Saturday, January 5, 2013

Making a Difference (whether you know it or not)

Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island (8/2012)
With the advent of the new year, it's a good time to review the experiences, events, and achievements of the previous year.  Last year, I blogged about my cosmic footprint and tried to sum up all I had done in 2011.  But recently I've been recognizing that we often don't really know what effect we have on the world.  Sure, I can list my activities, but it's harder to capture the impact I may or may not have had on the world around me.  The carefully crafted lecture that I spent weeks refining may have breezed by my students, while an off-hand remark I made might have been a turning point for a student's academic career.

I'm reminded of an email I got over the summer from a former student.  I hadn't heard from this student in years, but I was deeply moved by the story he told.  I share it with you now (with the student's permission), not to toot my own horn, but to let you know that we can all make a difference, even if we don't know it at the time. 
I'm a UMD psych major right now who's pulled nothing but As and academic honors since becoming a full time student again, I'm going to be eligible to graduate in the fall and right now I'm going through the process of finalizing some grad school applications and taking my GRE.  I'm finishing up PSYC300 with a student I found out yesterday also came from MC and we got to talking about how hugely formative having you and Dr. Palmer as teachers was in really shaping our interests.  [. . .]

I bombed out of my freshman year at a 4 year institution, never because I couldn't do well in my classes but because frankly I just didn't care about them.  I hated my job, I hated being in school, my family situation was atrocious, I didn't like myself very much and I was really depressed about that for a very long time.  Even my time at MC was approached very half-heartedly, just stumbling through random classes hoping to find something that would really interest me.  Plenty I would just not show up to after a few weeks because even the idea of coming to class just made me feel deathly bored.

I took PSYC100 over the summer with you what feels like a life time ago and I know it sounds really cheesy to say, but that was without a doubt the best experience I'd ever had with either a professor, or an academic subject ever.  I found I really loved the material which helped, but more than that I was really struck by how much you obviously loved what you do and that really resonated with me for a very long time.  That was exactly the kind of engagement I was looking for in my life.  I felt challenged and engaged in your class and even though it was hugely inconvenient for me to make the trek to Rockville then, I always looked forward to coming to school for that.  I don't think I can really explain how enormously important that was to me.

I ended up taking Human Sexuality simply because you were teaching it, and Abnormal Psyc with Dr. Palmer, even though neither class fulfilled any kind of a requirement for me at the time.  I started reading psych books for fun.  For a few years, I didn't do more than that, because I really didn't think that I could go to school for that, let alone get a career in it.  Going to school for several more years seemed daunting but much more than that, I didn't think I'd be good enough so I didn't try to do more.  My life was a mess, I struggled enormously with depression.  Things really started to run around for me eventually. I found myself a really great therapist with many of the same qualities I saw in the teachers I had at MC.  I got a lot of the encouragement I need from her to really pursue that interest and I was lucky to have really great teachers for my other psych classes.  Long story short now I'm looking at entering a grad program for the 2013 school year.  How that's going to play out exactly is still very uncertain, and even if I feel like I don't always feel like I know what I'm doing making that leap, I can't imagine working towards anything else.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Even though I probably didn't show it very much when I was in your class (I was a really average student at best), you've had a huge impact in shaping who I am today.  Please don't underestimate the impact you can have on students, even those that you aren't really sure if you're reaching or not.
I am truly fortunate to be able to work with such amazing students, and to have the opportunity to help them find their way in life.  But we all have the potential to make the world a better place.  To paraphrase my student's sentiment, please don't underestimate the impact you can have on others, even if you aren't really sure you are reaching them.  Your passion, your enthusiasm, your caring, your encouragement, your commitment touch those around you, even though you may not see it at the time.  Don't give up.  You, too, can make a difference . . . whether you know it or not.

Some of my Social Psychology students
at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (3/2012)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Results of the baking frenzy of 2011
I don't know how it all started.  Maybe it was the holiday visit to my high school boyfriend's family.  I baked cookies to bring as a gift.  But they'd like a variety of cookies, surely, so I'd need to make different kinds.  Somehow I ended up surrounded by tins of cookies -- far too many, really.  Was it then that I thought to give the extras to my friends?

It really snowballed in college and graduate school.  I became well-known for my cookie baking:  More and more of my friends asked to be on my holiday cookie list.  I spent days baking to make enough for everyone.  I hunted for new recipes, bored by the old standbys.  After final exams were over, I'd immure myself in the kitchen, surrounded by flour and butter and sugar, in marathon baking sessions that left my feet aching from the hours of standing, my hands wearied from mixing and rolling. An enjoyable pastime had become an exhausting mandate. 

Decorated by Q (2012)