Profiles in Teaching
Monday, April 17, 2017

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Freddie Barnard, Agricultural Economics

"In the real world, the market is unforgiving. I try to get that through to students not just by telling them, but also through class structure and grade structures. I think it comes through loud and clear for the students when you're sincere with them." - Freddie Barnard

Profiles in Teaching focuses each month on an individual whose work reflects Purdue Agriculture's commitment to learning.

About the Professor

When Freddie Barnard, a professor of agricultural economics, began at Purdue in 1982, the U.S. farm economy was not in a great place.

"Producers were over-leveraged and could not make their payments; prices were down and interest rates were high," Barnard said.

Barnard worked in Purdue Extension at that time, and still does—with banks, farmers and county educators to find solutions to agricultural financial problems—ultimately so those farms could survive another year.

Originally from a corn and soybean farm in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, Barnard received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. in agricultural finance from the University of Illinois. Barnard now balances his Extension specialist position—teaching and speaking at agribusiness seminars and workshops across the country—with teaching agribusiness management (AGEC 33000) to more than 125 undergraduate students a semester. He also still helps manage the family farm in Kentucky.

Barnard has dedicated his professional life to teaching students in the classroom and the field, but it all started with a question he had early in his academic career.

"It's always been a fascination of mine," Barnard said. "Why can you give two people with equal resources and equal opportunities the same loan, and have one of them go bankrupt and the other become a millionaire?"

Teaching Philosophy

Barnard concisely describes his teaching approach through the acronym CARE: Credibility, Application, Responsibility and Empathy.

"To be an effective professor, you have to have credibility when you walk in there," Barnard said. "What I teach is not theory, it's not an opinion I share, it's stuff that works. I bring real-world examples and experiences."

Real-world experience is something Barnard has developed through years of work with bankers, farmers, and lenders on the days he is not teaching. He often has students apply what they have learned in homework, extra credit and group projects. Barnard said his responsibility to students includes coming to class prepared with his lessons updated and papers graded.

"I always give graded papers back the next period," he said. "Because the teachable moment is then. If I wait two weeks, then we are going on to something else. How can they learn from their mistakes that way?"

Students have responsibilities, too. Punctuality matters because in real-world economics, failing to complete a project on time could cost someone money.

"The reason I am hardcore on that is because of conversations I have had with employers," Barnard said. "Be punctual, be on time, because it is expensive to everyone otherwise."

As for empathy, Barnard feels an obligation to look out for his students' well-being and futures. If, by the end of the semester, any of his students have an A in the course, he allows them to skip the final.

"You have to have a genuine concern for your students," Barnard said. "This is the kind of stuff they will have to deal with when they get out of college and you have to make sure they are prepared."

Barnard also interacts with students by getting involved with student organizations—even when it means participating in the occasional cricket-spitting contest.

Student Outcomes

Beyond teaching students about punctuality and applying economic concepts they have learned, Barnard has a specific goal for his classes.

"I really want my students to be able to make informed decisions," he said. "I tell students the first day—you all come here as consumers. You've spent your entire lives as consumers. The hardest thing I am going to do is challenge you to convert your mindsets from consumers to that of business managers."

Finally, Barnard wants his students to know how to adjust to change and realize how quickly changes happen in the market.

"We've got a dynamic world out there, and it keeps changing on us," Barnard said. "Young farmers and lenders are going to deal with people who have been doing their job a certain way all their lives. Well, things change, and you might have to do things differently. In order to convince that person, you've got to have a set of information and analyses to convey the message."

By Emma Hopkins

Purdue Agriculture Teaching Profiles are written by students majoring in Agricultural Communication.

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