AACT Member Spotlight: Barry Debski

By AACT on November 3, 2021

Barry Debski

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Barry Debski. He teaches Chemistry and at Faith Academy in Mobile, Alabama.

Tell us about yourself.

I have degrees in chemical engineering and pastoral theology. I have had careers in engineering and manufacturing of circuit boards, marketing, direct sales of office equipment, sales of insurance, automobile maintenance, short-order cook, college administration, school principal, freelance trumpet playing, assistant pastor of a church, Uber driving, and teaching high school and college. I traveled the country extensively as a Technical Service Engineer in the printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing industry, troubleshooting problems involving composite laminates and process engineering issues. I have visited 46 states and lived in four (New Hampshire, Wisconsin, California, and currently Alabama).

I have played trumpet since age 8 and was in McDonald's All-American High School Band and Jazz Band. I still perform with the Mobile Symphonic Pops Band. I enjoy gaming and spy movies and post-apocalyptic stories as well as fantasy and sci-fi. I am addicted to Diet Coke and anything Reese's. I have successfully raised five wonderful children with five college degrees and five careers of their own living in four corners of the country. I also have four (soon to be five!) grandchildren. I ride my motorcycle to school some days and feel like I am getting younger all the time!

Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

I never planned to teach. In high school, I planned to go into law. But a guidance counselor suggested I pursue my interests in either music or science so I got a degree in chemical engineering. When I went back to get a second degree in my 30s, the college asked me to teach some science and math classes as an adjunct professor. I enjoyed teaching and working with college kids. Later I worked with high school-age students and have simply fallen in love with not just teaching chemistry, but with my students! To me, it is more than a job. It is a calling.

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

Dreams of the future. I have witnessed the transformation in my lifetime of cellular communications, space travel, storage media, processing power, global markets, etc. As a kid, I watched Star Trek have pocket communication devices, paper-thin electronic writing tablets, and handheld computers. That was science fiction. Today they are in the hands of elementary kids. The list goes on. I try to imagine what is going to change in my student's lifetimes as the pace of technological advancement continues to accelerate. These students will witness things that we are only able to dream about. Michio Kaku has inspired me with his writings about the future. Dave Burgess has also been an influence more recently.

What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?

I read cool articles from ACS, AACT, NSTA, Mensa, and other sources. Students do a couple of "chemistry news articles" each year which is a short report followed by a verbal presentation of a minute or so. This gives us hundreds of topics to chat about and comment on throughout the year.

What is your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your students and their parents?

"Never pass a walk by." A preacher acquaintance taught and lived this principle. Say hi to everyone. Talk to everyone. Learn everybody's name. Be friendly to everyone. Take time for everyone. Be at every football, basketball, volleyball, track meet, baseball, robotics, etc. event that you can. Send notes (postcards) to every student throughout the school year. Call parents when there are issues and genuinely seek to solve student issues. This is common respect for our fellow man and all it takes is a servant's heart.

If you could pass on one word of wisdom to other chemists what would it be?

Enjoy your work and you will never have to work a day in your life! Do not spend a single year at a JOB you hate. Chemists have so many options to explore for careers: marketing, sales, research, engineering, production, quality control, logistics and supply, forensics... the list goes on. I have jumped career paths about five times and loved every single minute of this grand thing we call life!

In three words, what would your students say they learned from you?

Passion. Success. Love.