To this day, going on 20 years later, Cesar Escalante lives by the creed of: Do unto others as Professor Peter Barry did unto he.
Now a pay-it-forward professor himself, at the University of Georgia, Escalante got to know his favorite faculty member of his UI Ph.D. years in 1996, just as he was wrapping up his master’s in agricultural economics at Canada’s University of Guelph and facing a decision on which direction his life would turn next.
“I anxiously waited for opportunities to either go back to the Philippines to work or pursue further studies,” he remembers. “A few weeks before my Canadian student visa expired, I received word from UIUC that a faculty member had ‘revisited’ my application file, which initially merited an acceptance with no funding decision.
“The faculty member took an interest in me and offered me an assistantship package. That faculty member was Peter Barry, whom I previously interacted with only when I cited several of his works in my MS research.
“At Mumford, I worked hard in my classes while at the same time making sure I lived up to the expectations of Dr. Barry, who then served as my academic adviser. While working with him, I was always cognizant of the boundaries of my capabilities.
“He was such a great writer and a highly accomplished economist. I was much more inexperienced, with writing habits developed outside the academe to be undone. But I persevered and made deliberate efforts to really learn from him.
“I made sure to study concepts and issues before they were discussed in our periodic meetings. I always made sure to promptly deliver the outputs he requested.
“That semester was actually quite challenging as I was shuffling back and forth in my decision to stay at UIUC as I struggled with the dilemma to either continue with my Ph.D. studies or pack up with my wife and little girl to be with my father, who had just a few months to live then.
“A week before the final exams that semester, my father passed away so I made hurried arrangements to go home to bury him. A day before I left, I met with Dr. Barry. Worried that I would be unproductive and unreliable for almost a month — and I consciously noted I was being paid a monthly assistantship stipend — I asked him if I could bring some work when I went home to the Philippines.
“I promised I would send in back any required outputs even while I was away. He calmly told me to just go home, take care of my personal business, and just resume working with him when I got back.
“When I returned from my trip, I was more determined and focused in my studies, work and plans in life. In the middle of my second year of Ph.D. studies, I chanced upon him at the Mumford elevator. He told me to see him that morning. When I met with him, he surprised me with the news that I was being given some fellowship that, together with my regular assistantship, would allow him to get me to work as a research associate in the Center for Farm and Rural Business Finance, under which he served as the director.
“I vividly remember my Center office — a room in the northern end of the second floor in Mumford overlooking West Gregory Drive and the Morrow Plots. Working with him and the Center enhanced my credentials as Dr. Barry and I collaborated on a number of articles published in reputable academic journals and outlets. This working relationship would continue even after I left UIUC and started working as a faculty member at the University of Georgia.
“Looking back, I am filled with so much gratitude for Dr. Barry. If he did not ‘revisit’ my Ph.D. application file and offer me an assistantship, I wonder where my family and I have ended going to after we left Guelph.
"If he did not single me out to work for him at the Center, I wonder how much more difficult our life would have been subsisting merely on graduate student money.
"If I never had been given the chance to learn and grow under his tutelage, I wonder if I ever would have made it to where I am right now.
“From my current vantage point, it is now my turn to take advantage of every opportunity to mentor and guide my own herd of graduate student advisees so that they too would be led to well-placed positions in their chosen career — just as Peter Barry did to me.”