Shawn L. Smith
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ∼ Milton Berle
Dr. Felipe Lopez and I were concerned with students that could not graduate due to failure to place into a math level; thus, with the approval of the Dean of Art and Sciences, we created a MATH 112 class geared towards students that did not meet the required mathematics level. Embedded in the course were sessions that help build the prerequisite skills as well as aid in the current learning. The student, Jose Lopez, made it clear to me what role I needed to fulfill in my new arena.
Jose was a Lucero student who possessed the characteristics of the students we wanted to populate this particular course. He was a few credits from graduation, which made him very motivated for this intense classroom experience. Mr. Lopez’s temperament is one of a friendly giant (he is well over 6 foot and a hefty young man). Unfortunately, like most of his classmates, mathematics had a way of belittling them. On the first day of class, students were told that this chance will never be offered again and this opportunity is bigger than all of us. Armed with a team of support (a supplemental instructor, volunteer tutors, Dr. Lopez, and concerned administrators), we navigated through the MATH 112 content. My break though with Jose occurred while he was working on a problem on the white board. After he completed the problem and was sullen because he did not achieve the desired answer, I went back through his problem. “Jose, what is 3 times 2?” He answered with 6 but his worked showed 5. I quickly pointed out that we cannot make arithmetic mistakes and from that point on, I called him “3 times 2”. He got a laugh of it.
Jose was a fixture at study sessions and started to open up more. Careless mistakes started to disappear and comprehension was proven by improved scores and demonstrations in class and study sessions. He successively passed both MATH 112 and the next semester MATH 130.
This past spring, Jose and two of his classmates from that MATH 112 class walked across the stage at the Breslin Center as graduates of Lansing Community College (another classmate graduated from Central Michigan University). His plans are to transfer to Michigan State University this fall. Our team effort removed a massive roadblock and launched a few lifelong learners of color into the world.
I had to kick him out. There was no question that this student was capable of learning the material in the course that I teach, but motivation was a different issue or maybe it was just a priority problem. Coming to class didn’t seem to be this student’s priority. So I dropped him.
A couple of weeks later, he came back. He had a bunch of add slips in his hands and he had been going to his professors and getting them to sign. He expected me to just sign the slip, no questions asked. I refused. I told him he could sit in on class and do the work. He would have to get printouts of the quizzes that other students could see in D2L. I told him he needed to pass the next test and a makeup test with at least a 2.0 and attend every class before I let him back in. He also had to complete another set of problems perfectly before taking the makeup test.
I have quizzes in D2L that students are expected to take before the corresponding test. He had to turn his in on paper. Students are allowed multiple attempts at the quizzes so in order to get feedback he had to work with other students to see if his answers were working. He would gripe about this (the fact that he didn’t have access) in the Learning Commons. One tutor would remind him, “Well, you know if you had done the work and didn’t skip class . . .” “Yeah, I know,” he would reply. He didn’t want to be reminded of his responsibility.
Working with other students inside and outside of class on all kinds of problems, especially the challenging ones, seemed to excite and motivate this student. He would get very animated and excited when arguing a concept with his classmates.
Eventually I was able to let him add the class again. Immediately after he was back in officially, he skipped a class again. I threatened to drop him again. He must have believed that I would do it because he never missed another class.
It turns out that the student I kicked out of class, not only got a 4.0 in my class, but took several advanced math and physics classes that this school offers and did well. He just had to be kicked out to get motivated.
Adjunct Instructor, Center for Transitional Learning
As the years go by, teachers meet many students. Some of these students do not believe they belong in higher education. I recently met one of those students. The enthusiasm she showed at the beginning of the semester turned into despair and drudgery.
I tried to encouraged her to not give up on the class. I wrote paragraphs of feedback on her compositions, focusing on positive aspects. I avoided right and wrong in favor of how she could improve certain areas. I greeted her everyday and tried to include her in class discussion. Yet, I was losing her. Absences began to increase and assignment deadlines were missed. When she did turn in her assignments, they felt incomplete and lacking any voice. It was as if she had removed the author from the writing.
The patterned continued past the mid-term. It was obvious she was now heading for failure. I finally cornered her and asked if anything was wrong. What started as a non-answer brush-off, became a confession. She did not want to be in school. She had a full-time job she enjoyed. She felt she was being forced by her mother to be here and she was miserable.
I told her it was OK. She did not have to be in school. LCC will always be here and she could come back anytime. I told her she could learn much in the workforce, but one day she will realize an education is necessary to reach a higher position. I told her it was OK if she wanted to leave school, but she could not burn a bridge while she did it: “Everything you start, you must finish.” She needed to finish the semester with decent grades. While school will always be here for here when she is ready, so will these grades.
I never saw her again after she walked away. I did, however, see every missing assignment and a complete portfolio. While the work still lacked a unique identity, I could see the return of the writer’s voice. I am pretty sure she did not return to school, but I know she will one day. The ability to become a lifelong learner has been cemented into her character.
Math Lab Adjunct Instructor
I am an adjunct math lab instructor for Math 107 & Math 112. During Spring 2016, I had a student, MAR, who was in his 60’s. MAR told me that he was taking the math lab class (Math 107) to work towards completing an associate’s degree. He informed me that it had been years since his last math class. I told him about the free tutoring available in the Learning Commons as well asking me and other students in class for help.
I would circulate around the math lab and ask students if they needed help. Sometimes students do not like asking for help. In the community college setting, we want every student to succeed no matter what his/her age happens to be.
MAR took Test 1 and scored 92%. He was so excited!! MAR asked me if he could take a picture of his test score so he could share it with his family. I told him it was okay. He did this picture taking throughout the semester. He continued to ask me for assistance. MAR told me that he wanted to obtain a 4.0 grade. He continued to inform me that I had helped make the Math 107 work easy for him to understand.
He told me that he informed his family that he had a great math lab instructor. I was very happy that I was able to reach and teach MAR in order to help him reach his goals.
He asked if I was going to teach a Math 112 lab class in the evening during Fall 2016. I informed him that I was. MAR told me that he was going to enroll in my Math 112 lab class.
MAR completed the math lab class with 4.0 grade. He was so excited. Of course, he took a picture of his Final Exam 4.0 grade to share with his family.
During the last class session, MAR arrived with his wife. He wanted his wife to meet his “awesome” math instructor who had encouraged and helped him to succeed in his math class!!! His wife informed me that MAR was so proud and happy with his 4.0 grade.
This was an amazing, rewarding and gratifying experience for me to be appreciated by an LCC student where he brought a family member to make the special trip to meet me at LCC!!
Adjunct Instructor, Chemistry
Professional Tutor, LCC TRIO
Could you imagine being uprooted from your home because of genocide? Imagine being transplanted into a new culture, with a new language and new customs. Would you be able to take classes in this new place, while simultaneously supporting your family? A student of mine, Sadick, has dealt with just this, and has excelled academically to become one of my most motivated and highest-achieving students at LCC. Sadick was born in Sudan but had to flee during the Darfur genocide to Ghana. From Ghana, he came to Lansing as a refugee in 2013. He joined LCC to obtain a quality post-secondary education to prepare him for a career in medicine and to transfer to a top-ranked 4 year-university. Sadick is selfless; his smile is infectious and he is always willing to put others before himself. On top of this, his work ethic is remarkable; as a student of mine in two chemistry classes, he excelled to achieve a 4.0 in both classes.
I first met Sadick at the TRIO tutoring center where he would spend hours after classes studying and doing his homework. When he realized that I could help him with his work, he gravitated towards me and we would work together almost every day. I found Sadick to be a humble, honest and hardworking individual who wanted to excel in everything that he did. He looked up to me not just for help in his academics but also for advice, mentoring, and encouragement. The two of us became really close and Sadick and I shared a lot of our personal journeys that brought us as immigrants to the United States. To put it in his own words; “We had everything but lost it all and now we are in a better place.”
Sadick is currently spending his summer doing biological research at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, where he investigates stem cells as a potential therapy for regenerative medicine. He will attend Michigan State University in the fall to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemisry. His passion for medicine and helping others, together with the opportunities that he received at LCC, will undoubtedly lead him to be successful in every one of his endeavors, and his past experiences and obstacles have only served to propel him further on his journey.
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.
by Brian Nelson
Assistant Professor, Computer Information Technologies
It was in the late ’90s when I first encountered Kent. He was a student in my fall Linear Applications 1 class. He was just another kid sitting in the back of the classroom sporting the long hair, T-shirt, jeans and grubby tennis shoes ‘look’ that was so prevalent back then. A colleague of mine, Don, remarked about seeing Kent in my class. Don wondered how Kent was doing since when he taught Kent a couple of years back in the high school electronics program, “He was nothing but a screw-off,” Don said. I told Don that surprised me a little since Kent had yet to show any signs of being one.
Kent attended every class and was starting to ask questions during lecture. He nearly aced the midterm. By the end of the semester, he had become one of the best students in the class. His lab reports were exceptional, and when he handed in his final I was interested to see how he fared–again he came close to perfection. The next time I saw Don I reported this to him to which he remarked, “Anything’s possible I guess.”
Christmas break came and went and when Linear Applications 2 began there was Kent with a calculus book! At some point, I asked him about it and he explained that he was taking a Pre-Calc class as he had decided to become an electrical engineer like me. I congratulated him on that and told him that Calc books were going to become his best friends. His work in the classroom continued to be excellent. Don continued to be amazed.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years, and I’m at MSU picking up one of my children after they had taken the SAT. It was graduation day at MSU, and the place was buzzing. The day was a warm spring one, so I stopped and visited one of MSU’s gardens on the way home. While there I heard a voice say, “Mr. Nelson!” I turned and there was Kent in a graduation gown. He thanked me, explaining that he just got his master’s degree in electrical engineering and was trying to decide whether to pursue his PhD or take a job in industry. Certainly our school motto rang true that day. Kent has since become the lead power supply design engineer at MSU’s Cyclotron Laboratory.
Anything is possible I guess.