philosophy and religion while minoring in psychology. In his eighth year teaching at Baker, Bucher is an associate professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the School of Professional and Graduate Studies.
He quickly embraced the Baker experience through his studies, athletics, fraternity life, parMentors and Army Reserves.
“It was a great experience,” Bucher said of his time at Baker. “I wasn’t particularly social but was extremely busy and happy to be busy. I now tell prospective students that Baker offers a full college experience. A lot of opportunities were provided by Baker, and I took advantage.”
Bucher admired the work of the faculty, especially Robert Miller and Tim Buzzell in sociology. He also was impressed by fellow faculty members Jack Collins and Keith Ashman.
“They both had a big impact on me despite not being in my fields of study,” Bucher said. “It was a great example of what liberal arts can and should be.”
As an undergraduate in the Army Reserves, Bucher thought he was preparing for a career in state and federal law enforcement. He had been working on a sexual assault case with the Army and was frustrated with some issues. During a discussion with his sergeant, the superior told him, “We don’t get paid to make law, just enforce it. If you want to change things, you need a lot more school.”
That discussion motivated him to attend graduate school at the University of Memphis before he earned his doctorate at Emory University. He decided on a career in academia and returned in 2007 to teach at Baker.
“As I started getting closer to the completion of my Ph.D., I thought that I would like to teach at a place like Baker — never thinking I’d end up at Baker. The timing of Robert Miller’s retirement happened when I could apply.”
Bucher this year teaches principles of sociology, a Quest course, youth and crime, senior seminar in sociology, social inequality, medical sociology and criminal justice through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange class at the Topeka Correctional Facility. Baker students travel weekly to the facility, where they share a class with incarcerated individuals. He also teaches introduction to criminal justice concepts at the School of Professional and Graduate Studies. In May 2010, he received, in large part because of his role with the Inside-Out program, the Jennie Howell Kopke and Verda R. Kopke Award for Distinguished Teaching.
“I enjoy the academic freedom at Baker,” Bucher said. “Part of why Baker has great faculty is because our leadership lets us be great. We’re encouraged to be innovative, to take risks, and are given freedom to pursue the best way to do our jobs. I enjoy working with students who want to push and challenge themselves and who are open to learning and open to new perspectives — all part of critical thinking. I also like working with students who I get to know and who get to know me. I don’t want to teach a room of empty faces; I like investing in students and the connections I make.”
Martha (West) Harris, ’79, MLA ’14
Harris, a distinguished teaching honoree in 2011, has been familiar with Baker since attending the Methodist Youth Fellowship Institute as a 3-year-old and staying overnight in what is now Pulliam Hall. When she enrolled as a student in the mid- 1970s, she quickly became involved in Phi Mu, Student Activities Council, tennis and intramurals. Harris, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, met her husband, Nick, BS ’79 and MSM ’99, at Baker and has been a full-time faculty member since 1983 after working as a bank examiner with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
“When I was getting my first exam back in my grad school course in labor economics, I was a little nervous when the instructor handed it to me and said, ‘Where did you get your undergrad degree?’ When I told him, he responded, ‘Well someone there sure taught you something about economics.”
Harris never envisioned becoming a professor so soon after graduating from Baker.
“I thought it would be fun and interesting, but I thought I would do it after a long career doing something else,” she said.
Harris teaches a Quest course and transfer salon on the Baldwin City campus, and managerial accounting for the School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Among the most enjoyable aspects of teaching is connecting with students.
“I enjoy seeing students develop in their time here and opening new doors for them, helping them experience some ‘aha’ moments,” she said.
Gary Irick, ’79
Gary Irick has been connected to Baker since birth. His father, Jim Irick, ’48, was a longtime physical education professor and coach at Baker, a career that started in 1956 and spanned more than 30 years.
While earning a business administration degree, Gary played on successful tennis teams and was active in Delta Tau Delta.
“I had a great experience as a student,” he said. “The academic experience prepared me well for life after Baker.”
With the same majors, Harris and Irick took several classes together. Among his influences were Ron Geenens (economics), Mark Sutter (accounting) and Henry Kirk (history).
“All were excellent teachers who challenged and motivated me as a student,” Irick said. “They set high standards and held students to them. The expectation of excellence prepared me well for my career in public accounting.”
Irick earned a master’s degree from Northwestern in 1982 and worked in Chicago for seven-plus years, including a stint as an audit manager for Ernst and Young. While going through a job change, an opportunity to be a “replacement” teacher for a semester at Baker arose.
“I enjoyed the experience and decided to pursue a full-time position,” said Irick, a member of Baker’s faculty since September 1989. “I was ready for a career change, enjoyed working with students, and teaching made me feel I was actually making a difference in the world.”
As an associate professor and chair of the business and economics department, Irick teaches primarily accounting courses.
“Being a part of the learning and growing process students go through is one of the things I enjoy most,” Irick said. “Seeing them succeed after they graduate is also satisfying.”
Scott Kimball, ’99
In his first year as assistant professor of biology, Kimball is the latest Baker graduate to return to his alma mater to teach. He teaches human ecology, introduction to ecological and organismal biology, general zoology and ecology, animal behavior and independent study in forest ecology.
As a biology major and art minor, Kimball enjoyed his time as a Baker student.
“I learned about learning and thinking at Baker,” he said. “I had never been exposed to the type of learning environment that Baker created, and it remains a hugely important component of my day-to-day life. I met a lot of people who I’ve continued to maintain friendships with through the years since graduation. I had amazing professors who were excellent mentors and advisors throughout my college career, but who also gave me great advice post-graduation. I became a better person at Baker.”
The science professors in biology encouraged him to explore his passion for biology. Art professors sparked his creative outlet and helped him broaden his education beyond the scope of his major. Humanities professors, including Donald Hatcher and George Wiley enlightened him in critical thinking.
“Don Hatcher brought to me my first formal education in logic and critical thinking, tools that are immensely important but dangerously undervalued in our society,” Kimball said. “His courses in critical thinking and philosophy enabled me to think more deeply about the way I approach knowledge and learning.
“George Wiley was the first person I met to create an open dialogue about the relationships between religious and scientific worldviews. His attitude toward exploration and exchange of ideas created a comfortable and safe environment to discuss potentially contentious subjects related to the role of various religious and scientific explanations for the world we experience.”
While in high school, Kimball knew he wanted to be an educator.
“This plan was solidified by my experience as a student at Baker and when I discovered how rewarding that track was to the faculty I knew at Baker,” he said. “I really thrived and wanted to pursue a career that may one day lead me back to Baker or, at a minimum, to a small liberal arts college similar to Baker.”
His first year teaching at his alma mater has been rewarding, especially in those moments of collaboration.
“The faculty and students at Baker are clearly partners in this process,” he notes. “I enjoy being involved in helping to develop student interests, and I love continuing to learn about the natural world through the experiences of my students. I hope to be able to share with them this passion for learning.”
Robyn Long, ’00
Long, an assistant professor of psychology in her fourth year teaching at her alma mater, has been connected to the university since the mid-1990s, when a Wichita minister suggested to her parents that Baker “might be a good fit” for her. Once she heard more about the study abroad program at Harlaxton College she was sold.
“Baker sowed the seeds for some of my most important friendships, my profession and even a number of my avocations,” said Long, who majored in psychology and sociology at Baker.
Several faculty and staff, notably Lisa Puma, George Wiley, Ira DeSpain, ’70, Susan Emel, Tim Buzzell, Tony Brown and Brenda Day, made an impact on Long. Whether they provided confidence as she pursued a career as a clinical psychologist, allowed her to contribute to class discussion, listened or provided her access to the archives for research, Long said they all made a difference.
“Each of these people are and were really good at what they did, valued my ideas and contributions and trusted me to do things with integrity,” Long recalls. “That has been a valuable lesson to me in all of my professional and personal roles.”
By her junior year, Long “had a suspicion” she would pursue a career in academia. That suspicion came to fruition when she worked on her doctoral degree at the University of Georgia.
“I had observed that it seemed to be a very meaningful and rich life for my professors at Baker and at the University of Georgia, filled with opportunities to continue learning all the time,” she says. “It seemed like a challenging profession, and one in which you would have interesting and passionate colleagues and students.”
Long teaches general psychology, psychopathology, contemporary issues in psychology, human development, human sexuality, clinical and counseling psychology and a Quest course on environment and health. She also oversees internships for psychology majors and coordinates the Harlaxton program.
“I get so excited to watch students get excited about learning and excited about my discipline, and I love how well we get to know our students at Baker,” she says.
Darcy Russell, ’80
Meeting Baker admissions director Ken Snow, ’64, at her high school and interacting with science professor Bill Graziano during a visit to the Baldwin City campus in the mid-1970s influenced Russell’s decision to attend Baker.
“I loved how Dr. Graziano engaged my interest as a student on the visit,” remembered Russell, who majored in biology. “I loved every minute of my Baker experience.”
The personal attention from faculty such as Roger Boyd, Cal Cink, Gene Nelson, Milford White, Diane Ordway, Thom Ward and Alice Ann Callahan Russell helped prepare her for her next step after graduation. She applied to five graduate programs and was accepted by all of them before she earned a Ph.D. from Kansas State University.
With parents as teachers, Russell realized before she was in grade school that in all likelihood she was headed to a career as an educator.
“I know that I was in college when I decided to go for the Ph.D. so I could teach at the university level,” she said.
“I also fell in love with science in this time — and knew I wanted research to be part of my career as well.”
An expert in microbiology, Russell has taught at her alma mater since 1998 and received the Kopke award in 2003. In addition to microbiology, she teaches courses in cellular biology and molecular biology. She also teaches a Quest course in scientific inquiry and oversees four students working on junior research projects in her lab.
“I know that these students, both science majors and non-science majors, will make a difference in the world for the better and I really enjoy being part of their journey,” Russell says.