Meet Dr. Barri Bumgarner: the Face Behind Digital Blue

Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Barri Bumgarner is a teacher, novelist, voracious traveler, and tech guru who is hurtling Westminster on a journey into the future. With a doctorate in English Education and Digital Literacy, Bumgarner heads up Digital Blue — a campus-wide tech initiative that will place iPads in the hands of every Westminster student and instructor by the 2019-2020 Academic Year.  

Bumgarner recently discussed her career interests that began in pre-medicine and French and culminated in a career teaching future educators how to teach. Mastering the latest in technology while writing novels, playing with dogs, and cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals also factored into the conversation. 

Can you tell us a little about your educational history? I received a PhD in English Education and Digital Literacy in 2012 and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction in 2007 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. I earned a Bachelor of Science in English and Pre-Med, with a Minor in French, from Missouri State University in Springfield in 1990.  

How long have you been at Westminster? This is my sixth year. I go up for tenure this year. 

What is one piece of advice for students in your classes? Be present, both physically and mentally. Education classes are all about scaffolding and building on skills, so when you’re here, be plugged in. We use iPads to improve our teaching and learning, but don’t let technology replace your connections with people and students.   

What is your most rewarding professional experience? I have several, but one is getting Digital Blue launched this fall. It is such a proud moment to see what you’ve worked on for nearly a decade come to fruition. I look forward to seeing students in classrooms next year using iPads as their professors teach with them. Also, publishing my first novel in 2004 was an amazing experience, and knowing I’ve published literally hundreds of articles, stories, and novels is humbling. My new book, Fifty Cents for a Dr Pepper, is with a publisher now, and it has been my baby since 1995. So that will be a pretty proud moment for me as well.   

What initially attracted you to Westminster? To be honest, I didn’t have Westminster on my radar my first year out of my PhD program until Dr. Carol Gilles at the University of Missouri said, “Barri, Westminster is you. Everything they stand for in the education department epitomizes how you think, how you teach, and how you shape learners.” So I applied. It was been the most wonderful fit for me, so I’m blessed Carol knew about the job opening!  

What are your continued goals here? My primary goal is and always will be to continue to learn: to learn about teaching, about reading and writing initiatives and tools, and to embrace digital literacy in that context. Digital Blue is an essential goal, but the best 1:1 initiatives, to quote research, are “only as good as the continued professional development.”  

How did you find your purpose? I always follow my passions. I think a person’s purpose is grounded in what they love. I have loved to write since I knew how to write. Being a published author validated that love. Embracing learning at every level and motivating and encouraging future teachers is validated when one of them says how I inspired them or empowered them. Now embracing digital tools to make them relevant in authentic ways in today’s 21st-century classroom is just icing on the cake. We learn by doing, and future teachers must be adept in ways their students are. So seeing them work on iPads gives me an enormous sense of pride.   

What is one book you think everyone should read? Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She reminds us that empathy and life experience allow us to understand not only the human condition but the importance of kindness. If you’ve lived it, you can speak to it. If you haven’t, then learn from others. Within the digital literacy realm, I recommend Muhtaris and Ziemke’s Amplify. It promotes the importance of an iPad, or any device, being a supplement to learning. Great things still happen when you put pencil to paper. Using technology should amplify those experiences, not replace them.   

What do you do in your free time? I love to travel, I read voraciously (I listen to books every day driving from Columbia to Westminster), I write almost daily, I’m a sports fanatic, to a fault sometimes … I love tennis, my Kansas City Chiefs, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Missouri Tigers, and of course our Blue Jays! I also love fun TV shows and movies: documentaries, action movies, thrillers, and everything nominated for an Oscar. 

Can you tell us a little about your family? I have been happily married for 27 years to my best friend who teaches physics, so we talk about school and teaching a lot! I have two furry kids: Cali, a Boston terrier and Chihuahua mix, and Kaycey J, a Fox terrier. 

Do you have a favorite quote? I have two: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou  

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius  

What is your favorite food? CHINESE! I love Chinese food and could eat it every day. Hot and sour soup should be its own food group.   

What is your favorite movie? I have several in different categories. The author me loves Stranger than Fiction and Silence of the Lambs. I also love, love The Prince of Tides as well as the Star Wars series. I love Marvel movies … the Captain America movies are the best. But my go-to movie I’ve seen literally hundreds of times is Independence Day. I can’t explain it. I just love it.   

What is your most treasured possession? My house burned down in 2010, so it really makes you reprioritize your value of “things.” But my mom passed away last December, and I wear her earrings at least once a week and on days I need to have her close to me. I also have a snowman named Mike in defiance of the Elf-on-the-Shelf movement. He goes on every vacation with me. 

A talent you wished you had? I wish I hadn’t let go of playing the piano. I can play a little by ear, but I had lessons as a kid and want to re-learn how to play! I would also love to be able to play the sax. I love the blues, and there’s just something sexy about the sax.   

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.