Posted: Wednesday Apr 24, 2013
April 24, 2013
When Dr. James Barnett joined the faculty to teach biology at Saint Vincent College in the fall of 1985, the primary attraction was the opportunity to teach. Now, 28 years and thousands of students later, he remains clearly focused on teaching.
“I truly have had the opportunity to teach,” Barnett commented. “I enjoy that the most! I have worked closely with students in a number of roles – in the classroom, as a senior research mentor, as an advisor and as chair of the Pre-professional Health Committee. There are many ways to teach both inside and outside the classroom, both personal and educational.”
Barnett has supervised more than 100 senior research projects over the years, though he hasn’t done any since he began teaching in the nurse anesthesia graduate program six years ago. He has also chaired the committee that advises and guides students seeking admission to medical and other health profession schools. “The Pre-professional Health Committee is something I have enjoyed in recent years. Earlier, I served as chair of the biology department. The opportunity to do different things at different times has kept my work interesting.”
During his long career, Barnett has taught introductory biology for science majors and non-majors, exercise and sports physiology, mammalian physiology, and for the graduate program, advanced anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology.
While he admits that some students have stood out over the years, he hesitates to identify them because there are so many. “A number have gone on to health professional schools and have kept in contact with me which I greatly appreciate,” he added. “Their success is in part attributable to what they brought to the College – the values their parents taught them, their beliefs, work ethic and interest in science. We contribute to their preparation and they move on. I hesitate to take any credit for their success.”
Barnett said that one of the fundamental things that has changed is that he used to teach by example but now overtly teaches students how to think. “When I work through a problem, I don’t do it as an example. I think out loud and share what is going through my mind as I solve the problem. I spend time explaining how to think about science.”
Barnett praised his colleagues in the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing and commented that the environment in which he worked has always been positive due to the people he worked with. “The faculty is great. We have a very collegial, respectful, open department which has made it wonderful to work here. The new Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion has enhanced the physical environment. The facilities enable us to do some things better and to do new things. However, the people are the most important dimension of our school.”
In the future, Barnett predicts more collaborative learning and student-centered classrooms, rather than teacher-centered classrooms. “I think educational methods will move toward more collaboration,” he added.
During the next few years, he plans to begin to transition from full time to half time teaching. “I want to devote more time to my wife, Ginny, and our family. And I want to spend more time with my hobbies – building wooden models of 17th and 18th century sailing ships, machining historic brass locomotives and back road bicycling.”
A native of Boston, Barnett grew up in San Francisco and earned a bachelor of science and a Ph.D. in animal physiology from the University of California at Davis. He was a National Research Council research associate in NASA’s biomedical research division before he came to Saint Vincent. He is the author of journal articles in various aspects of biomedical research. He has been recognized several times for excellence in teaching by the Pennsylvania Academy for the Profession of Teaching, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and Saint Vincent College’s Boniface Wimmer Faculty Award.
Photo: Dr. James Barnett
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