Bridgewater College Celebrates Founder's Day on April 5

March 28, 2016

Graphic with Building Columns

Bridgewater College will celebrate 136 years of its founding on Tuesday, April 5, presenting three awards during the 9:30 a.m. convocation in Nininger Hall.

President David W. Bushman will recognize three faculty members for excellence in teaching and scholarship.

Dr. Robyn A. Puffenbarger, associate professor of biology, will receive the Ben and Janice Wade Outstanding Teacher Award; Dr. Stephen F. Baron, the Harry G.M. Jopson Professor of Biology, will receive the Martha B. Thornton Faculty Recognition Award; and Prof. Scott D. Jost, associate professor of art, will receive the Faculty Scholarship Award.

The Founder’s Day observance at Bridgewater commemorates the April 3, 1854, birth of Daniel Christian Flory who, at the age of 26, began a new school at Spring Creek in Rockingham County in 1880. The school, first known as Spring Creek Normal School, moved to Bridgewater two years later and changed its name to Bridgewater College on July 12, 1889.

The college’s observance of Founder’s Day began in 1920.

About the honorees:

Dr. Robyn Puffenbarger

Dr. Puffenbarger has spent all 15 of her years in the classroom at Bridgewater College. In those years, her passion for teaching biology has not dimmed.

“Science, including biology, is not a static entity that we learn and then know,” she said. “It is a constantly changing way of studying the world. My goal in any class is to bring current questions to the students and to help them learn to find solid source materials, process information and work on finding answers.”

Her philosophy of teaching centers on giving her students the skills they need to examine issues from a scientific perspective.

“In all my classes, I try to bring up relevant issues and events. For instance, students in genetics begin to process how genetic testing might impact them and their family,” she commented.

Dr. Puffenbarger currently teaches genetics and introductory biology. Her research includes the use of molecular biology to work on identifying the food sources for birds nesting in boxes, and she is also working to understand how changes to her teaching impact student learning outcomes.

She enjoys taking biology students to conferences in the field and mentoring them in the career paths of their choice. For 10 years, she served as a pre-med adviser for Bridgewater students interested in pursuing medicine, dentistry or veterinary science in their graduate studies.

A native of Roanoke, Dr. Puffenbarger graduated from Virginia Tech in 1991 and earned her Ph.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in 1999. She conducted post-doctoral research at the State University of New York–Stony Brook. Since coming to Bridgewater, she has been involved in three National Science Foundation grants in collaboration with other local colleges and universities. She received a Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Trust grant for research on “Cannabinoid Receptor Expression in Macrophages” and completed a Biology Scholars Research Residency in 2011, presenting her work at the American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators. In the spring of 2016, Dr. Puffenbarger was named the first Visiting Scholar in Residence at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, Va.

Dr. Puffenbarger lives in Bridgewater with her husband, Bill Benish. They are avid bird watchers who also enjoy playing disc golf. Dr. Puffenbarger is also a Virginia Cooperative Extension Certified Master Gardener.

Dr. Stephen F. Baron

The Martha B. Thornton Faculty Recognition Award recognizes Bridgewater College faculty who “provide caring concern for students well beyond the role as teacher.” Dr. Baron believes that his job is “to find a spark of learning in each student and fan the flames the best I can through my course materials and teaching style.”

Dr. Baron tries to spend as much time as needed with his students to help them understand the course material.

“I truly enjoy interacting with my students,” he said. “I almost feel by the end of the course that I’ve been in the trenches along with them, even though I’m the one making the work for them!”

A native of Marion, Ohio, Dr. Baron received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Dayton. He earned his Ph.D. in 1988 from Virginia Tech. Before to coming to Bridgewater College in 1995, he performed postdoctoral research at the Medical College of Virginia and was an adjunct faculty member at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

At Bridgewater College, Dr. Baron teaches classes that include principles of biology, human genetics, molecular biology of the cell and microbiology. He said he values the opportunity to work with students one-on-one on research projects, whether in one of his classes or through independent study. For Dr. Baron, serving as a mentor encompasses encouraging the student’s career plans, writing recommendation letters as needed and keeping in touch as they move on to the next phase after graduation.

Dr. Baron was named to the Harry G.M. Jopson Chair of Biology in 2012 and served as the department chair for biology from 2011 until 2016. His research interests include biodegradable plastics, alternative energy (such as biodiesel) and the role of intestinal bacteria in human metabolism.

Outside of his field, he enjoys music, hiking, gardening, woodworking and working on cars. He lives in Bridgewater with his wife, Mary, and his son, Samuel.

Prof. Scott D. Jost

A working artist and an art professor for 20 years, Prof. Jost continues to create new work in photography while teaching classes in photography, studio lighting, graphic design, web design and videography. Currently associate professor of art and department chair, Jost said he believes “anyone can access the creative process and that the means to art can be learned. The arts and artists are enriched when art is learned and practiced in a liberal arts context.”

Prof. Jost, a native of North Newton, Kan., earned his B.A. in art from Bethel College and his M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota. He was associate professor of art and department chair at Eastern Mennonite University for seven years, before coming to Bridgewater College in 2003.

He has received four faculty research grants from the college to date and was awarded the Mednick Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges in 2013.

Prof. Jost has participated in numerous exhibitions of his art, many focused on the subject of his recent book, Shenandoah Valley Apples, which is a collection of “color photographs and oral histories exploring the past, present and future of apple growing the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge regions of Virginia.” His current work-in-progress is Source and Confluence: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which “includes color panoramic photographs of river and stream origins and confluences throughout the Bay’s 64,000 square mile watershed.”

He showed new work from this project in February and March 2016 in the college’s Cleo Driver Miller Art Gallery and is in the early stages of working with a publisher to turn the project into a book. 

When Prof. Jost isn’t in the classroom, lab or field, he still relishes any opportunity to be outdoors—hiking, backpacking, camping, gardening and spending time with his family. He lives in Harrisonburg with his wife, Kathy, and they have two children, Evan and June.