Dr. Dee Barker is joining APU as Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Science. Dee has her graduate degrees in chemistry, with specializations in chemical education and biophysical chemistry, and her undergraduate degrees in chemistry and philosophy. She has extensive experience teaching and conducting research in higher education, including working as a faculty member at UAA, and she recently served as the chair of the Alaska Section of the American Chemical Society. She own a farm in Palmer (down the road from the Kellogg Campus) where she develops and manufactures natural skin care products, keeps bees, and grows flowers for market and use in their cosmetics. Dee has been busy on campus this summer organizing the chemistry labs and assisting with the development of the environmental public health, nursing, and other new programs with a science foundation.
What are you teaching at APU and what does that entail?
While my teaching schedule is still in formation, this Fall 2018, I’m teaching Chemistry I and Physics I. These courses will help to fulfill the some of the foundation courses for the health and natural sciences. This also entails getting the chemistry and physics labs in order. I’ve found some great equipment in these labs curated by the late Rusty Myers which I plan to incorporate into the lab and lecture components.
What did you do prior to APU?
I live with my husband on our farm in Palmer, just down the road from the APU Kellogg farm campus. We grow vegetables and flowers for the South Anchorage Farmers’ Markets. Also, I’m a beekeeper and a natural cosmetics manufacturer for our business. The base of most of our products is our beeswax and/or honey from our hives. Our farm is “Earthworks Farm” and our cosmetics brand is “Abeille Alaska”. And last but not least, I also taught Chemistry as an Assistant Professor at UAA.
What are your goals for this school year?
I’m going to develop curriculum for the Chemistry and Physics courses which will weave into the content special topics on the environment, health, and natural products. I’m creating ‘hands-on’ activities in these areas and plan to introduce new topics in particle physics, for those who are interested, in the spring semester.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I’ve had a real inter-disciplinary trajectory: I started undergraduate schooling in the states and went to Wheaton College in Norton Massachusetts (not the one in Indiana). My first degree was in Philosophy which had a fairly broad focus on the Greek classics, Epistemology, and Philosophy of Science. The second undergrad degree was a major in Chemistry with research in Photochemistry and a minor in Biology, which I obtained from the University of Victoria, Canada. My MS degree thesis was in Physical Chemistry, involving a project applying laser spectroscopy to probe thermodynamic properties of small molecules which had biological relevance. And my PhD research at the University of South Florida was a mixture of spectroscopy and Chemical Education. Eventually, I had to choose my dissertation topic in one area and I decided to focus on Chemical Education. My dissertation committee comprised of two sociologists, one education specialist, and three chemists. The dissertation defense was quite the ‘experience’, defending across these areas.
What is your fondest memory from when you were in school?
Interestingly it was in my undergraduate work in the University of Victoria under Dr. Peter Wan. I made a compound that was a liquid at room temperature but once dissolved in DMSO (if my memory serves me), turned into an ‘instant’ powder. This was a surprising event that was hard to explain and I had to come up with an explanation. The explanation I eventually developed was hard for Dr. Wan to accept until I demonstrated the likelihood that I was correct with more data. This whole experience was a wonderful lesson on exploration in Chemistry.
When you were a college student, who was the most influential person in your life?
I would have to say, my husband of 30 years, Bruce Hougan. He believed in me 100% when I thought I just wasn’t ‘graduate college material.’ He encouraged me to aim higher.
What do you do in your free time?
Free time? What’s that? We have a farm business, and there’s always work that doesn’t get done at the end of a day. And with teaching at the university, there is for me, always more that I could and want to do. But our farm offers amazing views of Pioneer Peak. Sometimes I sit down and look at the view while chewing a just-picked carrot.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
The history of APU’s founder, Peter Gould, gives me a little courage to say that I became a Christian just a few years ago, after studying data and models pertaining to the Higgs Potential Energy Field. For various reasons, this might be considered unusual, especially because I spent the majority of my life before that as a non-Christian. However, much of my life history and spirituality was also influenced by Florida Seminole culture, through my mother’s background.
What are you most excited about for this job?
Rusty Myers left a legacy of 35 years of work building up the Chemistry and Physics labs for the Environmental Sciences. I’m honored to explore his legacy and take up, as best I can, the work he established. I’m also very excited about APU’s goals to become a Tribal College.