This past weekend I went back to my Alma Mater, Alfred University, for only the third time in 25 years. It was a bittersweet occasion since I was not there for a happy occasion. I was attending the Remembrance for a professor who had recently passed away. The professor, Dr. J. Scott Weaver, had started at Alfred the last couple of years I attend Alfred, but he hada significant impact on me. Luckily, I had a chance to tell him that during the year previously through a recent connection with his wife at a STANYS conference. During the conference, Dr. Weaver’s wife attended a session in which I was presenting on NASA’s MESSENGER mission. I’ll never forget the smile on her face afterwards when she asked me if I remembered her from Alfred. She told me that Dr. Weaver had proudly followed my career and that he would be ecstatic at my recent appointment as a MESSENGER Fellow. We connected many times after that conference. The most important message though was something I felt to my core – my career would have been less without the benefit of teachers like Dr. Weaver and other teachers at Alfred such as Dr. Stull, Dr. Webb, Dr. Mueller, and Dr. Nebel. They taught a wild, young, unfocused student how to focus his energies and passions into a drive that has lasted me 25 years. I may not have been the best student, but they were the best teachers – and not just of physics. They had the patience to wait out my eccentricities and see through the facade I put up. College was a hard time for me since I was using it to escape from my past. Alfred provided me a new home and family I needed to get through each day. These professors were my surrogate family. I cannot think back to my 5 years (and 2 degrees) at Alfred without fondness and a knowledge that if I had teachers with less skill and heart than these, I would not have achieved all that I have.
As a teacher, I cannot tell you how much it means to hear back from your old students. An email arrived this past summer from a student I had over 5 years ago. She was sitting on her deck at 2AM and thought about my astronomy class. She remembered that i told her about astrophotography and she decided to try it. She emailed those pics and thanked me for changing her. I had tears in my eyes reading the email. I recently read a friend’s blog, Dr. Jeff’s Blog on the Universe about contacting teachers, and it says everything I haven’t. The thing that keeps teachers going through the tough times is hearing they made a difference. Can you remember a teacher that helped shape you? One that you can credit for you being where you are? It does not matter if they are K-12 teachers or college profs – It means something if you take your time to contact them and tell them how you feel. There is no excuse in this day of google and social media. It has never been easier.
Do it now…
What are you waiting for?