Serving in the Peace Corps inspired Playa del Rey’s Barbara Hunt, 71, to get her doctorate
By Gary Walker
It’s never too late to become a doctor.
Playa del Rey resident Barbara Hunt, 71, proved it on June 12 when she received her doctorate in educational leadership from Cal State L.A.
Hunt’s doctoral degree gives her the academic equivalent of a trifecta at the school, where she previously earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a master’s degree in health and safety.
Currently a professor of environmental science and biology at Woodbury University in Burbank, Hunt said she hopes her latest academic achievement will inspire and motivate her twin grandsons and other young people.
“This shows that you can always reach out for that brass ring no matter how old you are, no matter your emotional or physical circumstances, no matter where you find yourself in life,” Hunt said in an interview days before she received her doctorate.
The educational leadership doctoral program was created in 2009 for students who wish to become leaders in educational settings. The degree program involves a particular focus on the challenges in urban education, according to the university’s Charter College of Education.
“Barbara is a role model and inspiration for all of our students and our community,” said Robert Lopez, Cal State L.A.’s director of communications. “She’s shown that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.”
For Hunt, obtaining her doctoral degree represents the culmination of all of her academic experiences, both as a student and an educator for more than 30 years.
“It’s like the icing on the cake. I’m very excited about this next chapter of my career,” she said.
Lois Andre-Bechley, Hunt’s dissertation chair and adviser, said Hunt was the ideal doctoral student.
“Her lifetime of experience gives her a maturity and a sense of balance. She brought a calm and balance to the classroom that was really special. When she’s in the room with other grad students from other backgrounds, she becomes a leader in the class,” Andre-Benchley said.
One of those experiences was a three-year stint beginning in 1998 with the Peace Corps, a program run by the U.S. government in which volunteers are sent aboard to provide technical assistance in humanitarian efforts. Ironically, it was during her travels to Ghana in West Africa and later to Malawi in East Africa to train elementary school educators in teaching science when Hunt first considered pursuing her doctoral degree.
“You meet so many people from all over the world when you’re with the Peace Corps, and as I got to know some of them they would ask, ‘Why don’t you have a doctorate?’” Hunt recalled. “So when I came back home I decided that I would get my doctorate.
“There’s so much to learn about how the 21st century is moving along and if I wanted to be more effective [in the classroom] I would have to update my skills and live, to some extent, in my students’ world.”
Seeing how people in other counties lived reminded Hunt that no matter where you live, people are largely products of their experiences, which proved to her that teachers are never too old learn.
“In the United States, we have so many advantages, and many times we take them for granted. You can meet people from other countries who may not have the same educational experiences that many of us have but they have a wealth of knowledge and experience that is relevant to where they live,” Hunt said. “My experience in the Peace Corps taught me that it’s really critical to appreciate each person and what they can give to a society.”
Hunt wants her students to know that they don’t have to make the dean’s list to become a success.
“I’m the B student who really worked hard. And if I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.