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.

17 Things I Wish I Knew About College

Having two semesters of college behind me, I have learned a lot. Not only academically but culturally and socially. These are 17 things I wish I knew before I went to college.

There is no one type of professor. You have those that have their lecture from their notes. You have those that prepare nothing but go instead by premade Powerpoints. You even have those that can walk into the room and just talk for thirty minutes. So don't expect that just because you have always been taught one way, that that is the way you will be taught in college. And don't think that just because one professor teaches one way, that all others will teach the same. The hardest thing for me in college was trying to figure out the best way to take notes for my classes. For World Civilization, I ended up practically writing everything Professor Chambers said. However for Computer Science I and Political Science 101H, I was just fine with the Powerpoints provided.

The professors are not required to care about you. One of my Computer Science professors last year was, let's just say, not the best teacher. You could tell he knew the stuff but could not for the life of him teach it to you coherently. Case in point: he called one aspect of the language "magical". His main thing was to wave a laser pointer around whatever point he was talking about and repeat the information on the Powerpoint. Pbbt. Now for his class we had programming assignments. And on one assignment I made an 80, his reasoning being "The program works, but the result is incorrect." I emailed him asking him what string of characters he had used and what the output was. I wasn't arguing with him that I had it wrong; I simply wanted to know what I had done wrong so I could not do it next time. I have yet to receive a response back from him.

The good professors learn your name. So far, with the exception of that CompSci prof, every professor has attempted to learn who I was. Of course, this is understandably hard for my classes where I have 100 or so other students with me, but they all have tried. And most have succeeded. It's always quite nice to walk into class and have the man\/woman say "Jacob?" and know they are talking to\/about me. So I'm glad that, at least at Southern, you're not just a number (you are a number, but they also see you are a person).

The amazing professors make a point to talk to you. 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.

People don't usually go to class in pajamas. Contrary to popular belief, students really don't just show up for classes in pajamas and junk. I know, and I was just as disappointed as you are now. Most actually dress up somewhat nice. Then there are those like me who really don't care how we look; never can go wrong with shorts and a t-shirt.

You will pull an all-nighter and you will regret it. You will probably end up staying awake all night to finish some unexpected report or complete a project that you have procrastinated on. And when you finally finish it, you'll be ecstatic. You'll feel like you can conquer the world. Until you start getting ready for your next class; that's when you get so so sleepy. You're nodding your head every 5 minutes in class. You can't remember the last thing the prof said to you. But hey, at least that report is done.

If people pity you, you could get free stuff. My first week of college, I decided not to bring an umbrella or even a rain jacket. So like second day of class it's flooding. I have no choice but to run out in the rain and hope for the best. As I'm walking to the library where my class was, a faculty member saw me and offered her umbrella to me. She said she got it from the lost-and-found and didn't need it anymore. I still have that umbrella.

You will make friends if you don't be a stranger. Just go out and hangout with people. You don't have to say anything or do anything. Just hangout. Good things will happen.

Study groups in college are not like "study groups" in high school. You either dreaded or loved that day, the day when your teacher assigned quote study groups unquote. You knew who was going to have to do the work and who you should actually trust with theirs. You also knew who was going to be like\/unlike you and do nothing. Well that's not how it works here. Here, students actually do the work that was assigned to them by the group and come together to exchange answers, usually while laughing and joking. But they get work done. And it is awesome.

That mental picture of students living on caffeine? It's true. Especially around exam time. Everywhere you turn, you can see students looking down at papers or notebooks while drinking from a cup coffee from Starbucks. But you'll only see it for a second because you'll be drinking while studying too.

Doing your own laundry isn't that bad. Throw the clothes in the washer. Wait. Throw the clothes in the dryer. Wait. Optional: fold them up and put them away.

Talk to your professors in person. This was something I wish I knew freshman year. Almost every professor has an email address and a phone number they can be reached. Even though these are available to you, always go and see the prof in person. Not only will you be more respected, but you are guaranteed an answer each time. Plus it puts a face to a name.

You will learn to love water. Cokes, Mountain Dews, coffee, tea; all that's great. But water is the single most amazing, refreshing drink there is. Bar none.

College provides so many social events... Theatre productions, dance recitals, intramural sports, videogames in the lobby, late night Waffle House runs. It's all great.

...but you need some time alone, too. But don't forget to also spend time with yourself. Take a break from studying (in moderation). Watch that movie you love. Finish that book you've kept putting off. Nap! If you never napped before you certainly will now; and you'll wonder why you haven't before.

You have to study. If you didn't have to study in high school, you will now. This is a challenge, but you love challenges. So study. Read the assigned materials. Do the practice problems.

College isn't awesome by default. You're away from home, by yourself. Besides the low maintenance required with your room, you have zero chores. You're there with the some of the most intelligent individuals in the world as teachers and with people who have the same interests that you do; make the most of it!

You do all that and you'll have a great time at college. Let me know if I've missed any. Jacob out.