Originally published in Winter 2019
For as long as he can remember, Dr. Bobby Baldridge has been fascinated by microbiology. He’s not sure where the interest originated, as his father was a pastor, and none of his immediate family were scientists. He can only conclude that his drive to explore the unseen world was innate — “Just part of who I am,” he says.
A veterinarian-turned-Biology professor, Baldridge also has a passion for teaching, interacting and sharing. After practicing as a veterinarian (primarily small animal practice), he felt led to teach at the college level, and his callings converged at Asbury University.
“It seemed that practicing veterinary medicine was very satisfying to me on the science side of things but not as satisfying to me in regards to human interaction and the opportunity to instruct or to provide guidance,” Baldridge said. “This idea that I was doing that in church as a teacher, doing that in veterinary medicine as a teacher, it just seemed like the next best step was looking into teaching science in particular since that’s my academic training and background.”
Teaching at the college level specifically was a natural choice for Baldridge, as he wanted to influence young people in the formative stages of academic and career development. From the beginning of his career as a professor, he knew research would play a critical role in his interaction with students.
Baldridge has continued publishing himself — in June 2018, he co-authored an article in the “American Physiological Society Journal Advances in Physiology Education” regarding pedagogy in graduate education. Just as importantly, though, he’s a mentor and encourager for student researchers at Asbury.
“For me, it was part of the job when I first started at Asbury. It was part of what faculty here do,” Baldridge said. “But then secondly, it just fit this concept I had of myself of just being able to come alongside students and help them develop and help them go in stages to higher and higher levels of academic and professional success.”
Baldridge estimates he has served as senior research instructor for more than two dozen undergraduates.
“The most rewarding part is seeing students face the challenges of research and learning how to cope with and succeed through those challenges,” Baldridge said. “Research is fraught with delays, mistakes, instrument or equipment failures, technical difficulties. It’s a human endeavor.”
Baldridge draws comparisons between the trials of research and the general hardships of life. Neither are smooth journeys; both involve highs and lows of emotion and accomplishments.
“Students who have to work through that and come out on the other side now have a realistic view of what it takes in the scientific community to find out information and to have that new information (hopefully) eventually applied to solving some human dilemma or human suffering or human lack,” Baldridge said. “Every scientific success has come through that kind of troubled waters.”
Baldridge says that, in the midst of challenging research projects, many students take heart from the successes of other Asbury students and alumni.
“Many of our students go on to the next level quite adeptly after Asbury,” Baldridge said. “So, current students look at successful alumni and think, ‘Well, if they can do it, I can do it.’ It builds their confidence. They go, ‘Oh, that was tough Dr. Baldridge, but look, I got a scientific paper out of it. I got to present at the KAS (Kentucky Academy of Science) or a similar professional venue, and I have a credential and an understanding now of scientific work that I didn’t have before.’ What I like seeing is the maturity and the courage and the resilience of that student after they’ve been through the ringer like that, the tough times of research.”
Asbury’s liberal arts curriculum adds an important dimension for student researchers in the sciences, Baldridge said. Studying the broader liberal arts tradition pushes students to think beyond themselves and their disciplines, which has implications for both life and research.
“If you’re only interested in your own personal success, whether you’re a scientist or a musician, then very likely without noticing it sometimes, you’re going to step on some toes or offend people in the manner in which you move quickly, decisively ahead towards your single goal,” Baldridge said. “Sometimes you have blinders on. I think the person that comes out of the liberal arts education has had the opportunity to consider the whole community of persons that they’re a part of — their local community, their campus community and the global community. What I hope is the person who’s had that opportunity enters their work with a view toward being successful.”
Baldridge also hopes the liberal arts can push students to think of the responsibility they have, in their various callings, to contribute and give back to others.
“Being a successful scientist, musician, Spanish teacher or filmmaker — being one of the best — that’s a great goal,” Baldridge said. “While I’m on that path to become one of the best, I also need to pay attention to how I can influence and create an atmosphere of flourishing and success and well-being around me. I hope the liberal arts student has noticed that, while we’re on a journey for personal fulfillment, we’re not supposed to do that as if it’s all about me.”
When he talks about his students and his work, Baldridge sometimes sounds as much like a pastor as he does a professor. Baldridge pursues academic excellence in the classroom and in research while prioritizing and nurturing students’ spiritual growth — an opportunity that is increasingly unique in the world of higher education.
“When I came to Asbury, I knew it would be hard to rise to the high professional level of teaching here, but very quickly, I knew I’d made a really good decision with God’s direction,” Baldridge said. “It’s a blessing.”
Baldridge’s father, a pastor and 1951 Asbury alumnus, was thrilled when Baldridge began teaching at Asbury.
“In his mind, this was a ministry,” Baldridge said. “It wasn’t the pastoral ministry. It wasn’t missions. But, from my father’s point of view, it was ministry in the sense that I was at a place that was identified as Christ-centered. He knew our history. He knew the foundations of theological tradition here.”
Like every calling — and like research — being a professor has its ups and downs. But teaching at Asbury, with the unique opportunity to invest in students both academically and spiritually, is what keeps Baldridge excited for the future.
“The whole thing is just a miracle,” Baldridge said. “It’s an opportunity to be involved in an enterprise that is meant to help young people grow in grace and know their Lord better and serve Him. And by serving Him, serve each other.”