Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

A view from both sides of the desk

August 23, 2001

Darcy Russell never expected her former college professors to become her colleagues, but when she accepted a position at Baker University two years ago, the tables were turned.

"It was weird at first. It was hard getting used to calling Professor Wiley, 'George', and Professor Boyd, 'Roger'," said Russell, a professor of biology. "They are my colleagues, no longer my professors. But it was a struggle."

It is not uncommon for people who come to Baker as students to remain in or return to the community that was such an important part of their youth. Russell is one of nine Baker professors who started life on campus as a student. They include Walt Bailey, Class of 1962, Michael Barbush, Class of 1978, Roger Boyd, Class of 1969, Phil Hannon, Class of 1999, Martha Harris, Class of 1979, Gary Irick, Class of 1979, John Richards, student from 1978 to 1980, and Merrie Skaggs, Class of 1967.

Stuart Dorsey, vice president and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said professors who are also alumni have a special connection to the school.

"They add a valuable perspective on Baker, having been students and now faculty members," Dorsey said. "They have a real loyalty to Baker."

Whether fate or serendipity, Russell said she never intended to return to Baker. After graduating in 1980 and earning her Ph.D., she became a professor at Washington and Lee in Virginia.

"It was a weird series of coincidences that brought me back," she said. "I was really happy in Virginia and I had tenure."

After earning a sabbatical in 1997, she decided to take it at the University of Kansas, so she could be near family members for a year. One day while working in a lab at KU, she ran into Boyd, her former biology professor.

"We went to dinner and later he said, 'I think you would be very good at Baker.' I didn't give it much thought until my father needed heart bypass surgery," she said. "I applied for the job and they offered it to me. It just seemed like it was meant to be."

John Richards, assistant professor of history, said he also never thought he would return, though he once told a friend he would love to come back and teach. While living on the East Coast, Richards taught at Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Connecticut College, Bryant Business School in Rhode Island, and Roger Williams University. In 1997 when his wife received a great job offer in Kansas, he knew he had an opportunity to return to Baker.

"I was tipped off that there was going to be an opening," Richards said. "That's a weird destiny."

Richards, who grew up in Baldwin, is one of several Baker alumni in his family. His father, three brothers and two sisters were all Baker graduates, and his mother worked for the University.

"I grew up in Baldwin, and Baker was closer to my house than the high school," he said.

Now Richards is happy to be back in town and working at a college with so many memories. He said the one thing that surprised him was how little life on campus had changed. Although he added, "Students don't get my jokes half the time I guess they're outdated."

Russell said she notices a profound difference in students in terms of academics and motivation.

"Academic standards are higher and that makes the student body more enthusiastic about learning," she said. "The students are also really focused. They feel like they have to know what they want to do . They're so goal-oriented. I don't think we were quite as single-mindedly driven to careers. It's probably a sign of the times."

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