(Story by Joe Vinduska/Photo by Brandon Steinert)
Dr. Tim Folkerts - Instructor of Physical Sciences, Astronomy, Physics and Planetarium Director
How long have you worked at Barton Community College?
Where were you employed before working for Barton?
I taught at Fort Hays and some other schools around the Midwest.
Why did you choose to work at Barton?
It seemed like a good opportunity, and the planetarium was a good draw, and I wanted to stay in the area.
I was told that you commute from Hays every day. What do you listen to on the drive over?
Dr. Ravitskiy! We commute down together so we chat as we go, and we will listen to classical music often as we drive as well.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Being in the classroom with the students and getting that interaction and seeing that light come on when they seem to be understanding things, I could enjoy doing that all day.
What is the most challenging part?
Keeping up with the paperwork has never been my favorite, just all the things behind the scenes like grading etc.
What interests you about the subjects you teach?
I’ve always been fascinated by how the world works, and I just like that challenge of trying to fit together all these pieces and understand why things happen. With astronomy, I’ve always been interested in where the universe came from and what the beginning of it was like from a scientific standpoint.
What projects are you most excited about in the coming year?
We are dreaming a little bit about upgrading some of the things in the planetarium. Most of it works well, but it’s original from when it was built 40 years ago. We’d like to upgrade some of the projection equipment so we can do more video and more modern presentations.
Physics is a daunting subject for many students. How do you go about teaching this difficult subject? I heard that you juggle.
I try to keep them engaged and actively participating and asking questions, and using their feedback to make sure they are progressing, and yes, I also try to do little demonstrations to keep things lively. So, I juggle, and I spin a penny on the end of a hanger to talk about circular motion.
What would you say to people who are intimidated by Physics?
Give it a shot. Physics isn’t as bad as it seems. It will take some focus and effort, but you just have to hunker down, pay attention and work hard.
So, are you a juggling enthusiast, or do you just do enough to illustrate your point?
I guess I’m not too bad. I’m not going to run off and join the circus, but I’m a pretty competent juggler.
No plans to start juggling chainsaws or anything?
No, but I have a set of clubs that I juggle.
Maybe you could just start with knives ?
Well, they make juggling knives that look sharp, but they are actually dull.
Ahh, so that’s a trade secret?
Yeah, but don’t tell anyone.
It’s nice, dark, quiet and peaceful in the planetarium. Do you ever utilize it for nap time?
I have gone back there, when I wanted a little bit of quiet. It is very relaxing, but no, no napping. At least not on purpose!
What is your favorite constellation or object to view when stargazing?
There are a couple of nebulas in the area that you can look at with a telescope and see a lot of details, and there are new stars being born and just a lot of things going on astronomically.
What tips would you give to someone just starting out stargazing?
Starting with a pair of binoculars is often a better approach than buying a telescope right off the bat. They are so much easier to use, and they will give you enough magnification that you can start to see some new things.
Ever seen a UFO?
I’ve seen things that are flying that I couldn’t identify, so by definition they were unidentified flying objects, but I don’t think any of them were aliens from another world, but I guess you never know!
How do you spend time outside of work?
I spend time with my family, and my wife and I enjoy ballroom dancing.
Halloween is on the horizon. What was your favorite Halloween costume?
In college I dressed up as a mummy with gauze and all that, and it worked pretty well.
I’ve always been a fan of Snickers, and I’ve kind of grown to enjoy dark chocolate as an adult.
Favorite scary movie?
At what age do you think kids should stop trick or treating?
I guess as long as they’re having fun and enjoying it, I don’t think there should be a limit. If college kids would want to dress up and go around, I’d still give them candy.
Would you be scared in a graveyard at dark? Be honest!
I don’t think I’d be scared. It’s a little different kind of setting, but I’m not a believer in ghosts or anything, so I don’t think it’d be too creepy.