September 7, 2022

Barber-Dansby receives Jefferson Award, highlights power of engagement

Andrea Fay Barber-Dansby Andrea Fay Barber-Dansby

Guide, empower and encourage — these are the three words Andrea Fay Barber-Dansby, senior lecturer at Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, uses to evoke the mission of her multifaceted work. Through the Office of Engagement, Barber-Dansby recently received the local Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service, an honor created by Multiplying Good to recognize individuals who serve their communities and, in turn, generate ripples of good. 

In addition to serving her community through organizations and initiatives like Junior Achievement, the Purdue Black Alumni Organization, the Step Up program and the Quality of Life Fund, Barber-Dansby created her own tutoring service called Strive Learning. These efforts and Barber-Dansby’s additional work teaching, advising, creating and mentoring are connected by the core value behind her pursuit to generate good — education.       

"At the core of who I am, I’m an educator,” Barber-Dansby says. “Seeing that light bulb come on and that hunger for knowledge and learning in students is what keeps me going. I’m always trying to instill that we have to be lifelong learners. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I have a goal for myself to learn something new every day.”  

Barber-Dansby explained why it’s so important to her that her students, particularly those of color, comprehend the enduring value of education. 

“Coming from a marginalized community — whether you’re talking about being female or being Black — once you have your certificate or degree, no matter what obstacles may come your way, you still own that knowledge,” Barber-Dansby says. “If one door closes, or you’re in a toxic situation, you've got that skill set and can move on.” 

The ultimate goal of her work is to uplift and empower the people and communities her initiatives reach. This was the focus of one of her most recent initiatives, Food Engineer Adventure Campwhich inspired her director at the time, Corey Sharp, to nominate her for the Jefferson Award. 

Food Engineer Adventure Camp Barber-Dansby’s Food Engineer Adventure Camp identifies STEM careers and opportunities in the food supply chain and introduces girls of color to the systems and technologies in the food sector. (Photo provided) Download image

The Food Engineer Adventure Camp identifies STEM careers and opportunities in the food supply chain and introduces girls of color to the systems and technologies in the food sector. Barber-Dansby’s project involves a collaborative weeklong camp with community partners like the Anderson Community School Corporation, the local Meijer superstore, the Anderson Career Center – D26, Idea Co-op, Purdue Extension, the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and more. At the camp, students journey through the food supply chain with hands-on activities that include interacting with local growers and food companies, field trips, building an indoor garden, meal budgeting and shopping and a food challenge competition.  

At one point in the process, a company chose not to participate in the camp, explaining that it did not wish to support diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“It was frustrating, and it could have derailed me, but I knew I needed to press on,” Barber-Dansby says. “I was able to find another corporate partner, Nestlé, and they’ve been great and very interactive with the students. We’ve already had two successful camps, which are inspiring young ladies to consider STEM in ways they might not have if not immersed with these organizations for an entire week.”

Many of the students in the camp also enrolled in several other Purdue Polytechnic Anderson programs. Barber-Dansby says that the fact they keep returning motivates her, as does the value Purdue places on engagement. 

“To be a part of the Purdue family and see how engagement is valued at a nationally recognized research institution, to hear all of the stories and see what faculty are doing to help communities while teaching, furthering research and helping the next generation advance in society is just amazing,” Barber-Dansby says. “It’s an honor to be a part of an institution that values all facets of what we do in higher education.” 

Presented at the Multiplying Good conference, the Jefferson Award will help Barber-Dansby continue to fulfill her mission. 

“In our country, the most underutilized resource we have is our people. There are so many brilliant people whom we’re not tapping into their skill set,” Barber-Dansby says. “We're going to need everybody’s skills and talents to tackle all the challenges we have in our country. Our fellow citizens must be empowered and believe in themselves again.” 

For more information about Multiplying Good and how to nominate engagement and service-oriented faculty and staff for the Jefferson Award, visit Engagement’s Jefferson Awards webpage. The deadline for the fall nomination period is Oct. 21.

Writer: Kayla Vasilko, kvasilko@pnw.edu


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