by Rob Halgren
Adjunct Instructor, Biology
I’ve been moved by many students over the years, but today I choose the most recent. Last week, a student approached me after class. He is doing well, although he has been one of the quiet ones. We had been talking about how some pharmaceutical drugs work during class and he had a question. “In my home country my mother would give us plants if we were sick. How does that relate to western medicine?” I replied “Home country?”, hoping to draw him out, and learned that he is from a very rural part of an impoverished country (Sudan) where conflict is constant. Forget computers;they didn’t even have electricity. He came to Lansing 12 years ago, speaking absolutely no English, and has been taking courses at LCC, non-stop, since he arrived. Today, although it is obvious that he is foreign born, he fits in perfectly. His spoken English is excellent, his writing is better than many native speakers, and I can see that he has formed friendships with the students he sits near in class. He has integrated into our culture in an amazing way. What we do at LCC combined with his own remarkable dedication have given this young man an excellent chance at success in the most powerful nation on earth. However, although this should inspire his current and previous instructors, this isn’t why I’ve chosen him.
Now for the real reason. His first question to me was one I could answer. Indeed, much of our ‘western’ medicine comes from those very same plants his mother would have given to him when he was sick. There is an entire discipline in biology devoted to this, ethnopharmacology, which has always interested me. I could instantly tell that this was the moment that he connected what we were learning in class to ‘the real world’. Today, one week later, I saw the results. My formerly quiet and reserved student asked two questions during class. Insightful questions of the type I want to get, but almost never hear, showing that he was thinking about the material at a deep level. This gives me true hope. The small things that I do can make a difference. Have I inspired the next great ethnopharmacologist? Maybe. But I know I’ve imparted a skill that is almost impossible to teach, and I have renewed faith that I can do it again.