Faculty Spotlight: Barbara Blonder

Barbara Blonder Headshot
February 6, 2023
For almost 20 years, Professor Barbara Blonder has been a beloved faculty member of Flagler’s Natural Sciences Department. During her time at Flagler, Blonder has left a lasting impact on the College. She has served as Director of Undergraduate Research, Chair of the Faculty Senate, and was an instrumental figure in establishing the Coastal Environmental Science major. In 2020, Blonder extended her impact into the local community, being elected as a Commissioner for the City of St. Augustine.

How did your career at Flagler and work with students here inspire you to run for your position as City of St. Augustine City Commissioner? 

It was really during my general education Environmental Science class in Fall of 2019. This group of students comprised a very diverse and notably engaged class. During a discussion, several students expressed their feelings of helplessness in meeting our many environmental challenges. Their concerns – right there in class – led me to think out loud that in spite of devoting a lifetime to conserving biodiversity, I could do one more thing to move the needle. That was to run for public office and try to become a decision-maker as a local politician. One of the students volunteered on my campaign and several of her friends joined in. They did such a great job, surprising us all and leading to the defeat of a 12-year incumbent.

Learn more about Professor Blonder's run for City Commissioner in this recording of "The Break Room" radio show, aired Jan. 24, 2023. 

What is your favorite course to teach and why? 

This is such a hard question. I love teaching every course I’ve taught over my 20-year career here. But it has to be that general education (now Core) course. It’s the last chance I have to help students who have previously had a bad experience with science to appreciate the real-world importance of developing scientific literacy. And with students from every major, we have so many different perspectives on how we can and must work together to address our environmental challenges.

Or what is your area of expertise? 

My expertise is as an ecologist, focused on coastal disturbance ecology, which essentially is the study of how increasingly intense storms, sea level rise, and warmer temperatures impact our natural and developed communities.

What made you interested in that area/topic? 

It’s almost impossible to miss seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change, which are all around us. I studied Gopher Tortoises when I was in graduate school and realized there is a substantial population in our coastal dunes that were being impacted by repeat hurricanes. As it happens, we humans are being similarly impacted. We’re losing our habitat to flooding and storms just as our precious wildlife and ecosystems are.

If someone was interested in learning more about the topic, what reading suggestions would you make? 

Together with two of my undergraduate research students, I published an article on the impacts of hurricanes to our Gopher Tortoises in 2021 – it’s a good place to start.

What book is on your nightstand right now? And why did you choose it? 

“Zero K,” a novel by Don Delillo. This choice came after watching the recently released movie, “White Noise”, based on his novel of the same title. To quote the Amazon.com review of White Noise, it “…captures the particular strangeness of life in a time where humankind has finally learned enough to kill itself”. I like to learn from dystopian fiction how we might avoid such terrible future conditions.

What are five words you would use to describe your style in the classroom? 

Energetic, passionate, demanding, empathetic, inquisitive.

Why is it important for the College to have a major in your area? 

Coastal Environmental Science prepares our students to help protect our environment by developing them into scientists who can and do take action to solve problems.

What is one thing that no one would guess about you? 

I rode my bicycle across the country to celebrate a decadal birthday.

How do you embody Flagler’s Core Values in your classroom and on campus? 

Overall, I try to embody these Core Values through my willingness and enthusiasm for interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning. I help my students learn how to take individual responsibility from my own personal examples of the intersections between the College and the City of St. Augustine. I tirelessly work in both arenas to embrace diversity and inclusiveness and model those ideals. And of course, stewardship serves as the foundation of all my courses in working to protect biodiversity and environmental quality.