A Tribute to the Amazing Professor

Before I started my sophomore year of college, I wrote out a list of several things I wish I had known before I began. In it, I talked briefly about the different kinds of professors you meet during your academic life. Particularly, I said this about the really good ones:

And then there are those professors, the ones that see something in you and make sure they get to speak to you about it. These are indeed a rare breed and, not including my Honors profs, I have only had one of them. But let me tell you, he was amazing.

That man's name is Dr. Sungwook Lee. At the time I had him for Calculus I, he was an associate professor in the Mathematics department. He stopped me after class one day to ask what my major was and what I planned on doing with my life. I told him I was in Information Technology and hoped to be doing web programming. He said he had no doubt I could have a fulfilling life in IT, but he thought I was wasting my potential. Dr. Lee wanted me to switch to being a mathematics major, and then I could dabble in web programming on the side if I wanted. He even offered, on the spot, to be my advisor. I respectfully declined but walked away feeling so giddy. This man, who barely knew anything about me, had made it a point to try to convince me to do something different with my life simply because he thought I could be better.

I don't pretend to think that I was someone special; I'm sure he's given similar advice to dozens/hundreds of his students throughout his career. But I never forgot that. I knew that I wanted to do web programming, and that hasn't changed. However, as a sort of penance to him I decided that I would at least minor in math. And it wasn't a difficult decision; I have always loved and enjoyed mathematics. Heck, I wear both of these shirts with pride. Besides, taking 18 hours of extra classes didn't seem to be that hard. I could easily pull it off.

Thursday I walked into the Math Department's offices to drop my math minor. I had been able to only take nine of the required hours, and there was simply no way I could take the other nine before I graduated in May.

Now whenever you change majors or add/drop minors, the university requires three signatures: yours, the chair of the major/minor department, and the dean of the college. Guess who's interim chair of the Math Department?

I walk into his office to collect his signature, and the first thing he says to me is "Long time no see." After almost three years, Dr. Lee still has not forgotten who I am. And telling him that I had to drop my math minor was honestly one of the more gut-wrenching tasks I've had to do. I don't think any other prof has come close to influencing me like he has, and, though it's silly to think so, I felt like I was disappointing him.

Of course, this isn't over. Maybe later on in life, I'll go back and major in mathematics. With the career that I have in mind (which has expanded from just "web programming" to "programming in general with web technologies being favored"), a math degree certainly wouldn't hurt.

But if it weren't for one Dr. Sungwook Lee, this guy would have finished his Cal I work and probably never touch another math again. For that, I am extremely grateful.