Reflections of a “professional” student

This week we’ve been preparing for Abby to move into her college dorm and begin her freshman year. During the process, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time as a student–and it was a lot of time! Along the way, I had some good stories and some bad. Comparing my stories to what I know about Taylor University, am blessed that my kids will have much better professors.


I spent two years at Rose-Hulman majoring in first Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. Hands down, during those two years I met some of the most intelligent people in the country. The professors all had PhD’s and all of the students were in the top 10-15% of their high school classes. Unfortunately, quite often with this kind of intelligence comes an air of superiority. Granted, I’m a guy that’s always been more comfortable talking to janitors and groundskeepers rather than administrators and PhD’s. Perhaps that gives me a different perspective, but I can think of 3 cases in particular.


At Rose-Hulman, all majors have to take a class in statics (trusses, bridges etc). At Rose-Hulman, the two majors at the top of the pecking order were EEs (Electrical engineers) and ChemEs (Chemical Engineers). The major on the bottom were the CivEs (Civil Engineers). So, when a ChemE got stuck in Statics, we weren’t at all happy–but apparently the CivE professor wasn’t either. (All freshmen ChemEs were put in their on class of Statics–2 credit instead of 4.) On the first day of Statics, we found a note on the door that stated: “Don’t feel like teaching you ChemEs today, go home and read chapter 1 in your book”. Odd, but ok…

Until the second class period one week later. In the second class period, he shows up to our 90 minute session and goes off on a rant for 5-10 minutes. It went something like: “Frankly, I don’t want to be here and you don’t either. I am tired of snot nosed ChemEs looking down on me because I’m a civil engineer. So, I don’t care what you do or learn in this class as long as I don’t have to look at you anymore after this semester. That being said, I blankity blank don’t feel teaching you today. Go home and read chapter 2 in your book for next week.” He then slams his book, gathers his stuff and walked out in a huff. I got a D in that class


MeatBalls – Material and Energy Balances–my first AND last engineering course. In MeatBalls, we flow-charted chemical equations and solved for the mass and/or makeup of the resultant compound. So, you might have a reaction between Cr2Al1Co4 and He3O2. Your flowchart must show the beginning molecules; a line denoting heat, cold, or another cataylst; and the resulting molecule(s). Each step in the process resulted in a different equations. such as CrXAlyCoz and in the end you had to solve for X, Y and Z. (Don’t worry, I just lost myself there too)

I don’t have an “engineering mind”–but I do have an analytical mind. Needless to say, I struggled mightily in this course–on into the final. All finals at Rose-Hulman at the time were 4 hours in length and this was my last before going to WI to see my girlfriend at the time. The professor told us to begin that he was going to give us a hint. there would be 41 equations and therefore 41 unknowns. (Simple algebra after that but it required a balance–the same # of equations as unknowns. Also, we didn’t have to solve them by hand. Once we got the balance correct, we just typed all the equations into Mathematica and clicked SOLVE)

Ten minutes into the final, my professor knelt in front of my desk and got up in my face. He bluntly stated, “Why are you here? You don’t belong at Rose-Hulman and will NEVER amount to anything. You should drop out”. REALLY?!?!?!? I failed the final–but not for lack of effort. I spent 3+ hours on that final–redrawing the flowchart 3 times and failing each time to balance. I turned in the 3rd attempt and cried all the way to my dorm–from stress.

Side story:

In that same final, a fellow student knew the next day he would be attending classes at Indiana State so he didn’t care about this class. Beavis and Butthead was popular on TV at the time. This student spent 15 minutes on his final–which he showed me before handing it in. He drew (very accurately) Beavis and Butthead with a speech bubble stating: “I am cornholio. I need TP for my bunghole”. Professor didn’t appreciate it I can tell you.

German II

This is the only non-science story I have about Rose-Hulman classes. I had planned to become fluent in German, so I was in the German track at Rose. Our professor was a chain smoker–and I mean CHAIN!! She was so addicted to nicotine that she shook violently while trying to write on the blackboard even 5 min into class. Of course that added insult to injury–trying to learn German AND interpret her shaky writing.

For Christmas that first year, one of the students learned her favorite German beer and brought it to class. He offered her a taste–DURING CLASS–and she accepted. Five minutes later she picked up the bottle and walked out. Ten minutes later she returned, depositing the empty bottle in the trash and continuing. The rest of the class meeting we learned Drunken German! And that my friends is the ONLY thing I remember from German at Rose-Hulman!


Finally a good story. Truth be told, O-Chem (organic chemistry) was my favorite classes at Rose, but I struggled mightily again. First term I earned a C- and second term I was well on my way to a D. However, I did learn a lot both in class and in lab. Unfortunately, O-Chem lab is where my migraines started (only to get much worse after a car accident 3 years later). I did however get to see an Ijit take one big whiff of chloroform–right after the professor told us NOT to.

During the second term, I went home for a rare weekend but got snowed in at home. I missed a test on Tuesday as we didn’t get dug out until Wednesday. So, Dr. Ball scheduled me during his office hours to take the test orally. He’d ask the questions and I’d explain it to him. After the test he told me that I got a B.

He went on to ask me to think over the next several days if Rose was the right place for me. You see, he could tell that I was knowledgeable in the topic and could succeed. However, after 15 weeks of watching me, he could tell that I really had no passion for the subject. He encouraged me to find my true passion–adding that if I decided Chemistry wasn’t it, then he’d give me a WP (withdraw passing) even though it was 2 weeks after the last date to do that and help me prepare the next quarter to transition to a new program or university.

It was then that I decided to leave and look at Math Ed. (Eventually switching to an applied math and then Mathematical Economics)


As an employee of Taylor University, I know that the first situations will not happen for my kids. However, I would pray that the professors care enough to speak truthfully and openly like Dr. Ball. A professor should encourage and help our students find their passion and I know that happens at Taylor.

NOTE: On my way to 180 college credits, I have attended Vincennes University (high school), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, IUPUI, Ball State University and Indiana Weslyan. I had memorable moments (good and bad) at all of them, so you may see similar stories in the future from me.

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