In the best kind of coming full circle story, Suzanne Buie, Doctor of Physical Therapy, began both her college education and her teaching career at Kodiak College. She started as an adjunct and is now the Department Chair of the Allied Health Department, as well as overseeing the Certified Nursing Assistant Program.
Sue grew up wanting to be a police officer, and attended Reserve Police Officer Training at the San Quentin Jail in California as a teenager. At 18, she joined the United States Coast Guard, choosing Fort Myers Beach, Florida, as her station after bootcamp. She was the second woman ever to arrive at that boat station. Their primary operations were drug enforcement and rescue and her experiences there responding to medical distress calls and becoming an Emergency Trauma Technician, led her to consider a career in the medical field. She left the Coast Guard to pursue her education on the G.I. Bill.
When she and her husband, Paul Buie, whom she met in the USCG, were deciding where to transfer, she says, “We never would have moved to Kodiak if there hadn’t been a college there.” She went to school fulltime while working fulltime, first for the Kodiak Police Department as a dispatcher and then for Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That experience, as well as having left high school at age 15 and having to make her own way in the world, has made her a more empathetic professor.
“I understand the pressure that students are facing. I was the same as a student, juggling family, work, and school. Students now have the added burden of COVID-19 which instructors can see creates and adds more stress to an already stressful life. I feel that life happens and sometimes we have to be flexible on due dates and support our students through the challenges that they encounter.
I think it’s important for the students to know that we understand what they’re going through. We get it. We weren’t all going from high school to college degree to professor, that’s not how it happens. I did not graduate high school, I have a doctorate. It’s not an easy path for a lot of us. If I can do it, you can do it. That’s how I teach my classes. I have a lot of students working in the medical field, a lot of parents. We have to take that into account. We need to be an ear for them.”
As a Kodiak College student, she took at least four science classes from Dr. Gil Bane, and he became a mentor. His enthusiasm and excitement about teaching and biology inspired her to pursue a career in physical therapy.
“To have an instructor like that, we all try to be instructors like that, is just
amazing. It changes
She earned her AA in 1990 and moved off island to finish her education, entering a program at the Medical College of Virginia that only accepted 40 students from 4,500 applicants, and graduating with a masters in physical therapy in 1996. She earned her doctorate from St. Augustine.
When they moved back to Kodiak, Sue opened her own clinic here, Arctic Physical Therapy Services Incorporated. She still owns the clinic and says, “I have been fortunate to work and be associated with empathetic, skilled, and caring practitioners – many of whom teach at Kodiak College in the Department of Health Sciences with me now.”
When Dr Bane retired in 2005, he asked Sue to fill in for a year. That has turned into sixteen. “Physical Therapy and Teaching are the same in that you get paid to help people,” she says. She has taught both face to face and online, but prefers teaching online. “Currently, with COVID—19 the ability to teach a quality distance course is a necessity. Professors at Kodiak College are required to think outside the box to create a valuable learning experience for our students. I find that teaching in an online environment can be even more engaging for the student as there is less fear about answering a question incorrectly than in a face to face environment.”
Sue has added to her online teaching toolbox with trainings and by becoming a Technology Fellow.
“Historically, online science courses were challenged as to their efficacy. That is why it is so important to have programs like Quality Matters as an objective measure and learning tool for our faculty and adjuncts that teach online. We need constant assessment and measurement tools to gauge student progress and success.”
She is frequently a keynote speaker on best practices for distance learning. One highlight of her academic career was receiving a WICHE/NANSLO grant that allowed her and her team to work with microscopy and robotics. It was named among the top 5 national grants in 2012. They integrated the program into courses like MA101: Medical Terminology, giving students access via their computers to a robot in British Columbia which loads microscopic slides onto a microscope so students could see specimens over their computers.
Sue is excited to oversee a new educational opportunity for Kodiak students hoping to enter the health care field. Beginning in Fall 2022, students can earn an accredited Medical Assisting Certificate without leaving the island, taking hybrid courses and clinical skills lab intensives for two years. After graduating, medical assistants can work alongside health care practitioners in a variety of health care settings.
One book she recommends to all of her students is Bed Number Ten, by Sue Baier, about a woman who has Guillain- Barre Syndrome. One day the author is playing tennis and the next day she’s on a ventilator and can only communicate by blinking. She writes about nine months spent in the hospital and about the treatment that she received, which varied from being completely ignored to periods of kindness.
“I was assigned this book as a student and it was the most influential book that I read throughout graduate school. Anyone going into the healthcare field should read it.”
Sue now teaches from Tennessee. What she loved best about their years in Kodiak is
“Hands down the people. Everyone is your neighbor. We never locked our house and kept the keys in the ignition. The friends
we met are like family and will remain so. We were avid ocean kayakers, hikers, bikers,
hunters, fishermen/women, campers and enjoyed any outdoor activity.” Her perfect day
remains one that involves hiking with her family. In her free time, Sue enjoys listening
to audiobooks, and being
outside. She teaches a weekly senior exercise class and plays Mah-jong. She also makes jewelry for a local outdoor art market.
Both of her sons were born in Kodiak. Her oldest son Josh is currently in Law School. Her youngest son Zander has just begun college.
“My proudest accomplishment is raising two independent individuals who also would like to help people, the environment, and improve the overall system.”