Mondays are Meet A Deac days, and today I am proud to feature another amazing faculty member, Dr. Betsy Barre. Let’s get right to it!
First off, always a pleasure to meet another Betsy 🙂 – ok, in all seriousness, what is your official title and how long have you been at Wake? I am the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and I also have an appointment as a Part-Time Teaching Professor in the Department for the Study of Religions. I began at Wake Forest in May of 2018, so just under three years.
Describe your job in layperson’s terms. I lead a team that works with faculty, departments, and institutional leaders to ensure that Wake Forest teaching is both exceptional and consistent with our mission to prepare our students to live examined, purposeful lives. We also contribute to national and international conversations about teaching in higher education by sharing our work and the great things Wake Forest is doing to support both our teachers and our students.
Tell me a little about your educational background. As the child (and granddaughter) of public school teachers, I’m proud to say I was a public school kid, all the way from kindergarten through my PhD! I was a philosophy major and history minor during my undergraduate years at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and received my MA and PhD from Florida State University in Comparative Religious Ethics (basically a really fun combination of philosophy, anthropology, history, and religion). I like to say that my academic expertise is in moral disagreement, which turns out to be really handy when working in academic administration!
We have all had to take on some new challenges due to the pandemic, but your office has really been at the vanguard COVID-wise. Talk about what that has been like. We’ve been busy helping Wake Forest transition to an entirely new way of teaching over the last year. We have been at the center of all planning related to *how* teaching and learning will take place, and we have also been the team tasked with supporting all 750 faculty as they make that transition. I’ve been incredibly proud of the decisions Wake Forest has made related to teaching continuity and of the support they provided our team as we launched our Peer to Peer Learning Communities last summer.
What do you like best about working at Wake? I’m glad to be at an institution that is both student-centered and mission-driven. Wake Forest is an institution that cares deeply about its students, but we also care about helping them to develop in a very specific way. There is a real commitment to educating the whole student and preparing them for lives of meaning and purpose. Most liberal arts colleges make similar claims in their brochures, but Wake Forest really lives up to that ideal.
Let’s talk about students for a minute. What advice do you have for them? I have two main thoughts. First, slow down. It’s a great thing to have ambition and drive to do *all the things,* but college is one of the only times in your life you will be permitted to just sit around and think big thoughts. Take advantage of that, and instead of worrying about the next assignment that is due, or the next internship you need to land, carve out time to think about the ideas you’re learning and what they mean for your understanding of yourself and how you hope to live your life moving forward.
Related to that, really get to know your professors. Yes, you should get to know them to get help on homework or better prepare for exams. But you should also get to know them so that when you’re thinking the big thoughts about who you are and what you should be doing with your life, you have mentors to guide you. Wake Forest faculty come to Wake Forest because they want to work with students in this way, so take advantage of it!
How about families? What advice would you offer them? Give your children the freedom to explore and encourage them to do so. While you may be worried about their path, part of what makes the liberal arts experience so transformative is that the path is winding. Whatever their future, they will be healthier, happier, and more successful if they can learn about themselves and their world without worrying about whether it “counts” for their major or contributes to their future career.
What has been one of the toughest parts of the pandemic for you? I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Because I don’t have kids and am married to another academic, it’s always been easy for me to consume myself with work. Working on such important projects under emergency conditions, with no real ability to spend time with friends, has just made it that much harder to find that balance!
What do you miss most about normal times? One of the things we’ve learned from teaching via Zoom is that we need to be intentional about building in “tails” to our class sessions where students can come early or stay late to talk with one another and the professor. Those informal conversations are essential to building relationships, and I *really* miss them in the meetings I attend each day, as well. My work supporting Wake Forest’s response to COVID has introduced me to a number of wonderful new colleagues working across campus, but it’s hard to move those relationships forward when you can’t linger before and after meetings, or while eating a snack together during a break!
Ready for the lightning round?
Book(s) you’re reading now: I tend to read a lot of books at the same time, but the one I’m finding especially interesting right now is Grading the College: A History of Evaluating Teaching & Learning. I also just finished Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus. The book presents ethnographic research about how students conceptualize and navigate sexual projects while in college, and it was *astoundingly* good. It should be required reading for all undergraduates, their parents, and their professors.
Favorite musician/band: That you put this question in the singular makes it super challenging for me! I’m not sure I have a singular favorite, but I really love various manifestations of folk and was particularly enthused with what Chris Thile was doing on Live From Here (I know it may be blasphemous to say, but it was *way* better than Prairie Home Companion!) I was so sad when I learned it was cancelled!
TV/movies/Netflix you love: Movies: Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and What Dreams May Come (as I list those out, it occurs to me I may be revealing more about myself than I realize!). TV Shows: The Good Place, Parks & Rec, and Schitt’s Creek for light-hearted fun; Parenthood and Atypical for the stories they told about living on the spectrum; and West Wing and Gilmore Girls for being the kind of shows I could (and do!) watch again and again and again.
Website(s) you frequent: If I’m honest, mail.google.com and calendar.google.com! (I once asked my husband who he thought knew him better than anyone in the world. “Probably Google” was his response, and he’s not wrong!) More seriously, I suppose it would be nytimes.com, chronicle.com, and insidehighered.com. I also really love the philosophy blog The Daily Nous, and probably spend more time than I should on Facebook.
Guilty pleasure: Speaking of Facebook…
Introvert or extrovert: Extreme extrovert. I don’t know how I would do this job otherwise!
Something most people don’t know about you: I’ve been watching a lot of Finding Your Roots lately, so here’s one that’s been on my mind: both of my great-grandparents were identified as Black on Virginia census records in the late 1800s, but by 1910 (when my grandpa was born), they had moved to Ohio and were identified as white. Our family has spent the last 30 years uncovering details and meeting new family members, but there is still a lot of mystery. A historian has written a book about the extended family (The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White), but I also hope that someday I can call on Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team of archivists to discover even more!
What’s the first thing you’ll do post-pandemic when things can be normal again? It’s a tie between visiting my family and having a party inside my house.
What didn’t I ask you that you wish I had? I really wanted to talk about the fact that we are both Betsys! I’ve lived and worked a lot of places and have *never* been somewhere with so many Betsys! It’s exciting, but also slightly disconcerting. I guess this is a small taste of what it feels like to be a “Sarah”!
We do have some awesome Betsys on campus 🙂 Thanks, Betsy, for sharing your story with the Daily Deacdom, and for all you do for WFU and our students and faculty!
(And if you want to see past Meet A Deacs, visit our archive.)