Just What Did I Learn?

Hello from my study on the acre.

Over the past week there have been ongoing conversations (messages, timeline postings, PM, texts) between some of my classmates, and particularly classmates from when I was a student at Dana College, a small Lutheran liberal arts college. It was a college for 125 years (and also a seminary at one point), but the cost of higher education, the managing of a small college in the times of enrollment struggles, and a variety of other things resulted in its closure ten years ago. What is still important for those who claim Dana as an undergraduate alma mater seems to be two things: the affinity we have for the college and for each other, and our still growing understanding about the incredible education we received as students there.

First, while I do not post my age here, in the spirit of transparency, I will be 65 this week. It is one of those birthdays that create all sorts of considerations, emotions, and simply a response of “how the hell did I get here?”It is one of those ages where we need to do some things. I have an appointment (teleconference) with someone from our local Social Security office on the actual day of my birthday to apply for Medicare. Do I feel differently? Well . . . yes, and no. I have had 8 doctor’s appointments in the last few weeks, some significant and mildly concerning, others routine. Gastroenterologist, ENT doctors, balance clinic specialists, PCP, MRIs and technicians, Urgent Care . . . as I have noted more than once, growing old is not for sissies. Of course, I guess coming into the world at 17 ounces and 26 weeks in 1955 had to create some long-term possibilities or probabilities. Perhaps, the thing I feel most genuinely as I reach this milestone, a point where many say, “It is time to retire.” is I feel blessed. I remember asking my father how it felt to be retired (He was 69 when he retired)? He said in his typical, but rather matter-a-fact manner, “I am not really sure; I am so damn busy, I don’t know how I found time to go to work.” That response neither shocked nor sounded atypical for the journeyman electrician who worked 7/12s when I was in elementary school for almost three years.

Earlier this evening as I zoomed into the meeting with the Debate and Forensics team here at Bloomsburg, it was interesting to see the events they are working on for the upcoming tournament as well as the entire Collegiate Forensics Association (CFA) year. I am humbled by the way they work together for the good of each other, but how at the same time they are not afraid to push each other to improve and think outside the box. It is thinking about the world they live in and how they might offer insight through a variety of events through tournaments to communicate and learn from each other, from other colleges or universities, and how they might learn to be better citizens, questioning and debating the important issues of their time. It is something that requires thought, research, analysis, rhetorical strategy, and continual revision and reconsideration. I believe it is one of the things that will most prepare them for life. Some ask why I spent the time because I am not their faculty advisor, and as such, I receive no release time, no financial support, and no extra time in the day for the time I spend with them. I do it because it helps prepare them not only for their tournaments, but also for how to think, communicate, and change the world around them one event at a time. I know that sounds idealistic in some ways, but it is more about practicality that some might realize. One of the things I like most is helping students to even ponder a topic. That requires some careful thinking. It requires a sense of audience and purpose (hence, rhetorical). And perhaps most importantly, it requires students to step outside of their comfort zone and believe they can do something they have never considered doing. This is probably the most important thing I learned at Dana College.

When I arrived at Dana College the fall of 1979, I was six years out of high school. I was a Marine Corps veteran, and I had managed to flunk out of college already. I was just off a year long traveling stint with a Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) team, which was how I found Dana to begin with, and our team’s two visits to Blair exposed me to some incredible people and a beautiful space located on the bluffs of the Missouri River. We were welcomed as a team and made to feel as if our visit mattered and that was even more so the case in our return visit. I met people like Gary Beltz, Tom Kendall, Jim Borden, Kip Tyler, Barb (now) Boltinghouse, Merle Brockhoff, Mary Rowland. Each one of them were significant in affecting my decision to apply for admission. Then there was Richard (George, Rick) Schuler, who worked diligently with me, staying in contact with our itinerant travels as we meandered for 48,000 miles in nine months. When I got to the campus, I was nervous. I was a 24 year old freshman, which meant I was a bit of an anomaly from the get-go. I was already known because of my previous year visits, and then there were the stereotypes that many placed on pre-seminary students. I was no stellar high school student, and the academics of the classroom were beyond a distant memory. Yet, I would begin my fall courses and I would meet some incredible classmates through choir with Dr. Paul Neve and in my daily classes. My involvement with campus ministry teams offered yet another place to feel at home. I met people like Kim Nielsen, Shelly Peterson, Leanne Danahy, Monty Scheele, Tom Jacobson, Danette Johns as well as reacquainted with those previously noted. While I asked to have no roommate, somehow that did not happen and I was blessed to room with Peter Bonde, one of the best things that could have ever happened. Through him, I met people like Jules, his future wife, Barbara Kalal (now) Hawkins, Paulette Strecker, and the list could go on.

That first semester was a whirlwind, and I had classes that stimulated and amazed me. The lectures were engaging and the passion of my professors was something I had never experienced. Surprisingly (and I know that even more so now), my freshman composition professor was Richard Jorgensen. Yep!! He actually taught a semester of freshman composition. I think I forced him to use a least a pen or two marking my papers. Of course then there is the fact I would eventually major in history and I had him every single semester (now we are taking a complete package of red ink pens). I met other people in my classes, Kristi Swenson, Sarah Hansen, Bob Schmoll, Michael Keenan, Nettie Grorud, and Lori Neve to name a few. There was an upper level student named Sandra Barnum, whose father was the director of admissions, if I remember correctly. I thought she was one of the most beautiful and intriguing people I had ever met. Of course, I never told her that! Each of them helped me acclimate to being a student and I found I could actually excel. This was not anything I had every experienced. I ended my first semester with a GPA of around 7 (out of 9). It was not great, but it was much better than anything I had ever done. I had an incredible interim class on the Civil War with Dr. Jorgensen, and then it was into second semester. The second semester, I was excited to return; I wanted to know what was next in store. The class next in store for me was Humanities (HUM) 107 as well as a Latin Seminar. Quite simply: that class, that series, changed my life. It was the foundational learning experience upon which I believe everything I now do is based. That is a strong statement, but hear me out.

This semester, this remote learning semester, in this pandemic world, we all, regardless of age, are being asked to dig deep and consider who we are as well as what the world is we are existing, meandering, surviving in. For my freshmen students, their senior year did not end up as expected, their freshmen year is nothing like they hoped, and the world has been turned upside down. It is at times like these we need to understand who we are? What is our identity? It is upon that question I have focused their first year writing class. Understanding one’s self is a large and complex assignment and it is certainly not figured out in a 14 week Foundations of College Writing course, but it is worth starting there. That is what the Humanities sequence did for me. It allowed me to examine my world, but also to see what the present world (that late 1970s-early 1980s world) was about. More importantly, the program, created and supported by so many Dana faculty, provided us the tools to do more than merely glimpse at our Western Culture. We were immersed in what that culture meant to all the world, but also how all the world influenced our culture. Through units, lectures, study guides, events and access to an incredible set of mentors, we were allowed to think, analyze, and synthesize. We were not told what to think; we were taught how to think. That lesson, that gift, has never left me. Few knew how highly regarded the Humanities program at Dana was. It was one of the best programs in the country (I know this because I researched it when I was coming to Dana). It was one thing to know that upon arrival; it was another thing to experience and live it. Those three semesters, those required events, and the ability to study in Parnassus was where I learned how to learn. It is where I began to understand not only who I was, but what it meant to be a global citizen. Those things sound almost idealistic to a fault at this point; however, they are anything but.

As noted, some of my classmates have a pretty serious conversation occurring on my timeline. There is passion and some descension. In light of our current world, that is not surprising, but there is also listening and pondering, and that is more in the spirit of what we were offered at Dana U, as some of us fondly referred to it. When I was a student at Dana, it was a difficult time in terms of budgets, workloads, pay, and sabbaticals. I look at all of that much differently as a professor myself. Knowing all of those things from the other side, it is even more incredible how our professors worked through all of that with no appearance of anything wrong. I knew a bit because I was a 24 year old freshman, but I also knew the staggering number of hours our professors put in on our behalf. They never wavered in their commitment to the students. The same can be said for those in many of the administrative positions, those who made sure we had all the things necessary for living and thriving on campus. What I know at this point in my life is simple. We were provided living, breathing examples of what it meant to profess, to mentor, and to care about the students who attended their class. In spite of the ever-present concern about whether or not there would be enough money to be open yet another year, the Bansens, the Olsons, the Stones, the Johnsons, the Neves, the Brandeses, the Nielsens, or any professor’s name you care to add, showed up each and every day to provide and offer us the most phenomenal education we could ever hope to receive.

Forty-one years after my arrival as a student and living on Fourth North Holling, I am in touch with some of those classmates, and yes, those professors. Some of us have followed in their footsteps, students who are now named Drs. Jeff Langholz, Ruth Mirtz, Terri Pedersen Summey, and I know there are others, but it is late and my brain seems empty. I know for me, I hope to be half the professor they were and if I succeed, I will feel accomplished. What did I learn? Too much to put into words. So much that I am still realizing what it all meant. Most importantly, I learned to dream and believe that the liberal arts we were immersed in has unparalleled value and it has created a foundation that has served me in every aspect of my being. For that, there are no levels of gratitude that can, or will, ever repay those Saints we sat among. As I reach this milestone of 65 (as it is about 18 minutes after midnight), I am humbled. While this is not the Dana choir, it is the musical arrangement of what we did in every concert, and it is one of our sister colleges. It is one of my favorite musical memories and I can still hear voices of Monty Scheele, Tom or Peter Jacobson, Amy Nicols, or Elizabeth (now) Brockhoff and it brings me immeasurable joy.

Thanks always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

6 thoughts on “Just What Did I Learn?

  1. Nicely written. My husband’s parents lived in the brick house at the bottom of the hill going up to Dana after they sold the farm & moved into town. There were many of his family members that went there. I just about cry whenever I take a tour of the campus now!

  2. Dr. Martin, I feel incredibly proud of all that you’ve accomplished just by reading this post and learning the little that I have about you this far in the semester. I am inspired by the way you teach
    and it interests me to find out that you were influenced by the teachings of a professor you had in the past at Dana College. If there’s anything that I have taken from reading your lovely written blog post, it is how important it is for us as individuals to take risks and do things that are outside of our comfort zones. In every case possible, if you believe you can do something, you can absolutely achieve it. Goals are set with intentions to be accomplished, and I think it’s important to set goals that may seem like a bit of a reach because it will create motivation to complete them. You talk a lot about hopes and dreams outside of this blog post as well, which is also important to have in life. I enjoy pondering these ideas as concepts alone and as ideas that are personal to myself.

  3. After reading this blog post, I honestly do not know what to think. My mind is racing to process all of the information that I just took in. First I would like to say how it is amazing that you still keep in contact with some of your fellow classmates and previous professors. To me, this shows that it is possible to form life long connections that allows you to reminiscence together about your past experiences. Previously, I did not think it was possible to stay in touch with kids that I have gone to school with because life will take us on our own individual paths that we would lose connection along the way. I hope that in the future I will be able to have class on campus to start creating these never ending friendships that you have described.

    While you described the relationship of the members on the Debate and Forensics team, I thought to myself how great it would be to have a dynamic like that with others. It would be amazing to have a close group of friends who would hear your opinions while push you to keep thinking outside the box. In my past experiences, we voiced our opinions and chose which one we liked the best. There was no encouragement or reflection that resembled any form of how the members of the Debate and Forensics team.

    Similar to you, I am learning that college can be a whirlwind. As a first time college student, I did not know what I was getting myself into. I have been told what college is like and what to look out for (dreadful freshman 15 specifically), yet I did not have any personal experience. I mean no disrespect to my high school, but they did not prepare us for college. They only wanted to see us receive our diplomas and know that we did not fail. I think high school should have a greater purpose than simply wishing for each of their students to receive a diploma. I wish that high schools would push their students to reach their full potential and expect the best out of them instead of expecting half-assed assignments.

    In conclusion, the main aspect of your blog that influenced me would be to ask ourselves who we are. Whenever I am asked the question, how would you describe yourself? I would simply say that I am a smart woman who lacks common sense. I would say that I am an athlete who plays softball as a catcher. Instead of thinking of more meaningful descriptions, I chose generic ones that can be applied to anyone. In our class, I am learning new ways to describe myself. I would now say that I am a smart woman who has her head on her shoulders and knows what she wants out of life. I would say that I overstress way too much about school and try to reach perfection even though I know it does not exist. I am persistent and will not sop trying until I feel as if I tried my best. This blog has taught me to think about myself in a new way. A more confident way. A way that I do not feel that I need to compare myself to others.

    I feel as if I can accept who I am and be happy. For young adults, I think it is difficult for us to be happy with who we are. I do not know what causes these thoughts – probably social media- but, I am thankful that I am learning to see myself in a better light. Thank you for opening my eyes and allowing me to find my true identity and to appreciate who I am though our Foundations of Writing class.

    Thank you,

  4. I think that there is often a misconception in academics. If you excel in your grades, you are pretty much automatically considered intelligent. On the flip side, if you receive a failing grade you are seen as dumb or lacking intelligence. Something that you have shown in this blog is how untrue this way of thinking truly is. You need the correct resources and a true passion to excel at what you are doing. You started off college with failing grades, but once you found your passions and the classes and teachers that inspired and spoke to you, you began to excel. You were not dumb before and just gained intelligence. Your environment and way of thinking began to change. This was your switch from a passive to an active learner. This is a perfect example of what you are trying to teach our English 101 class about excelling through the claiming of our education. I thank you for this posting because I have gained a new understanding of being an active learner, and you have fulfilled my understanding.

  5. Can I just say what a comfort to find someone that actually understands what they are talking about on the web. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people ought to read this and understand this side of the story. It’s surprising you aren’t more popular given that you most certainly have the gift.

  6. It was really eye opening when you discussed how the Debate and Forensics team push each other to achieve goals they never believed they could accomplish. It makes me look back at my time here in Bloomsburg University and realize that the tasks given to me throughout my various classes have, in a few cases, been tasks I never would have imagined myself doing four years ago.

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