Jeff Barker named Iowa Professor of the Year

Jeff Barker, theatre professor at Northwestern College, has been named Iowa Professor of the Year for 2006 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

This is the second time in three years a Northwestern College faculty member has been chosen Iowa’s Professor of the Year. Piet Koene, who teaches Spanish, received the honor in 2004.

Barker was selected as part of the U.S. Professors of the Year program, a national program sponsored by Carnegie and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. The program recognizes outstanding professors for their dedication to teaching, commitment to students, and innovative instructional methods. It is one of the most prestigious awards honoring college professors.

Nearly 300 professors were nominated this year. In addition to 43 state winners, four national winners were chosen in the categories of baccalaureate colleges, community colleges, master’s universities and colleges, and doctoral and research universities. Announcement of the winners was made at an awards luncheon and Capitol Hill reception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16.

Community members are invited to a reception honoring Barker on Tuesday, Nov. 28, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Northwestern’s DeWitt Theatre Arts Center lobby.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1988, Barker inspires and encourages his students to reach their highest potential as theatre artists—and as people. “Jeff taught me that the quality of your art will reflect the quality of your life,” says Matt Foss, a former student who is pursuing a doctoral degree in theatre.

Gabe Franken, another former student, says, “One purpose of college is to teach you how to think. Jeff also teaches and shows students how to move those thoughts into action.” Franken describes a class in which Barker asked the students not only to complete reading assignments, but to change one aspect of their lives as a result. “We weren’t working for a grade; we were working to change lives for the better,” says Franken, who volunteered with Mission Year after graduation.

Barker says, “I have a simple goal for myself as well as my students: to change the culture with the stories we tell.” To that end, he has helped established a focus on playwriting that is unusual for a college Northwestern’s size. He challenges, encourages and nurtures student playwrights as they bring their own stories to the stage through playwriting courses and annual productions that feature original student work.

Heidi Friesen, a theatre graduate who has written and performed original dramas and music, says, “Jeff offers students a well-chosen challenge along with his assistance and a trusting confidence in their ability to succeed. He perceives potential in his students and understands when to tend it and when to set it free.”

The author of over 50 plays, Barker involves students in the process as he writes his own scripts—as collaborators and sometimes sources for stories. Unspoken for Time (Dramatic Publishing, 1996) gave voice to one student’s painful experience with the silence that surrounds sexual abuse.

Kin, which won the grand prize in the 2002 New Voices Iowa Playwrights Competition, tells the story of Carrie Buck, whose 1920s Supreme Court case legalized involuntary sterilization. Produced at Northwestern in 2003, the play taught Barker’s students not only about theatre, but also about history, political science, sociology, social work and human rights advocacy.

Barker’s teaching goes beyond Northwestern’s campus to encompass the theatre, church and community. He is collaborating with theologians to bring ancient Israelite dramas back to the stage. And he and his students have led story-formed worship at Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, where Barker was a worship leader for 12 years.

Northwestern’s Drama Ministries Ensemble touring company, which Barker directs, performs his original worship dramas and ancient Israelite dramas from the Old Testament in churches across the U.S. Barker also has led worship seminars for pastors, worship leaders and theatre artists who are interested in bringing biblical and congregants’ stories to life in the worship experience.

Harry Parker, former chair of the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in which Northwestern competes, says, “Jeff’s commitment to the power of the art of theatre has been a beacon to his students. As a role model, his ethical and moral example has been just as important as his academic excellence.”

Sioux City Journal article, 11/16/06
KTIV (Sioux City) story, 11/16/06
Radio Iowa story, 11/16/06