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Barry Maxwell, the poli-sci guy

by Tyler Bergen

Barry Maxwell, 59, teaches political science, economics and history classes at Whatcom Community College. Known by one of his colleagues as the “godfather of sustainability,” he even designed a course called The Science, Economics and Politics of Sustainable Resource Use.

Maxwell has been a full-time instructor since 2006, and before teaching, he enjoyed a 21-year career as an Army officer.
Growing up in Southern California, Maxwell attended Blaire High School in Pasadena. He continued his education at both University of California; Los Angeles, and University of Southern California, acquiring a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from U.C.L.A. in 1978 and then a master’s degree in international relations from U.S.C. in 1984. Maxwell also earned a master’s degree in military arts and sciences in 1992 from the School of Advanced Military Planning.

Political science instructor and retired Army officer Barry Maxwell has brought about a number of changes on campus in his years at Whatcom, including the creation of the sustainability board. Photo by Tyler Bergen.
Political science instructor and retired Army officer Barry Maxwell has brought about a number of changes on campus in his years at Whatcom, including the creation of the sustainability board. Photo by Tyler Bergen.

Since becoming a full-time faculty member, Maxwell has been involved in some of the boards and committees around campus, especially the sustainability committee, which he was responsible for helping start.

“The school wanted to get involved in sustainability, as did I, so I went back to a lot of my knowledge of working through bureaucracy in the pentagon, and used it to get different groups of people to agree on sustainability,” Maxwell said. “I could lay claim to bringing about the current graduation requirement of at least one sustainability class.”

Maxwell is known as “a trustworthy and honorable person” and “the godfather of sustainability,” by fellow sustainability board member and colleague Bob Reisenberg.

“Barry is very effective. There is no quit when he gets involved in something,” Reisenberg said. “He got the ball rolling in a major way, and now the sustainability board is very active around campus.”
Maxwell joined the military in 1979 and started his career with the Army. By 1994, he had worked his way up to plans and operations officer at the Pentagon.

“The last five years in the military as a joint staff officer in the Pentagon, I got to work a lot with the [National Security Administration], the C.I.A., and the F.B.I.,” Maxwell said, adding that his experiences in the military have helped him as a teacher.
“My experience in government comes up all the time in the classes I teach; having the military knowledge helps me speak from firsthand experience,” he said.

During his service in the military, Maxwell said he was stationed in both South Korea and Germany, where he spent 3 years in each. Maxwell has three children, two daughters named Moira and Margot, and a son named Brian. All three were born outside of the U.S. during his deployments, he said.

“It was a very interesting time. The Cold War was still going on and it was very tense,” he said. “There was constantly the possibility of war when I was in Korea, and many of my jobs directly involved me with the Korean government.”

“I always knew I would have to leave the Army one day, and my second choice was always teaching,” Maxwell said. “I started teaching part-time at first, just the American Government and Middle Eastern Relations classes, and eventually I was hired as the full-time political science person nine years ago.”

Outside of school, Maxwell keeps busy by maintaining his 50-acre property, hiking and staying current with world news. He frequently goes on backpacking trips throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“My favorite place to go is the Olympic National Park coastal strip, and going up and down the hills and camping out within a few feet of the waves crashing in is really special,” Maxwell said.
“Backpacking and hiking are seasonal around here, but I also love movies and science fiction,” he said. “I live out in the woods more or less, and taking care of 50 acres is quite time consuming.”
Maxwell said he considers himself “an easy grader with tough assignments,” and believes that “teaching anyone anything often involves making them want to learn it.”

Maxwell has published two academic monographs (studies of a single specialized subject) related to international affairs and wartime strategies. These are available in the library for students to read, or use as an academic source. One of those monographs came as a result of a problem the military presented to him.

“I had to figure out how to take 15,000 American soldiers as well as Germans, and make them work together,” Maxwell said. “In other words, how you might put forces from two different countries together, for the purposes of war.”

After he left the military, Maxwell turned his focus towards teaching and his family. With his wife Darene and three children, they relocated to the Northwest.

“When I got out of the Army, I picked out Whatcom County, got a piece of land, and built a house about 25 years ago, just past Deming where the north and south hooks of the Nooksack River meet,” Maxwell said.

By students and colleagues alike, Maxwell has been known as an asset to Whatcom’s community, for reasons both of academics and leadership.

“You can always take his word, and he is a very valuable colleague to have because he is so experienced, he tells you what he is going to do and then he does it,” Reisenberg said.


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