Monday, December 2, 2013

How to End a Course + 10,000 Letters of Recommendation

How do you end your course?

Do you write the final equation  on the board, show your last slide, and walk out?

Or do you have a tradition?

Last Monday (hard to believe it was just one week ago), at UMass Amherst,  we had the pleasure of taking part in the TEDx Professor Speaker Showcase, which I blogged about and the Isenberg School posted a nice summary of its 3 faculty who presented at it (out of the 8 presenters).

I am still digesting (not only the Thanksgiving food) but also the advice and wisdom shared last Monday at this great event (thanks to the student organizers, including Stephen, Henry, Cara, Shannon, and so any others).

With the end of the semester upon us and this being the last week of classes on many campuses, I would like to highlight what one of the speakers shared with us last week.

Dr. Brian O'Connor, a biologist, who retired only last Spring after 45 years teaching at UMass Amherst (and he told us that his last class was in the same classroom that he had interviewed in decades before so some things really do not change at UMass), told us about what he did at every last class at every course he ever taught.

Students who graduated and became very successful scientists, medical doctors, and dentists would tell him that maybe they did not remember all the material in his courses but they certainly remembered his last class and the poem that he always read to them.

The poem is Desiderata, written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann,  and I have reprinted it below, thanks to Wikipedia.
It is very appropriate, given this busy holiday season,  and any season, actually.

UMass Magazine had a marvelous article about Dr. O'Connor entitled, "Scientist, Advisor, Mentor, Friend" which highlighted his great influence. In his TEDx talk he admitted writing about 10,000 letters of recommendation for students who were applying to medical school or dental school and he still, although retired, helps his wife (5 days a week) since she works at UMass as an advisor for premed students.

Interestingly, he shared a story with us how, just about 2 weeks ago, his wife fell and broke her wrist, so off to the Emergency Room (ER) at a local hospital in western MA they went. There  they waited for 6 hours before, luckily, a doctor came out and saw Dr. O'Connor and immediately recognized his former professor. Mrs. O'Connor was then treated. I wrote about my own experiences in the ER there a while back.    As he told us, if you are breathing and not having a heart attack get ready to wait.

Another favorite story, as retold in the UMass Magazine article, is:  "A few years ago, W. Brian O’Connor’s father was admitted to a hospital in the family’s native Brattleboro. As he rushed to his father’s bedside, O’Connor caught sight of four familiar faces—those of two nurses and two physicians—and knew his father was in good hands and would make a full recovery."

What an amazing impact a single professor, named Dr. Brian O'Connor, has made and continues to make through the thousands that he has guided into the medical professions!