As the new dean of the Bayh College of Education, Janet Buckenmeyer believes educators have opportunity to try something different, provide leadership and show lawmakers what works in the classroom.
Like many Indiana State students, Janet Buckenmeyer was a first-generation college student in her family. “From the time I was young, I somehow always knew I was going to college,” she said. “While my parents encouraged me to go to college, they did not have a lot of understanding of the process to get there.”
This semester, Buckenmeyer joined State as its dean for the Bayh College of Education.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Buckenmeyer’s passion for the field was clear from her time as an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University, where she was a double major in elementary education and special education. She received her master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Toledo.
Between getting her bachelor’s and advanced degrees, Buckenmeyer was a middle level teacher taking the reins of the science curriculum. After taking a few years off to raise her children, she found herself back in the classroom, helping out, when the kids were a little older.
“That was the time technology was just getting into the schools,” Buckenmeyer said. “I decided to take a class at the University of Toledo to learn more. That ‘learning more’ turned into a master’s degree and a doctorate in educational technology.”
After a couple of years teaching at Lourdes College in Ohio, she took a position at Purdue Northwest (formerly Purdue Calumet), where she spent the next nine years as a faculty member, and eventually participated in the faculty senate and senate leadership.
Buckenmeyer’s career bounded forward quickly after Purdue Northwest. She accepted a position as an associate dean at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. That led to a position as dean of the College of Education at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga.
As she was just settling in for the long run at Armstrong, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia announced that the university would merge with the bigger Georgia Southern. It was a frustrating turn of events for Buckenmeyer. Under her leadership, Armstrong’s College of Education had started a Professional Development School and was making other progress on select initiatives during her short two years there. The team already saw increased enrollment numbers directly related to the changes they had instituted, but she knew that it was time to leave.
During a merger, Buckenmeyer said, “You’re not building anymore, you’re just sort of tearing down to rebuild someone else’s idea of a new college and a new university. That’s a very frustrating glace for a dean to be.”
Buckenmeyer’s frustration turned into an opportunity for her to join State’s faculty.
There is a foundation for growing the college at State, she said, and the Bayh College of Education is full of gems — both known and hidden. “There are so many good things we are already doing and more that we can do,” she said, “I’m very excited about being here.”
Outside of the classroom, Buckenmeyer’s gems are her children Laura and Michael. Laura, a biomedical engineer, lives with her husband, John, in Columbia, S.C. “John is an Air Force Academy graduate,” she said. “He flies a fighter jet for the Air Force, which at times scares me to death but mostly fascinates me so much that I wish I could have a ride!”
Her son Michael, lived, in Columbus, Ind., working as an electrical engineer at Cummins until recently. He left that position to pursue his MBA at Georgia Tech.
The fact that Buckenmeyer’s children live in different states is an opportunity for her to do more traveling, which fits in perfectly with her latest hobby. “I love, love to travel,” she said. “Of my many travel goals: One is to get to every state in the Union, and I think I’m at 42.”
When her children were young, her personal passions were closer to home. She loved to sew and made a lot of the clothes her daughter wore. “Even earlier than that,” in high school and college, Buckenmeyer shared, “I used to play guitar.” She was part of an innovative church folk group that also played at various non-church events.
She still has two guitars, but, she said, “I haven’t touched them in years.”
Having a pivotal role in helping students become teachers keeps Buckenmeyer more than busy. She has a clear vision for advancing State’s College of Education: “We need to focus on continuous improvement of all courses and programs, making certain our curriculum remains relevant as well as rigorous.”
In bringing her years of experience to State, she stresses the importance of experiential learning, peer-to-peer support among students, and a dedicated faculty.
“I believe the biggest thing is that personal touch,” Buckenmeyer said. “Our faculty in every department recognizes that the personal interest in students makes a difference. I often hear from students that this early connection to the faculty and a sense that they belonged in our college are the reasons they chose State.”
One of the biggest challenges education majors face is what they find at their jobs after graduating. At both the state and national levels, Buckenmeyer said teaching has become test-heavy. Because of the focus on accountability and test results, teachers are sometimes bound to more of a script in the classroom that leads students to the year-end battery of tests.
“Teachers have lost some ability to be creative within their classrooms,” Buckenmeyer said. That level of red tape has led to negative press from within the teaching profession.
“But in spite of all that,” Buckenmeyer said, “We do have an opportunity to try something different. We have the ability and the expertise to take the lead … to show that our graduates are positively impacting student learning so that law and policymakers might even model some of their policies after the things that we’re doing.”
Through the challenges, changing times and evolving technology, Buckenmeyer’s years of experience have deepened her advocacy for education. “Teaching is still a noble profession. There is no other field that can affect the next generation like teaching can,” she said.
“A good teacher can make a difference in the life of any student. You hear over and over again stories from individuals who are successful in their careers because one teacher took an interest in them, challenged them and told them that they had what it takes.
“It’s believing in children, and it’s giving them the tools to achieve something great with their life. Education is the key that opens the doors to a better life for anybody at any level in this country. There is not another profession like this one.”