I recall one professor from graduate school who would often say that when he told people that he taught Economics for a living, the listener often reacted by being appalled. “That was the WORST class I ever took” they would often tell him, leaving him in a position of explaining why the class was really useful and actually very cool. As a math professor, I often encounter the same reaction (and sometimes doubly so, when the person learns that I am not just a math professor but also an Economist.) I found myself thinking of this recently when I ran into a former student as I made my way across the campus.
When I saw this former student, it took me a minute to place her, as she had graduated three years earlier. She took the Calculus sequence from me, including Calculus III, which had been in jeopardy of being cancelled due to the small number of students who wanted to take the class that semester. It took some creative scheduling on my part for us to be able to offer the class, but in the end, it ran. That student had graduated that year with a major in Chemistry, and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at a university not far away. When she saw me, she made a point of stopping to chat with me, saying that she wanted to tell me something. And then I heard something that I don’t often hear; “thank you.”
She told me that she uses the skills learned in Calculus III on a regular basis, and only wishes that she had gone on to take Differential Equations. We discussed Differential Equations for a few minutes, as well as the benefits of a new scholarship that we will be offering for students planning on majoring in Chemistry. She told me that she was several years into her Ph.D. program, and had a definite idea of what her dissertation would involve.
As she left, I felt a certain level of satisfaction for having been able to make sure that she was able to take the classes that she needed to succeed. Further, I was proud that she was pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and hoped that other students would follow in her footsteps soon.
I found myself on the other end of a “thank you” as I went to vote this past Tuesday. When I broke my leg and arm at the same time a few years ago, I was left with very little mobility and certainly without the ability to drive myself to the physical therapy appointments that promised to get me better. I relied on a bus system in our area that, for a small fee, takes people to and from doctors’ appointments. I often found myself to be the youngest passenger on the bus, often by about fifty years. I am better now, and able to drive, care for my daughter, and even exercise, but I still appreciate the service that the bus system provided for me when I needed it desperately.
Since then, my husband has been appointed to the board of directors for the system, and was involved in working to have their funding renewed in a levy that passed on Tuesday. And so, while he was standing out in the cold trying to get voters to vote for the levy, I went to vote and cast my ballot in support of the bus system. It did not escape me that I was able to drive to the polling place, park my car, and WALK into the booth in order to vote. I realized that had it not been for the bus system, I would not have been able to do any of that. And so, like my former student, I was thankful.