Teacher, thespian, poet, environmentalist, lecturer, scholar-Dr. Barbara Mossberg is a living example of integrated studies and the potential for interdisciplinarity. Or, as she describes it, living purple.
“Purple is the color of Integrated Studies.” says Barbara (or “Dr. B,” as her students call her), who directs the IS program at CSUMB. “Just as red and blue make purple, purple represents the creativity which is forged through the fusion of arts and sciences and the disciplines that make up our students’ academic dream plans. “
One example of Barbara’s purple lifestyle is her scholarship on the life of Sierra Club founder John Muir. In numerous articles, public presentations, and an upcoming book, Barbara examines how Muir, a geologist, used language arts to influence environmental public policy. “I have a particular interest in how humanities and arts express and shape values and ideas about our environment which become public policy and legislation.” Taking fusion one step further, Barbara is tying this research in to a theatrical production: “I’m writing a musical which interweaves how the ways artists and writers have portrayed trees intersect with politics and public policy.” Though at first that may seem like a stretch, Barbara’s puts in simply: “Drama is a way to bring all the different disciplines together.”
Drama has been a lifelong interest for Barbara. As a young girl, she wrote and performed plays in her neighborhood. “I invited the neighbors to my little shoebox theatre and then the front yard Little Theater and sold lemonade and cookies.”
For the past 30 years she has been performing a series of her own one-women plays based on Emily Dickinson, the subject of Barbara’s award-winning book and much of her scholarship and international lecturing. Another recent theater credit includes a starring role as Lettice in the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts production of Lettice and Lovage.
“This play is a tribute to education and to educators,” says Barbara. “Lettice takes it upon herself to educate everyone…she is a helpless educator. She cannot help using every moment as an opportunity to excite passion for what there is to know. She makes each moment a teaching moment.”
Perhaps Lettice isn’t so far from Barbara herself. She began her academic career teaching drama and literature at the University of Oregon. Later, Barbara’s teaching career expanded to include an international appointment as senior Fulbright distinguished lecturer at the University of Helsinki where she continued teaching American literature and drama as bicentennial chair of American studies.
Over the course of her career she won teaching awards from every university she’s been associated with up to now (including several more Fulbrights) and served as president of Goddard College, a title she retains as Emerita.
The U.S. State Department recognized her educational leadership and appointed her U.S. Scholar in Residence to represent American higher education in the U.S. and around the world. She’s lectured and consulted for countless educational, governmental, and nonprofit organizations, proving that she’s willing to take on almost any subject in any setting and make it a teachable moment. After all, it just deepens her purple hue.
Barbara’s leadership role promoting ideas about an integrated education “for the whole person, the whole life, the whole world” led to her serving as senior fellow for the American Council on Education for college and university leaders, including for the Center for Institutional and International Initiatives, and the Office of Women.
Her educational vision of “treating with reverence each other and the earth” drew her immediately to CSUMB’s Vision, and once on campus, she was drawn “like a moth to a flame” to the Integrated Studies program. Based on her educational philosophy and values, she seeks to empower both students and faculty to embrace their various interests and curiosities and synthesize those ideas into meaningful educational plans.
“The students burst into my office with an ambitious agenda fueled by their own conscience and idealism and practical goals for how to make a difference in their world. I ask them, what experiences, abilities, skills, and knowledge do you need to play this role? We consider our whole CSUMB curriculum, faculty, and programs as the canvas on which to draw. We are a team that fosters the ability to be purple, so that they can be the full, whole, complex, coherent learners they are and that our society so needs.
“The Integrated Studies program,” Barbara says, “”is the “don’t settle zone. If a student is interested in art, digital design, marine mammal education, Japanese, and scuba, and wants to work on international aquarium-based public environmental education, this major says, ‘you are not Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, trying to cut off your toes and heels from a perfectly splendid foot to fit a little glass slipper of some prince single major. We have a program which accommodates your complexity.’” She adds, “For me, part of the pleasure is working with our interdisciplinary faculty, who make my purple mind feel so at home.”
Barbara’s scholarly and lecture projects include works in progres on integral education of “ancient wisdom and emergent knowledge,” the role of classics in multicultural education, American cultural studies, integral leadership, and her own poetry and photography. She gives poetry readings, and lectures locally and nationally in theaters and educational centers and Yosemite National Park (a recent environmental-rousing talk was in a barn with horses looking on!), including keynoting Phi Beta Kappa.
Wanting to support both arts and environmental education, Barbara is on many local community boards, including serving as president of the Forest Theater Guild, and is devoted to Restore Hetch Hetchy.
“My life is definitely purple. I tell my mother, who worries at how busy I am, it’s a beautiful life, because I love all the colors that make it up, every part of what I am doing.”