Maroon Musings: Biology 150 (and how it still influences my life)

Hi Dr. Jorgensen,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I'm not sure if you remember me, but I took your Bio 150 class when I was a freshman at Roanoke College. I remember listening to my roommate complain about your class during the Fall 1995 semester. She spoke of how you were a tough teacher and how "no one can ace his class." I took that as a challenge, thinking, "I can ace his class." As an English/Theater double-major, I had no specific interest in biology, but I had much interest in proving to myself that I could stand up to a difficult challenge.

I enrolled in your class the following spring semester with high hopes of easily making an "A." My roommate was right. Your class was the toughest I'd ever come across. The material seemed dense, too difficult for me to comprehend, but I was determined to ace your class.

Even though I feared the ridicule that I would face from other students, I bought a tape recorder, placed it on my desk, and started recording every one of your lectures while taking meticulous notes. At night, I would listen to the taped lectures and type them up, word for word. The repetition of your lectures helped me considerably.

When it came time to take your tests, I revisited the material and made a bunch of flash cards, hoping to trigger the details of all-too-confusing cellular structures. Over the next few months I found myself falling in love with biology.

I kept my schedule packed, blending my intense study time with my participation in choirs and plays and, of course, having fun with my friends. And there were many times my studying called for sacrifices. I recall one Friday night reviewing the material for an upcoming test in your class. My friends would pass by, stopping to ask when I would be done studying so I could meet them at a party. I told them I still had a little more material to cover and would hopefully make it out later. "Why are you studying on a Friday night?" one friend asked. "You'll forget all the material by the time you take the test on Monday anyway." I shrugged and got back to work. I didn't mention that the test was not on Monday, but on Wednesday. I was studying five days in advance.

While those months of listening to lectures and absorbing every detail about the class taught me much about biology, I learned so much more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I learned that I loved learning. I loved working hard and proving to myself that I could do the unthinkable.

I did ace your class.

At the end of the semester you asked me to consider Biology as a major. "Biology," I thought? "But I already have two majors." The idea was tempting, though.
I don't regret majoring in English or in Theater. Every class I took at Roanoke College was well worth the hard work. I graduated from the school in three years. I worked as a television news producer and writer for 12 years, most recently at "Good Morning America." I received a full-tuition fellowship from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Now I'm writing my first book.

Sometimes I wonder if professors know how much of an influence they have had on the lives of their students. I'm sure many teachers gauge their success by the number of students who manage to succeed in their career field. But there are those of us who see you as a success merely because you inspired us when you didn't realize it.
Thank you for being the teacher who keeps pushing his students. I can only assume being a difficult professor has its drawbacks. No one loves the teacher who makes life hard. But for me, your pushing made all the difference in my life.

After more than 12 years in the news business, Tamara Johnson now spends her days writing about love, dating, and the life-changing project that helped her find the kind of man she never believed existed. She and her husband, Evan, live in Los Angeles. Johnson's first book, "31 Dates in 31 Days," will be released in September.

Released: July 8, 2011