Build Them Up

Published on 17 January 2018

Eric Barker, B.S. ’88, Ph.D., has built a career that has allowed him to develop his passion for building up others. In each role he has played – award-winning professor, neuropharmacologist, pharmacist and academic leader – he has faced different challenges and opportunities. One thing, however, has remained the same. He has a passion for helping others achieve success.

As dean of Purdue University College of Pharmacy, a role Barker assumed July 1, he is embracing new opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of others and contribute to the future of the profession.

What drew you to a career in academia?

When I started at St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1983, I thought I would go into the business side of pharmacy. As a freshman, I began working in a small, community pharmacy in Granite City, Illinois. That experience made me want to learn more about medications. I would read package inserts and labels to try to learn more about drug actions.

Through conversations with mentors and the opportunity to teach while attending graduate school, I decided to join the faculty at Purdue in 1998.

How has educating future pharmacists changed?

Today, we see a different type of learner. Today’s learner is coming straight out of high school, has taken multiple online courses and is accustomed to using technology in the classroom. We are in an information age. You can look up drug information on your cell phone. With all of this information for prescribers, patients and health care providers, the foundation of knowledge for students relies on problem solving skills.

We are on the cusp of a big shift in automation, and pharmacists are becoming providers of care rather than just purveyors of information. Learning how to use information to manage patients will be the key to success for pharmacists moving forward.

What is the greatest challenge and opportunity for students entering the profession?

The uncertainty surrounding health care at the state and national level is a challenge for students across many disciplines, but also leaves room for opportunity. In pharmacy, the legislative push toward true provider status coupled with changes in technology will allow us to shift the scope of practice. Pharmacists will be able to shift from distributors to deliverers of care.

How did your experience at the College make an impact on your career?

Faculty at the College influenced me in a positive way. Professors and administrators like Evelyn Becker, Leonard Naeger, Joe Haberle, Sumner Robinson, Terry Martinez, and John and Peggy Grotpeter all came from different disciplines and helped shape my career path. My wife, Loretta, is also an alumna, and she made an impact as well.

Some of my best memories are participating in plays like “Oklahoma,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “My Fair Lady.” It was a tremendous opportunity, and I built relationships that still exist today.

After graduating, my education prepared me for my doctoral program at Vanderbilt University. I felt I had a better understanding than some of my peers because of my background in pharmacology.

What has been your greatest achievement?

My motto for educating is bring them in, build them up and send them up. Watching students have successful careers as they leave Purdue has been rewarding. Thinking that in some small way I have contributed to their success is the thing I find most encouraging.

Prior to his appointment as dean, barker served as professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology and as associate dean for research at Purdue College of Pharmacy. His research on molecular actions of drug abuse received grant support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (formerly known as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression), Lilly Research Laboratories, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Barker earned his Bachelor of Science at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University. He is a member of the American Pharmacists Association, Society for Neuroscience and The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

This story was first published in the fall 2017 issue of Script. Visit to read more and access previous issues.

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