After having criticized some of the bad professors I’ve had in my past, I think it’s time for me to share a bit about the ones who have been truly awesome in my last 4.5 years of school.
I came to Illinois State University in the Fall of 2007 a very different man than I am at present. At the time, I really had no desire to travel internationally, having only visited Canada once as a child. I had a mild interest in learning foreign languages, though my years of Spanish in high school yielded very little, and I was a little less than optimistic about taking an entry level foreign language yet again. I was also a Chemistry major, having planned to intern at the National Renewable Energy Laboratories to research hydrogen fuel technology.
As my semester progressed, my interest in Chemistry began to dwindle as I slowly started to realize that everything I had learned about Chemistry in high school was really an oversimplified, watered-down version of the actual science. Upon realizing that the life of a Chemistry major didn’t simply consist of blowing things up, lighting fires and mixing chemicals (you know, all the cool stuff Bill Nye used to do), I started focusing my effort on other classes.
This same semester I was also enrolled in an entry level German course with a certain Dr. Van der Laan. To me, Dr. Van der Laan seemed a bit unconventional in that he often put students in the spotlight, asking them questions in a rapid-fire manner and pushing them in a way that I had never seen before. German 111 was by far my most difficult class that semester, and, unlike in high school, I couldn’t simply “float” my way through his class by putting in minimal effort just to get a B. After a few class periods, I began to spend much of my time immediately after class in Dr. Van der Laan’s office, asking him questions, learning from his experiences, and occasionally asking for help with the material in class. The result of this was a professor-student bond that allowed me to become much more comfortable in asking questions in class. He also often held me accountable for my failures in the class, constantly pushing me harder, encouraging better study habits that helped me succeed in future courses.
Fast forwarding a few years, I also had the pleasure of taking courses with both Dr. Weeks and Dr. Segelcke, both of whom continued to push me to succeed in the same way that Dr. Van der Laan had. The result was that I began to improve in my classes across the board, and I took a more active role on campus, both with the German club, as well as other organizations relating to my major. Being involved with the German department also meant making connections with German students studying abroad at ISU. One student in particular, my friend Matthias, would later go on to help me find an internship working for his employer in Paderborn, Germany. My professors also worked with me tirelessly to help me improve my resume, write cover letters, and gave me numerous tips to help ensure my success.
Do you see what they’ve done? These professors have completely changed my life. They’ve made it their number one priority to focus on the education of their students, both in and outside of the classroom. They legitimately care about the success of their students during and after their college studies. They’ve helped me travel to nearly 25 countries around the world, and over 100 cities in Germany alone. They’ve helped me plan my studies abroad, showing me how to get the most out of my experience and providing me with tips every step of the way. They’ve helped me get internships and jobs, and have provided me with opportunities to lead and be responsible, opportunities I probably would not have had were it not for them. My German has improved greatly since my freshman year, and I speak it quite comfortably while in Germany, especially with those who know little to no English. Now, as president of the ISU German Club, I can honestly say that the lessons and skills these professors have taught me have been far more valuable to me in my experience than anything I’ve learned in any of my classes, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
We need more professors like this. We need professors who care, professors who form bonds and personal relationships with their students. Professors like these can change the world, one student at a time.