Susan Barry

Professor of Biological Sciences


From the Princeton Review:

Sue Barry is a professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College and the author of Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions. She teaches Introductory Biology and Neurobiology, both of which focus on the important theme that organisms, including humans, are in a constant dialogue with their environment and can adapt. From this central tenet, she is able to demonstrate that far fewer behaviors in humans are hard-wired than most people think. “The potential for change is great in all of us if we can learn how to tap into that potential. I tell my students not to let anyone tell them what it is they cannot do. They should not shortchange themselves,” she says.


One of the things that Barry stresses is the need for expansive learning; she has taught courses with her colleagues in a number of departments at MHC and has audited courses in the biology, music, math, and geology departments. “These experiences have all enhanced my teaching...there’s no better way to learn than to try to teach the material to someone else.”


She believes that personality is necessary in the pedagogical field, and tries to give the students an idea of what she is like as a person by incorporating stories about herself, as well as about how new information was obtained and how new ideas were developed. Students say that “her excitement for the subject is so contagious, that you’re bound to become interested in it.” To build upon this enthusiasm, she quotes as often as possible from firsthand accounts. “Thus, in my introductory biology class, I will read passages from Darwin’s books.”


There is another technique that she uses in the classroom: She will pause during lectures to give the students a problem to ponder, then ask them to pass in a written response. “I look over the answers and call on one of the students to describe what she’s written. I’ll often ask someone to speak who seems insecure or very quiet. I have told the students beforehand that I will only call on someone who has answered correctly, so when the student speaks, she can speak with confidence.” Perhaps this is why students say the she is “a lot of fun to listen to and time just seems to fly during class.”

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Taken on April 4, 2012
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