Category Archives: Fall 2015

Uncharted Territory

James Dominic Chye, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, Science Department

Let me tell you about a student of astronomy that I will refer to as Dark Star. Dark Star came into the class knowing more than most about the subject matter and immediately had a powerful influence on the directions of discussion. Here was one of the students that could have likely tested through my course without my help. Dark Star is a type of student that I love to have in the mix, someone that the other students can model that is their peer and someone that will challenge me to grow as an instructor.

Often times one must be careful of a desire for things to be artificially simple and uniform. It is my experience that society, like the physical universe, is made richer by the diversity that it contains. Still, all that variation can make understanding more of a challenge. I choose to believe that the effort is worth it. It is the best way I am currently aware of to generate the world I desire for all of us.

Dark Star has mentioned to the class that being different from the rest of the cluster is a glaring and constant weight. I hope that Dark Star sees more inclusion in class as I try to confront topics related to Dark Matter. It is my aim for all the Stars under my tutelage to see how we have one shared planet, one shared reality, and one shared experience filled with both differences and commonalities.

Day to day, Dark Star learns about planets, stars, and galaxies in my class. The math, physics, and logic learned will be powerful tools in improving Dark Star’s and other students’ lives and careers. Even then, the perspective of the fragility and interconnectedness of our collective history and future on this world, in this universe, is essential to building the most prosperous and fulfilling community possible.

Here I will reveal what I have been only eluding to all along. As much as I try to do so, it is difficult to know how to offer equal and fair treatment to all students, but it is an important goal worthy of the struggle to attain it. If I am going to facilitate lifelong learning in others, it stands to reason that I must model the behavior myself. I would like to thank Dark Star for the opportunity to both learn from and teach this exceptional student. Dark Star will be successful at future endeavors that are a focus such a capable mind, particularly if we continue to craft the society where the rules and the reality let Dark Star shine freely.

The Overcomer

Dawn Hardin
Math Faculty

The summer of 2013 was like no other, as this was the summer I met “The Overcomer” and he reminded me why I chose to be an educator at LCC.

For “The Overcomer,” he viewed this program as his last chance to break the cycle established by the men in his family and earn his high school diploma.

As a Native American raised on a reservation, “The Overcomer” endured gang beatings/bullying for being from the “wrong tribe” and a sub-standard education.  Witnessing the death of his best friend, “The Overcomer” turned to alcohol to numb the pain.

Geometry was a true challenge for “The Overcomer,” and often times he felt defeated.   His past educational inadequacies seemed to have such a strong hold on him that it looked as if he was going to succumb.   Together we worked through concepts, breaking each down to its most primal state.

As the final weeks of the semester surfaced, “The Overcomer” began to get distracted.  When I inquired, he shared that he was going to become a father and he needed a job.  We discussed possible options and together agreed that the high school diploma was the key.  Again that renewed sense of determination resurfaced as he had an additional goal: to make his unborn child proud of his father.  Through long hours, extra sessions, and determination “The Overcomer” conquered geometry.

When I was asked to be the keynote speaker for HSDCI’s 2014 graduation, my thoughts returned to “The Overcomer.” Would he be a part of this graduating class or had the outside challenges of his everyday life claimed him?  As I prepared to speak, a slideshow presentation began to play and there among the graduates was “The Overcomer”!  During my speech, I searched the audience and when our eyes connected we exchanged knowing smiles. When it came time for the graduates to say a few words and receive their diplomas, “The Overcomer” along with his newborn son moved us all to tears.

As he shared his journey with us, I began to reflect on the schools’ mission to improve the quality of life of its students.  This exemplified “The Overcomer.” Not only had he received his high school diploma, but he had also earned 20 credits towards an associate’s degree.  My tears began to flow even more, not because he was graduating, but because he had broken the cycle.  When asked what was next for him, “The Overcomer” turned to his son and said, “My bachelor’s degree by the time he starts school so that he can be proud of me.”  Little did he know: His son already was and so was I.

Foreign Education

David McCreight
Science Faculty, The Early College

I have a student who was asked “what are you?” when she was little. She was born in Saudi Arabia to parents of Somalian descent. She went from Saudi Arabia to Syria and then from Syria to America. She felt like a foreigner because of moving around so much.

Moreover, she still felt a foreigner in America because she speaks Somalian, Arabic, English, and “a little” Spanish. Because English was not spoken at home, she was placed into English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and some general education classes in Lansing. She didn’t like ESL classes because they had very little content and students were spoon fed. The ESL classes were not challenging enough for her. Because of this and other reasons, her older sister influenced her to apply to The Early College at Lansing Community College at the end of her 10th grade. She was accepted for this fall semester.

Her science education at LCC started out very foreign. She was used to just watching videos with little or no discussions from her science last year, because she had a long-term substitute teacher. In my LCC course, she has hands-on labs and small group and whole classroom discussions based upon readings, problems, and video clips. Because this way of learning was so foreign to her, she was timid and emotional when she earned bad grades in my science course. She mentioned to me she had never failed in any class in America or in Syria. She said, “Failing was shocking.”

She realized she had to change. She studied more on her own, to no avail, and then she went to Supplemental Instruction or tutoring and got help from her sister, which resulted in little benefit. She said what made the biggest difference was coming to office hours and getting feedback on her work as well as my saying, “You have to know what the instructors want and then do it.” She mentioned this advice helped improve her grade in my course as well as in other courses at LCC.

Because of my course and others at The Early College, she has been able to transform her education to be no longer foreign. Ironically, she hopes to get a bachelor’s degree in International Journalism and become a foreign correspondent.  I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to help her make science less foreign.

Determined to Learn

Cynthia Thomas, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Professor, Speech Communication

I noticed the stare. Her eyes followed me intently from the right of the room, to the lectern, the black board, and back to the front of the room. She continued locking looks from the top of my hair, even down to the movement of my fingers. I felt the look, even when I wasn’t looking. This wasn’t any old type of stare. There seemed to be a mission, a directed purpose of the sort.

This was her moment—not mine. It was her time, and she was taking it. Her mission was soon revealed—she was my adult learner. Ms., I will call her, was sassy, about five feet one, a perseverer with a bark as big as the room. She was no stranger to stumbling blocks, “can nots,” “should nots,” and “don’ts.” She made no secret, that she needed help—and lots of it, a theme she echoed for four weeks straight. She wanted patience and understanding.

Soon, Ms. taught everyone what persevering really meant. Her disadvantages became a roaring power for herself, the class—and for me. Ms. had no class book. Funding was limited and other days, plain absent. That didn’t stop her. Neither did lack of transportation. She spent hours in the library soaking in knowledge from the course reserve textbook, school knowledge absent from a mind that hadn’t made its way back there for decades. She wanted to be taught even though the world might have forgotten her existence—a student hungry for affirmation. She was planning to learn, even if there was no one there to teach her.

There was something different about this learner. She was not a typical student straight out of high school. She was not tolerant of anything and anybody who got in her way, even when she didn’t feel her best. When she finally learned something new, she was her own cheerleader, who jumped for joy, clapped, and shouted her own “YEAH!” Her desperation to learn was an everyday symbolism of what the power of desperation can do. She showed for class early. She became the teacher, the source of information for others who missed the point. She shouted answers to critical thinking questions. Her paraphrasing of the lessons became insight for others, not just in class—outside of it, too. Ms. was often spotted talking to students, but it wasn’t everyday talk. Ms. was giving lessons to those who missed the point. I almost felt my work was done, thanks to Ms. It wasn’t long before she became my hero. Persevering was something she had to do, it was something I knew she could do—something she knew she had no other choice to do. If not her, who would do this for her?

She Thought She Could, So She Did

Chris Hornburg, RN
Adjunct Instructor

I am an instructor for the CNA/PCT program (certified nurse aide/patient care tech) here at LCC. As a clinical instructor and a registered nurse, I rely on my hearing. I teach, “If you don’t know what that noise is, FIND OUT.” I stress the importance of body alarms, bed alarms, and call lights in the nursing home/hospital setting. So learning I was going to have a student with interpreters in the class was worrisome for me. I kept asking how…How is she going to be there for her residents, hear a call light, hear a resident/patient call for help or hear a bed alarm? How am I going to teach her to be a CNA/PCT?

Those were just a few of many questions I had running in my mind.   What I finally realized was that I needed to just stop. I didn’t need to have those answers to teach her what she needed to learn. When I focused on her, when I just watched and listened, it became clear.   She wanted this. She was willing to work hard. She stayed after lab if needed. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions. She wasn’t helpless, and I feel she never presented herself as having a disability. Her interpreters were amazing. She “listened” better than most of the students.

It was enlightening to watch her interaction with residents, and touching to see her sign her name to a resident who once worked as an interpreter. She works two jobs–one of which she gets up and does before clinical, which starts at 7 a.m. She has never complained to me, in any form. She smiles readily, has a quick wit and a wonderful sense of humor. Her laugh makes me smile on the inside. I don’t know if the words “I can’t” are in her vocabulary.

So even though some of my questions are unanswered as of yet, I have no doubt that this student will make all her goals a reality. I find myself in awe of her perseverance and will forever be humbled to be a small part of her journey. She is just one of many that remind me of why I teach at LCC. She has given me the gift of wanting to try harder, complain less, and just remember that nothing is impossible until you decide not to try.

Speaking Up

Trixi A. Beeker
Adjunct Professor, Biology Program

In 1987, I first met my anonymous, but inspiring student, ‘Jane,’ in a rather inauspicious manner. I heard muffled sobbing while in the women’s restroom at LCC. I hesitated, thinking how I’d been raised to not interfere in other people’s matters. But even though I only teach biology at LCC, I consider the welfare of all students at LCC to be my responsibility. Also, while living in Scotland for several years I adopted the Celtic philosophy that I’d rather regret something I have done than something I haven’t done.

So I asked, “Are you OK?” She replied, “No.” I then asked if she would like to chat with a counselor. She said she had no money, but when I added that counseling is free for LCC students she paused her crying long enough to gasp, “How do I get there?”

That day so long ago, I gave Jane my business card with directions to the counseling center written on the back, and to my surprise she kept in touch for years. I heard, periodically, about how the LCC counseling had helped her find support and develop strategies to escape an abusive partner. And how the LCC counselor had helped her connect with financial aid so she could attend LCC’s art and writing programs.

A few years later, I got to clap for Jane as she crossed the stage on the day she graduated with her Associate in Arts Degree with a double major in Creative Writing and Fine Arts from LCC. I was equally thrilled when she contacted me again, years later when she earned her BA degree in Writing, and again when she published her first book.

‘Jane’ ultimately earned an Master’s in Fine Arts and is teaching at a community college out West. Her mission, in addition to teaching writing, is to keep an eye and ear out for students who may be struggling so that she can provide free college resources and connections for them, so that they too can prevail in their careers no matter what personal challenges they are facing.

Sometimes I wonder what would have become of Jane if I hadn’t taken a few moments out of my too busy schedule to speak up that day long ago at LCC, but I will always be grateful that I know her and have been privileged to witness her transition from sobbing to success.

Opportunity is What You Make it – Having Passion Makes the Difference

Lyla Melkerson-Watson
Adjunct Faculty, Science Department

Once upon a time, there was a Lansing area nurse’s assistant who dreamed of becoming a registered nurse. D dreamed of prestige, respect, and higher pay. Friends suggested Lansing Community College to earn her RN degree. D knew she faced challenges getting into an excellent RN nursing program, but she had passion, motivation and intelligence, and a keen desire to make a difference in the lives of others. She wanted to be an RN.

From day one, she was engaged and eager. The first exam came and went. She did poorly and was embarrassed that someone who was licensed to practice would have done so badly. We talked. Eager to succeed, she tried every suggestion, but despite all her hard work, she failed the second exam too. D was so distraught and depressed, she sought assistance for her testing anxiety. The system failed her. Though tears, she told me, “I just need some help. A little time for myself. I know this stuff. This is not that hard. I just need someone to….” I felt horrible. She was crushed and as low as a person can get. She just wanted a RN degree. She asked, ”What can I do?   I am not turning back. I am not a quitter. Please, help me.” That is just what I did.

We met every day; she studied content. She drilled, and reviewed, using every resource she could find. With her self-esteem back, she shared what she learned, formed a study group. Her passion and confidence allowed her to be responsible for her own happiness. Though she had struggled, she finished with a 4.0.

We stayed in touch while she was at LCC. She applied what she learned in my course to the rest of the courses needed for her RN. She and her study group found the tools to needed to succeed. Today, I am so very proud that D is a RN and she’s living her happily ever after!

I use D’s inspirational story every semester. She’s a class act that demonstrates that opportunity is what you make it. Opportunity has no down time and you are responsible for your own happiness. If you really want something badly enough, you are the only one to make that happen. It helps when you share a passion to teach as well as a passion to learn.

Never Forget Your First Impression as a Teacher

Peter DeLuca
Instructor, Automotive Technology

As an instructor at Lansing Community College, I learned I am driven by empathy. For me personally, empathy is primal, bonding, and rewarding. Over the years I became keenly aware how empathy for the challenges students face helped me become a better teacher.

On my first day teaching in the Automotive Technology Center at the Lansing Community College main campus, I was standing outside my assigned classroom watching as students began to appear for the evening classes.  One particular pair of students caught my eye.  A young couple, girl and boy, hand in hand, staring intently at a class schedule, slowly walking, occasionally bumping into each other as they walked.  It was obvious they were both unsteady and anxious looking for a classroom. What I witnessed left me with an overwhelming sense of empathy, but I did not act to help them. Even after 20 years, I frequently think about my experience with the young couple and regret my missed opportunity to help them find their way. For this reason, I look for opportunities to help unsteady and anxious students.

One of the principle advantages of Lansing Community College is open access to education for the community. The open access also brings students with a wide range of personal challenges.  Some with learning difficulties resulting in low self-esteem, others with family dysfunction, and some with their own internal personal demons.  When I encounter students with these challenges and they are having difficulty in my class, I feel compelled to reach out and help.  Some only need a few extra hours to get back on track, while others require multiple weekends just to make it under the wire. My ultimate goals is to make sure these students gain the skills they need to perform with confidence professionally.

At the end of the semester, the last day of class, the student will approach me and express their appreciation for my extra effort helping them with their new found skills. Some students are able to articulate their thoughts easily while others are not able to completely speak the words “thank you” before their voice begins to break up with emotion. Each time a student approaches me at this point, I recall my experience with the two clinging students back on my first day teaching and the connection makes me smile both inside and out.

There are many different reasons why I teach at Lansing Community College, but empathy is a big part of why I am excited to start every new semester.

Sean The Student

Mike Wightman
Associate Professor, Automotive Technology

It seems like I’ve known Sean forever.  He grew up in Mid-Michigan with his mother–a teacher– father–an electrician– grandmother, and brother.  As a child, Sean wanted to be a veterinarian.  Then he grew to realize being a vet wasn’t a good fit since he hated school.  Quite ironically, with his valedictorian grandmother and salutatorian mother with a master’s degree, education was always emphasized at home.  Sean was relatively bright, but not a motivated student.  Unsure what he wanted to do with his life, he still managed to get decent grades throughout high school.

When Sean graduated, he was still lost.  He had a job and thought taking a year off from school before going back would be a good idea.  His mother disagreed.  She felt if he took time off, he would never go.  So they compromised, and he went.  Sean chose automotive technology.  He always loved anything with an engine.  Still not sure where his life was going, he got a job at an auto shop.  He switched majors, tried a few different things, and then went back to automotive.

That’s when he met his mentor, Tom.  Tom had Sean in several classes.  He could see that Sean had a gift.  He seemed to always understand who was “getting it” and who wasn’t.  Sean would clarify communication in class between the Instructor and the students.  Tom pulled Sean aside and said, “You would make an excellent teacher.”  Sean thought, “Really? The kid that hates school, a teacher?”  As crazy as this seemed, Tom’s confidence in Sean was all it took to motivate him.  Sean worked his way up, starting as a student employee, then eventually full-time professor.  Sean’s life was going better than he could have dreamed.  Then came a major change in administration.  Sean was told he would no longer be full time.  He was devastated.

Sean had dedicated his life to his school.  The union said not to worry; his position was protected.  However, the administration had no regard for legal contracts.  Sean’s income was cut by two thirds; his life was crashing down.  Every morning he dreaded going to school.  The sight of the building made his stomach churn.  But once he got in the classroom everything was right again.  He knew it was where he was supposed to be.  Even after being betrayed, Sean never lost his professionalism.  He still strives to be better, taking seminars in his vocation and classes to be a better educator.  When his students ask him what to expect after they get out of school, he replies “You’ll have to let me know. I’m still there.”

Can

Tim Kelly
Adjunct Associate Professor of English

When he walked through the door and took a seat at the front of the classroom for the first time, I had to force myself not to stare. His black T-shirt, advertising a weight-lifting competition for wounded veterans, stretched tight around his huge chest, and his tree-trunk biceps looked like they might burst through the sleeves. I’d always had my preconceptions about body-builders, ideas about self-absorption and compensation issues, but he was about to remind of both the danger of preconceptions and something much more important.

On his last tour in Afghanistan, an IED had struck his Hum-V killing two of his fellow soldiers, ripping apart his left shoulder, and tearing off the majority of his right leg. In conversations after class, I learned of his long battle for recovery, his battles with the V.A., and some of the horror of his battles in war.

College was yet another battle, and as he worked through his physical recovery and rehabilitation, he also worked through developmental classes in reading, writing, and math. His determination to succeed and improve himself was medal-worthy. I have never had a student work harder. When I gave him suggestions for his essays, he thanked me, revised to incorporate them, and asked for more.

But he was not just interested in improving himself. He was not self-absorbed. In peer-review, he displayed a “no man left behind” mentality, frequently calling me over to his group but almost never with questions about his own work. He wanted to be sure he was giving the right advice to his classmates.

It would have been easy to think of the body building as compensation for the lost leg, but by the end of the semester I realized he was compensating for nothing. He wasn’t focused on loss or what he couldn’t do. He was focused on what he could do both for himself and for others. He couldn’t rebuild the leg, but he could strengthen the rest of his body. He couldn’t change the horrific events of his past, but he could educate himself and change the future. And he reminded me that the reason we teach is to help our students discover how much they can do.

He didn’t need me. Any decent teacher could have helped him improve his writing. I, however, needed him. I needed that reminder that education is always about what our students can do.