Barry JohnstonI am a senior lecturer and undergraduate officer for the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Barry Johnston, who’s worked with MIT students for nearly three decades, wears multiple hats within the Department of Chemical Engineering. Both a senior lecturer and the department’s undergraduate officer, he spends time inside the classroom and in an administrative role designed to help students through their years of undergraduate study. “I try to handle whatever random thing comes up, to be the Department Head’s problem solver,” he says.
As an instructor, Barry enjoys teaching introductory classes as well as those that chemical engineering students take in the later years of their undergraduate careers. “I thought it important for my administrative work dealing with students if I met them coming and looked after them going,” Barry says. Currently, he’s one of the instructors in the project laboratory course, where groups of juniors and seniors work on term-long projects.
Barry’s first role with MIT was far away from Cambridge, in Midland, Michigan. After years working for chemical and nuclear companies in private industry, he got a role leading one of the Department’s Practice School stations — outposts designed to immerse Master’s degree students in practical industrial work. The Practice School was started in 1917, with five stations established throughout the Northeast specializing in dyes, abrasives, fuels, cement, and paper. Barry directed a station at Dow Chemical, until it was eventually moved to another Dow facility in Texas. That’s when Barry made his move to Cambridge, joining a startup focused on waste processing. Just a few months into the job, he landed an interview at MIT.
“This MIT position seems to have combined everything that I wanted in a wonderful way,” says Barry. “The combination of academic and administrative duties means that I get to know many if not all of the students to various degrees and get to participate in their triumphs and difficulties. It’s a joy to do that.”
Technically, Barry enjoys process control and two-phase fluid mechanics: “A good day has some math in it.” When he’s not advising and teaching undergrads, Barry accompanies his wife, a wind player, on guitar. Their specialty is jazz.