Here’s to the woman who can wear overalls on a dare and still get compliments. Here’s to the lady who can bring brooches back and convince approximately 200 women to join her. Here’s to the woman who can make mugs and muffins the building blocks of community. Here’s to the lady who can leave a legacy of dress-up bin clothes and touched lives in Fern and across campus. Here’s to Lisa Barber and her six years as resident director of Fern Smith Hall.
After graduating from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, in 2003, Barber spent a year in Ireland as an RD to a small group of study abroad students. Having been heavily influenced by a supervisor to consider being an RD, Barber began to think in this direction long term, specifically Northwestern, after that supervisor told her NW would be a great place to work.
Upon returning to the States, Barber became Lisa the Latte Girl at a Starbucks for a year, worked as a substitute teacher on the side, and lived with her parents in the suburbs of Chicago, of which she said with a laugh, “There’s no shame in that.”
Her year at Starbucks gave her time to apply for RD positions all over the country. In May of 2005, she flew out to NW for her last scheduled interview. Barber remembers being here the night of Fern’s all-hall dinner, waving awkwardly as the visiting candidate, and then returning home incredibly nervous that she wouldn’t get offered a job anywhere. “It was a very good trip. I remember I had no idea what I was doing,” she recalled. But, despite her worries, the next day NW called with a job offer and she “agreed within the hour.”
Since that time Barber said, “I think I’ve seen myself change a lot.” She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, a place of affluence, and to that Barber said “there wasn’t much ownership of where I’m from.” But life in small-town Orange City has helped Barber “mellow out a little bit. I’ve grown to celebrate small town life and simplicity,” she said. Her time as an RD also helped her grow to handle difficult situations. “In my six years, I’ve encountered a lot of kind of scary situations with students, and I’ve grown in my ability to learn how to be the calm person in the situation.”
Besides much personal growth and having the privilege of encouraging many students toward change, Barber has seen the Residence Life staff at NW change too, specifically seeing the RD in each building change at least once. Resident Life is a “constantly changing part of campus” and Barber acknowledges that what the RDs care about as a group and what they want to instill in their RAs can change the texture of campus life significantly.
Now, as she moves on to graduate studies back at her alma mater Taylor University, Barber will continue her involvement in a college campus as she gets her Master of Arts in Higher Education. She said that studying “how colleges and universities work will help me be able to explore all types of jobs available” in settings that she otherwise would not have qualified for without her master’s degree. Her two-year program will include a campus job in women’s programming, an area Barber could see herself pursuing since “women in leadership is something I’m really passionate about,” she said.
This move was no easy decision, though. Barber said this past year she “was trying to be open to God’s leading” including taking steps into the unknown. “I prayed a lot about leaving and I didn’t feel a lot of peace.” But, after finishing her application to Taylor, Barber said she began to feel “more connected to the opportunities” she would have. This helped “build a foundation of peace” and the day after she received notice of her acceptance, she notified the RDs that she wouldn’t be returning next year.
“It was hard to say I was leaving. It included a lot of tears and prayers, but I felt confident too,” she said. As the campus and Barber gear up for change, she knows there is something beautiful in finding “what it means to grieve a change but also to get excited about something new.”