By Dani Easterday
Before accepting a position as assistant professor of psychology at Bluffton, Deanna Barthlow-Potkanowicz led a different life.
“I am a licensed clinical psychologist, so I had my own practice for 10 years, prior to teaching,” Barthlow-Potkanowicz said. “I also taught adjunct classes on the side every now and then.”
A move to Bluffton changed her career path, and she was forced to consider other options.
“When we moved to this area in 2011, there weren’t a lot of clinical jobs available,” said Barthlow-Potkanowicz. “However, there was the position to be a full-time professor available that was available. This helped me decide to make a mid-life career switch to teaching full time.”
Since 2013, Barthlow-Potkanowicz has been a full-time professor at Bluffton University, and this experience has brought opportunities to work with many students. Being the professor of Introduction to Psychology classes, she meets many first-year students, some of whom later become psychology majors.
“I see a fair number of students in the fall who are first-year students when they want to talk about possibly declaring psychology as a major,” said Barthlow-Potkanowicz. “I also talk to the psychology majors quite a bit about career paths. With this degree, it is hard for students to figure out what they want to do as their career. There are so many options, and I try to help them out as much as I can.”
Working closely with so many students, Barthlow-Potkanowicz takes an empathetic approach in her interactions with students.
“I try to remember what it was like when I was a student. I try to remember what stressors they have that are different from mine,” Barthlow-Potkanowicz said.
In addition to connecting with students over similar situations, she also looks at interactions with students from a feminist mindset.
“I take a feminist approach to how I view things, and one of the elements of feminism is to try to equalize power differentials,” Barthlow-Potkanowicz said.
This mindset allows for her time in the classroom to focus on helping the students learn, rather than providing them with information and not allowing them to feel comfortable.
“Everybody in a classroom knows that I am the teacher in charge, so I don’t have to throw my power around or remind them,” said Barthlow-Potkanowicz. “Where I can, I like to make that power differential as small as possible so that students feel comfortable speaking up, debating with me, correcting me, asking questions.
“I want them to feel comfortable in that this is their learning environment. We’re in this together; it’s not just me above them giving them information.”
This approach to interacting with students in the classroom also relates to teaching methods she finds to be most effective for students.
“The idea of variety is [a teaching method] that I find to have the best results,” said Barthlow-Potkanowicz. “Admittedly, I’m not the best at [teaching]. In fact, there are moments when I am still working at it myself. It’s the idea that you need to create a variety of ways of getting information across and try to appeal to a variety of learning styles in students that gives them the best chance to learn.
It’s not just the teaching methods she uses or her mindset focused on equality that make Barthlow-Potkanowicz a campus celebrity. It’s also her passion for helping students succeed.
“I really like helping a person to figure out what they’re passionate about, what they want to do with their life and what we can do to help them get there,” Barthlow-Potkanowicz said.