Whenever I smell pine needles, I am reminded of my days as a child at summer camp in Northern Arizona. In fact, the sense of smell triggers many personal memories of significant times in my life and the emotions associated with those events. The earthy smell of the desert after it rains brings me home no matter where I am in the world. The sounds and salty smells of the ocean remind me of the days I played on the beach as a child and pondered what was beyond the wave break.
Being back in SLO – the smells, sounds and sights of the Cal Poly campus - has brought back memories and associated emotions from my time as a student on campus. Choosing to become a faculty at Cal Poly felt like coming home, but I don’t think I appreciated why until I started reflecting on my memories and the role that Cal Poly played in my life and career.
The mist-covered campus in the mornings reminds me of waiting outside my large lecture hall for BIO 150 to start. A strong whiff of sulfur brings back memories of WOW week and our groups’ visit to the hot springs. The delicious smell of tri-tip gives me a sense of excitement and reminds me of the hustle and bustle of my first Thursday night Farmer’s Market.
The energy of fall conference and new faculty orientation put me right back to my time as a freshman during welcome week. I have vivid memories of Dean Bailey’s Chemistry Magic show. During my first week, I felt excited and terrified, exploring all of the possible activities I could get involved with on campus, and wondering how I would be transformed by my college experiences.
Visiting the BIO and CHEM lab spaces this fall has brought back forgotten memories and emotions. The smell of the chemistry lab reminds me of my afternoons learning titrations and equations like C1V1=C2V2 (which I use now more than I ever thought I would!). But perhaps more importantly, it triggered an empowering memory of a time in my life when I learned to think analytically and ask big questions about the world. Those days of new beginnings were a time in my life when I felt like anything was possible. It was during my freshman year I made the decision to be a scientist.
Turns out, I still love those moments when I feel like anything is possible. As my creative juices flow I find myself thinking of new research questions or dreaming up a new course to teach. Of course, this is tempered at times as I discover the challenges of implementing said research idea or course design, but it is that hope of new opportunities and possibility that keeps me stretching as a scientist and professor.
My short time at Cal Poly was transformative in my life and career, but I don’t think I appreciated that until all of these memories resurfaced. As I start a new journey at Cal Poly and reflect on the past I am crafting my aspiration for this next chapter on campus as a professor. This is an opportunity to teach and inspire an entire new generation of students and pass down what I received. Who better to look to as role models than the faculty who inspired and taught me?
Here are the things I remember about my professors at Cal Poly and what I myself will strive to offer my students:
Open office hours,
Patience, particularly answering questions as if it was the first time asked (instead of the thousandth!),
Openness and honesty,
Willingness to teach something in 3 different ways if a student doesn’t understand it the first way,
Allowing students the freedom to make mistakes and help them learn from them,
The realization that students are people engaging with the world beyond the walls of my classroom,
Passion for learning and teaching,
Be willing to admit when I don’t know something and demonstrate ways to find the answers.
So as I embark on this new journey as an Assistant Professor, I can't imagine a better place to begin my career than Cal Poly. I hope to provide my students with the same transformative experience that I had – both inside and outside of the class. Who knows where some unique smells and a love for learning will take them!