Friday, October 19, 2012

When a Student Gets Published

 . . . it’s oddly more satisfying than getting published yourself. It’s the literary equivalent of the parental experience, perhaps: you have not only used your gift, you have passed it on. You have exceeded the limitations of the self, started a ripple effect. Butterfly, you flapped your wings, and sometime later a hurricane swept the coast.

I’ve had this awesome pleasure more than once, and the latest two have come from separate hemispheres: poetry and science. Ruben Aguilar, who graced my creative writing class a couple of years ago, has not one but two poems in the latest issue of Axis. The first, “My Brother’s Gift,” is a moving narrative meditation on the troubled relationship between brothers:

On my eighth birthday,
mom bought me dressy shoes
heavy, brown, one size too large;
said I’ll grow into them.

I wished to wear them then,
my present, my shoes, my birthday.
I felt older with them on,
would impress my brother’s friends,
hang with them after school,
not be sent to my room
Axis 9 2012
while the older boys played.

The secondand if you know anything about me, you’ll know how insanely amazing this isis a sestina, “Underwear for My Feet,” another wonderful childhood recollection of being too young to fully understand the complexities of adult life:

Were you worried about your reputation
when I woke up to find that boyish man
in your bed? Did you think of your mother?
I saw him struggling to find his underwear
under the sheets she had bought, his feet
hanging over the edge, like an overgrown child.

I taught Ruben what a sestina was. That was me! Laura Mullen, thank you for teaching me. The cycle continues.

And then there is the strange phenomenon of how I am also, apparently, teaching science. For years now, I’ve been teaching the required writing courses for the nursing majors at STU, and the last course in the sequence, Scientific Writing, requires students to engage in a semester-long project that includes original empirical research and culminates in the production of a professional research paper. Last year, boy did it ever. My student, Veronica Hernández Menadier, had her paper, “How Personality and Physical Attraction Lead to Possible Dating: A Reflection,” published in the latest issue of the Journal of Multidisciplinary Research. It is a wonderful study on dating psychology, the premise of whichand if you know anything about me, you’ll know how insanely amazing this is—is to challenge stereotypical beliefs about how each gender chooses a potential mate:

Veronica, with Dr. Chan and Dr. Cingel

According to an experiment by Harris (2004), personality is defined as personal qualities and characteristics associated with interpersonal behaviors. Personality is seen as a second choice after physical attractiveness when it comes to being involved in relationships.  Although many experiments (Schmitt, 2002; Harris, 2004; Tsujimura et al., 2010) have been previously conducted in areas of personality and physical attraction, all have various results but just share one in common. None have had an actual reliable and assessable quantitative method to evaluate the correlation between personality and physical attraction and how they lead to dating (Tsujimura et al., 2010). The above observations led my colleagues and I to wonder to what extent personality actually plays a role in the people we choose to date or not.
The key hypothesis of this study is: There will be a relationship in gender in terms of the frequency of choosing to date a person who is PASU (Physical Attraction/Social Unattraction) vs. PASA (Physical Attraction/Social Attraction) vs. PUSA (Physical Unattraction/Social Attraction) vs. PUSU (Physical Unattraction/Social Unattraction). Which will be tested against the alternative: There will be no relationship in gender in terms of the frequency of choosing to date a person who is PASU vs. PASA vs. PUSA vs. PUSU.

One can take only so much responsibility for the success of one’s students. After all, they already come to us with talents , skills, and drives we had no role in forming, especially in the case of college students, who are already adults (well, sort of!) when they come to us. Both Ruben and Veronica are immensely talented and driven individuals, and I had nothing to do with that. But I remember sitting in the office and telling Ruben about sestinas, and I remember all those hours spent with Veronica helping her get her paper ready for publication long after she had passed the class for which she had first written it. I had something to do with that!

Teaching is hard. There are days (many, many days . . .) when one wants to just set oneself on fire rather than teach one more minute. When a student gets published, it’s more than just a balm against those days. It means the boundaries of the classroom have been transcended. That brutal exchange that seems so pointless sometimeswork for gradeshas been transcended. The word teaching, with all its bureaucratic connotations, hardly seems to apply. What’s happened is more like alchemy, somewhere between science and magic. You can’t quite force it to happen, no matter how hard you try to reproduce the conditions of its making. You can only hope that one day, amid the papers and the pens, the beakers and the boiling, it suddenly, spontaneously, miraculously happens again.
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