Category Archives: Spring 2017

Robert and Writing

Jennifer Hilker
Fitness, Wellness, and Kinesiology Instructor

When the semester begins, I like to give a simple and fun paper for the first writing assignment. It provides an opportunity to see how students think and get their thoughts on paper. Robert did mediocre on this assignment. Initially, I did not think much about it because he did well on the first quiz and in class assignments. He always came to class. He was never late, never left early, and always participated. The due date came for the second assignment. I began grading submissions and was surprised at how poorly his was written. It was just terrible. I had to set it aside and look at it several times to decipher it. Upon further review, I could tell that there was valuable content, but Robert’s trouble was formatting it into a paper.

I thought back to our Professional Development Days at the beginning of the semester and recalled the statistics regarding certain demographics and student success rates. Robert falls into the category of students who tend to struggle most. I discussed Robert’s writing with other instructors on campus. It was likely that it had been written on his phone. Perhaps Robert could not get to a computer on a regular basis. I also know that certain students can experience various struggles, including lack of access and even social barriers. I was inspired to reach out to him.

I wrote comments on Robert’s paper and we met after class. He had been to the writing center before, but expressed hopefulness that he could write without help this time. We decided that continuing to use the resources available at LCC was a good idea. Through our conversation, I got the sense that Robert was perhaps a first generation college student, though he never directly stated this.

The quality of his writing improved on future assignments. I knew Robert had potential because the right concepts were in his work and he presented good ideas, but he simply did not know how to write in paragraph form. For in class assignments and short answer questions on exams, I often ask students to list answers. This was no trouble for him. Robert was one of the only students to get a particularly difficult short answer quiz question correct. During the remainder of the semester, he continued to do well on quizzes and other assignments. I have confidence that he can meet his career goals.

Robert has taught me a lot. Students may want independence, but need reassurance that getting help is okay. They may demonstrate learning in other modes, and instructors may need to adapt methods when necessary. It was exciting and rewarding to identify someone in his situation and extend my help.


Welcomed at LCC

Suzanne Sawyer
Reference Lead & Liaison Librarian

I have the opportunity, as a LCC Faculty Librarian, to teach students how to locate, evaluate, and use information effectively for coursework or for personal use.  Students receive research help to learn skills on how to sift through fake news or alternative facts to find credible and reliable information. Research help is available through Library Instruction classes and by the options of 24/7 chat, email, telephone.  Of course, students can visit the reference desk, plus book an appointment with a LCC Librarian for private, uninterrupted consultations.  I wish to share a story about a particular student’s Library experiences that serves as an inspiration to the importance of the college’s mission of inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Tallman (a pseudonym) is a former LCC student currently attending one of the University Center’s colleges to further his education in social work.  He’s approximately 6’ 5” in a lanky skeletal frame, from Africa and in his early thirties.  With Tallman’s dark skin and bald misshapen skull, he tends to garner stares from others. On several occasions I’ve witnessed Tallman ducking his head as he exits the elevator to enter the Library on the second floor of the TLC building.  With his eyes darting and lips pursed (possibly conscious of others looking at him) Tallman usually walks in a determined manner to secure a place to work near the Library Reference Desk.

Tallman will flash a bright smile at many Library staff who have made him feel welcomed and comfortable to ask for research assistance or computer help.  He has repeatedly told me how appreciative he is to have the LCC campus services, like the Library, available to him even as he continues his education at another college.  I am proud to have been the recipient of Tallman’s beaming smiles he selectively shares.  I have guided him on several research quests and watched him grow into a confident student who will ask for help when he’s uncertain about his research strategies.

Tallman practices his lifelong learning skills gleaned from his education experiences with the support of LCC campus resource services.  He is an example of the importance of a college with open-access that strives to provide equal and fair treatment to all students.  People with accents, from all walks of life and far-away places are welcomed and supported at LCC with academic services like the Library – a place known for not judging a book by its cover!

Welcoming individuals for who they are and a being a place where students can reach for potential success is the pure essence of a community college existence.


How Did This Happen?

Kirsten Wright
Assistant Professor, Geology and Integrated Sciences

On the first day of class, she was in a seat at the back of the classroom, and I had no idea that she would teach me a powerful lesson.  I recognized her from the previous semester, and I hoped that this time she would complete the course.  She did well when she came, so all she really needed to do was to show up and pay attention.  Is that so hard?

This time she attended class farther into the semester than she had before.  It happened again, though.  Most of the way through the semester, she pretty much disappeared from class.  This time, LCC had support for her.  I asked an Academic Success coach to talk to her, and it worked fantastically.  She was in class the next day, and I was glad to see her.  I was hopeful for her success in the course, but she disappeared again.

After contacting her, we arranged a time for her to take the final exam.  She did okay, and she had done just enough work to pass the class.  However, was this a success? She may have passed my class, but I wondered about her other classes, her academic program, even her home life.  Was she on track to succeed outside of my class?

I asked her, and she chose to share her struggles with me.  She came from an inner city high school, and was offered the opportunity to attend LCC.  This was life changing for her since she never expected to be able to pay for college classes and the program was free to her.  She chose a challenging major, but stayed undeterred from it, because this was the only time she would ever have a chance.  The classes proved difficult, the course load was too much, and she couldn’t keep up.  Now, she was so far behind that she barely hoped to get her diploma.  She had given up on a degree.

“How could this have happened?” I thought to myself.  “An offered opportunity has indeed changed her life, but not for good.  She may not even graduate high school, now.”  For her, coming to class was not as easy as I had imagined.  For her, paying attention was not as easy as I had imagined.  For her, desperation was real.

LCC is the land of opportunity for students from a wide variety of backgrounds, but that also means they have a variety of challenges.  Each of those challenges can interfere with learning.  I have learned to watch for struggling students, and to show them concern.  I will always consider that each student could have challenges that I cannot imagine.


April Davidson
Adjunct Faculty, Sign Language Department

A few years back, there was a young woman in my Introduction to the Deaf Community class. We’ll call her Annie. Annie was young, still in high school. Most of the time, she was precocious, eager, and bubbly. Occasionally, she was distracted and quiet, unwilling to participate. One such day, I asked her if she wanted to discuss anything, if she was okay. She only shook her head and quickly exited the room.

In this class, students learn approximately 300 new words and concepts in ASL, 300 unique handshapes and movements, and various rules of grammar and syntax. Learning new vocabulary is not the bulk of the class – it is foremost a class focusing on culture and community – yet it is an integral part. A significant portion of the overall grade is based on a student’s receptive understanding of ASL.

It’s common for students to struggle when learning a new language. Few sail through with ease. Some drudge through beginning lessons but ultimately give up.  More sweat it out and are satisfied with anything above passing.

Annie wasn’t so easy to define, but I was never worried she would quit. Annie scraped by with a 2.5 and plotted her way through further ASL classes with a goal of entering our Interpreter Training Program. Our ITP is a sort of language boot camp and is not for the weak or weary. I knew Annie would be a good fit.

In the fall of 2015, about a year after she sat in my classroom, Annie sent me an email. She said she wanted to thank me for pushing her and for the day I asked her what was wrong. She explained that she had been going through a very difficult time in her personal life and saw our class as a refuge of sorts. The challenge of the material allowed her to immerse herself in something other than her private trials. Though there were times she considered walking away and rethinking her path at LCC, ultimately she persevered and has since graduated. Annie said the day I approached her after class had been a particularly harrowing one and I was the first person who took notice.

She expressed in her email that feeling noticed meant feeling important and accountable, that when I expected more from her, she expected more from herself. She began to believe.

Annie is but one student from one class in one semester. We teach hundreds with the hope of inspiring one. Even when there is more, Annie will be my one.

The Wins!

Jim McAvoy
Professor, Computer Information Technology

I’m a professor in the CIT programming department at Lansing Community College. In the Fall of 2015 I had a student, Sally, in my Introduction to Programming class. Sally told me, and the class during our introduction exercise, that she was a nurse and had come back to school to get her Programmer/Analyst associates degree. She said she was really nervous because she had never programmed a computer before. I reassured her that she would be fine, and if she applied herself, she would do well.

Sally also informed me that it had been quite a while since she had gone to college, and was concerned because she felt out of place, as an adult learner. I shared with her that I, too, had been and adult when I came back to school to complete my first degree. Sally told me that this made her feel better. Throughout the semester I would receive emails and messages from her looking for directions on certain assignments. One of these occurred when she contacted me because she was having trouble installing the program we were using in class on her home computer.

As usually happens with students like Sally, half way through the semester, she was playing a leadership role in our course. She told me that it was because of my teaching style and approachability, that she had gained her self-confidence back early in the semester. Sally became her lab team leader, and spent a good deal of time in class assisting and mentoring other students.

I find in my classes that 70-80% of my students will make it through no matter what. Another 10% just don’t want to be there and most likely most likely won’t last long once the work really begins. And then there is the 10% that really want to succeed, but may have extenuating circumstances, that they feel will stand between them and a better way of life through education. If we can help these students succeed in our curriculum and get them excited about learning, those are the real wins for educators!

Each time I run into Sally, she still tells me what a positive influence I was on her and how I made her feel confident and important as a student. I have to laugh to myself, because my students always do more for me, then I could ever do for them.



I Taught Santa

Gerry Haddad
Assistant Professor of Economics

I came to Lansing Community College and found the very definition of the adult, lifelong learner. I first met Sonny, at the podium at the front of the class and I assumed he was the professor from the previous class. To look at Sonny, anyone could see the uncanny resemblance to Santa. He had a white beard, glasses sliding down his nose, but lacked confidence in his eyes.

I assumed he was the earlier class professor until he apologized for being at the podium, and I realized that he was probably a student. I searched for the right words to ask what brought him to LCC and my class in particular. Sonny was a veteran of the Korean Conflict, he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy 35 years earlier, and just started a degree in business at LCC. He was timid in the first weeks, not offering much participation in the class. I sensed he was a source of vast and varied knowledge so I prodded and poked him until his barriers came down. His wealth of experience was such a welcome addition to the classroom. Later he shared with the class that he had a successful career teaching for another college and wanted to keep challenging himself because, in his words, “I want to keep my brain from turning into mush.”

He had significant challenges, but overcame each with consummate professionalism. Besides being timid, technology was a challenge. In his educational career, he was comfortable at the brick and mortar library, but he was determined to master the virtual library. Sonny, ever the professional, was eager to learn my expertise in research methods. He was a quick study and soon began to mentor others in the class.

Throughout the class, he would volunteer his experiences from his fruitful life. His capstone paper helped me define what I was looking for in subsequent papers for all my classes. His research was meticulous, his thoughts and opinions were eloquent as well as knowledgeable. He was a delight to teach. He earned a 3.5 in the class because of a few early missed opportunities. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Sonny’s name in a later class for which he earned a 4.0.

Sadly, I lost touch with Sonny after both of our classes together, and I can only hope that he learned as much from me as I from him.

Oh no – Mononucleosis!

Alexandra Beard, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Economics, BCA

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when someone told you they had a mononucleosis?…..

I have….

Two weeks into the semester, John who was registered for my class, but whom I have never seen before, sent me an e-mail and said that he was missing the classes because he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. He asked me to not drop him from the class for absenteeism because he was on the recovery path and was planning to get back on track soon.

John asked me to set up an appointment with him to go through the material that he had missed…

My first thoughts were “Oh No – Mononucleosis…. Is it contagious? Will he spread it to me?” “Will he fail the class?”

Back then my subconscious had already built a bias against this student. I was even thinking that dropping John from the class might be a good idea because after missing so many classes, and being sick, he would not be able to catch up. I still do not know why, but I did not drop him…

When the day of appointment came, I was ready to spend an hour desperately trying to catch him up on everything that he had missed in class.

At that point, I still was not sure if it was a good idea to let him stay in my class or not.

When John showed up in my office, he was very pale and constantly eating orange slices to boost his weakened immunity with vitamin C.

But then a completely unexpected thing happened…

John pulled out a thick folder of what turned out to be a printed out copy of all of my online lecture notes, full of his hand-written comments, sticky notes, drawn graphs and finished calculations.

….I was amazed, to say the least.

Barely ever I have seen any students in my classes taking notes as thoroughly and keeping them as organized as “John” did.

C’mon, this guy was sick for several weeks, did not attend even one class…..and yet….he was a few steps ahead of most of the students who had been in my class at that point.

So John apparently stayed in my class and had ever since been not only in the top 5% of my students, but also one of the very few who could really “think like an economist”, rather than memorize the graphs and math.

Not a long time has passed since that happened, but it reinstated a very valuable old lesson to me: never judge a book by its cover. Be it mononucleosis, autism, HIV or anything else, you never know who can turn out to be one of the brightest and promising students in your whole career.

Soaring in the Learning Community

Patricia McKay
Biology and Environmental Science Instructor

Environmental Science is both a cognitive and sensory experience.  I encourage my students to “open up their sensory systems to the natural world around them….and learn to take calculated risks to improve their cognition through new experiences”. In kind, my students have helped me, as well as themselves grow through the reciprocal process of instruction – becoming both community mentors and learners.

Helius, a student blind from birth, demonstrated the richness in personal and community education.  Helius benefitted from the support of her parents to overcome infrastructure hurdles such as not having a Braile textbook, trying to navigate D2L which is not ADA compliant, and trying absorbing as much auditorily through PowerPoint Lectures as possible. During the semester I saw her potential and pushed her boundaries – to become confident in group work, synthesizing information and sharing her thoughts and experiences with the rest of our learning community.  She had much to teach our learning community about her challenges and assets.

To me, just walking by myself to my car at night, is a bit scary…putting me on a higher level of alert.  Helius has to confront this experience every minute of her life when she takes on new experiences.  But that did not stop her from trusting new classmates who led her into the Looking Glass River for an invertebrate sampling event.  Helius experienced the feel and sounds of a river current, and many new alien creatures that day. One misstep and she could have fallen into the river, filling her waders. This was more than some of the other students were willing to do.

The culmination of this experience in community and environmental science awareness was Helius’s capstone project.  Instead of needing to be pushed as in the beginning of the semester, she conducted a professional survey of bird calls.  She had to talk with strangers to collect the data. As part of her public presentation, she confidently played a number of bird calls – requiring the class community to identify the birds.  Helius artfully played one bird call that summed up her semester experience and reciprocal role as a community educator.  It was a little chirpy sound that most of us equated with some small bird.  It was actually an eagle. Helius aced this capstone assignment, earning the highest grade in the class. Helius was like that quiet and unassuming little bird who, in reality, truly was an eagle, mastering her environment and teaching us all that we too can overcome our hurdles and soar as a learning community.

The “Weak” Student

Callie Harris MSN, RN, CMSRN
LCC-HHS Adjunct Clinical Faculty

Every semester, there is always one “weak” student. Dale was that student.

After two weeks into my course, Dale was placed on clinical probation for unsafe medication administration and insufficient written work. He was working hard, but it was unclear what that hard work was accomplishing. Dale asked if he could stay a few minutes after class to discuss his probation. I agreed, glad that he would ask me first.

He appeared almost physically ill. He was pale, and his fingers trembled as he held out a failed assessment of his nursing skills. “I am willing to repeat this course if it’s what I need to do to be safe.” These were not the usual words of the “weak” student. Weak students gave me excuses, while Dale was giving me genuine concern.

We sat down and reviewed his assessment, and I watched as the lightbulbs turned on in his head. Dale had clearly never received this kind of one-on-one feedback before. He was a quick learner, but only if he was taught in a certain way. I listened as he explained to me how he used to prioritize his bedside manner over his nursing skills. It was hard for him to realize that patient safety often meant having concern for medications as well as sitting at the bedside. He wanted to listen to their fears and reassure them, but to be a nurse you must first keep them safe. After this meeting, he worked to find a way to do both.

Dale and I worked together every week to review his progress and he passed the class without any more negative marks. When I watched him on stage at the Pinning Ceremony as the student speaker for his class, I learned that Dale’s empathetic nature came directly from his experiences as a hospital chaplain. He spoke of how he witnessed the amazing things that nurses could do and how much he admired them for their work. He then spoke of the gratitude he had for the clinical faculty who helped him to become a part of that nursing community. As I watched his daughter place the nursing pin on his lapel, I realized what an amazing job I have to be able to help people like Dale achieve their dreams. While I helped strengthen Dale’s nursing skills, his dedication to nursing strengthened my bedside manner.