The objects people keep on their desks can tell you a lot about them. That’s why we’re visiting offices occupied by some of the talented and creative people at UNI - to hear the stories behind the decor. This time, we’ve asked UNI chemistry instructor Brittany Flokstra - an expert on both weapons-grade chemicals and the works of Joss Whedon - to show and tell.
The first thing you see when you enter Brittany Flokstra’s office is a handmade periodic table assembled from character cards from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The column for noble gas includes the heroes of the beloved TV series like Giles and Willow. The sections for metal and non-metal elements are divided into heroes and villains, with the line separating the two occupied by characters that were both heroes and villains on the show (metalloids).
“I put way too much thought into it,” Flokstra jokes.
But the Buffy periodic table is simply the jumping-off point. Objects from the science fiction, comic book and fantasy worlds she loves are peppered throughout her office.
There’s the candy jar shaped like the iconic phone booth from the “Dr. Who'' series, a Wonder Woman action figure and a map of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth. The starship Enterprise from “Star Trek” sits in one corner of the office, while a figurine of R2-D2 from “Star Wars” is perched in another.
Games and science converge on her shelves. There are the women-in-science Legos, which depict female astronauts, as well as an astronomer, paleontologist and chemist. There’s the Minecraft periodic table, which was a gift from her son, Thorsson Questra, 25. And two color-changing potions bottles that Flokstra, who jokingly calls herself a Professor of Potions, keeps on her desk for students who are Harry Potter fans to play with.
Flokstra lovingly refers to all these items as her tchotchkes. They all have a story, but one particular piece holds a special place in her heart.
It’s a nameplate that sits on her desk. It reads “Doc Flok,” which is her moniker for many students. But it first belonged to her father, who was also a teacher. He has since passed, but he gave Flokstra the nameplate at the graduation ceremony for her doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering in 2010.
“That was profound,” Flokstra said. “It’s a really neat thing that connects me to my dad. I remember being a little kid and coming into his office and sitting on his lap and playing with it. He’s had it almost as long as I’ve been alive. Getting that and knowing I’m carrying on that legacy is really special for me.”
The other aspect of Flokstra’s life represented in her office is her activity in the LGBTQ+ community. She said she’s “out and proud on campus” and has been with her partner, Susan Hill, UNI’s department head of philosophy and world religions, for 20 years.
Her work with the LGBTQ community has been recognized with the Ally of the Year award by the Gender and Sexuality Services Center, and her efforts supporting students in general was recognized by the Northern Iowa Student Government with the Above and Beyond award. The award sits on her desk behind the “Doc Flok” nameplate.
“I try to be really student friendly so my students know that this is a safe space for them that is also inviting,” Flokstra said. “Sometimes they just want to come talk to me and talk about how their life is going. So I have things that they can kind of manipulate and work with to make it maybe a little less scary to come talk to me, which is my goal.”
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