The Question Insights From Response Readers
Which teacher changed your life?
Whether it was fifth grade or post-graduate study, memories of the teachers who challenged us to stretch our brains and to think big about our lives will always stay with us.
Here's what you said:
C.Y. Jesse Chiang taught me at Seattle Pacific University, 1977–79. I graduated with a B.A. in political science and am now practicing property rights law in Gambia, West Africa. Dr. Chiang was the author of The Good Life. He taught me that the only life worth living is the good life.
Mahamadou Krubally ’79
Tenth-grade biology changed my life. My teacher, Paul Witt, was notoriously tough, had no tolerance for ignorance or lack of preparation, and insisted that we express our thoughts with clarity and confidence. But despite its rigors, that class was the first time I was taken seriously as a student.
The tenacity, motivation for excellence, and abundant love for biology I got from Mr. Witt remain absolutely integral to the way I approach my academic life.
Marcile Mack of the SPU Music Department was more than an accomplished pianist and professor of music — she was an example to young women in the ’60s and ’70s of the limitless opportunities that were opening up to women at that time. She was passionately devoted to her music and to teaching others and divided her time between classical music and the ministry of church music.
Now, after 30 years of being a church organist and pianist, I've had the privilege to live out the dedication and commitment Marcile modeled for me, and to pass on the gift of teaching others to love music and use it as a way to fulfill ourselves and make our world a better place.
Susan Arnold ’72, ’04
My middle-school math teacher, Gary Pounder, had an irresistible, infectious passion for math. From him, I learned the beauty of an elegantly simple proof, the joy of discovering a solution, and the marvelous uses of math. As I teach math, he’s the one I aspire to emulate. On the day of our last final, after two years of his daily barrage of theorems, irreverent humor, and passion, the massive, football-coaching man wished us good luck and then said something we already knew: “I love you guys — but that’s all the sappiness you’re getting from me.”
Nate Woodward ’00
Elk Grove, California
When my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Dvorak, discovered I was writing stories in class during any spare moment I had, he could’ve chastised me. Instead, he read my stories, told me they were good, and signed me up for a student writing conference. It was then that I started considering myself a writer.
Elisabeth “Lisa” Krohn Haggard ’04
Dr. Michael Macdonald [SPU professor emeritus of German, European studies, and philosophy] taught entry-level German courses for years, something that most professors of his experience and stature at larger universities work hard to avoid. But Dr. Macdonald approached each new class with the same enthusiasm and devoted his full attention and energy to his students regardless of their class level or ability. He imparted to us in each class that we should reflect on what is true, noble, right, excellent, praiseworthy.
And yes, Dr. Macdonald, es macht immer Spass in der deutsche Klasse!
Andrew Carmichael ’92
I will never forget the time I spent with Dr. Stamatis Vokos [SPU professor of physics]. I was far from ignorant of this man’s accomplishments and prestige: from grant proposals to curriculum development, to being the scientific advisor to the Dalai Lama for crying out loud. And yet, when we entered the classroom, he greeted us with a “hello my friends.” Friend? I’m a 20-year-old kid who can barely balance my part-time job and my studies (which, let’s just say I was not up for valedictorian).
Dr. Vokos took time to meet with me while I was going through a personal crisis. I was struggling with a relationship that I knew should end but I was unable to end it. And I could see myself from above, crying in his office, my heart broken and wondering how on earth this great man was patiently letting me waste his time. But he listened, he counseled, he asked me the right questions. I was so humbled that Dr. Vokos would take the time not only to listen, but also to give me the courage to do the right thing. The only thing I can hope is that I helped him prepare a little for any heartbreak his beautiful daughters may experience.
I was in Dr. Vokos’s Physics as a Process of Inquiry class the year his mother passed away. I even still think about that day when he had returned from Greece, and as we had our seats he softly explained his state of mind, processed aloud what it is to lose a parent, what he was thinking and how he felt. I’ll never forget how honored I felt to be trusted enough to have a glimpse into this man’s mind and heart. Now that my own parent’s mortality is teetering on the edge, I draw great comfort from Dr. Vokos. Even though this was nearly eight years ago, I still remember.
And I’ll never forget the time we were in class working on tutorials, and Dr. Vokos came by to check on our group. I can’t even remember how it came up, but he said, “I think Ashlee would make a wonderful teacher.” I remember jerking my head up: “Me?” It is the reason I took a job as an Outdoor Science Education Teacher in Santa Cruz, California, after I graduated.
Dr. Vokos changed my life, and to this day I think about how if I could be like anyone, it would be Dr. Vokos.
Ashlee Kling ’06
Ms. Sandra Whitworth, my high school chemistry teacher, kept her standards high and kept her expectations of her students equally high. Because of her standards and mentoring, I was able to go on to be highly successful in college chemistry.
The other science mentor who has been a pattern for my own career was Dr. Karin Otto at McMurry University. Her cell biology class was one of the most challenging classes I took as an undergraduate, yet she made it seem so simple. Both of these women had high standards for all their students even at a time when few women pursued careers in these areas. They taught me, as a teacher, to keep my expectations high for my students, and, as a result, my students will easily rise to the occasion.
SPU Associate Professor of Biology
William “Bill” Hansen ’56, or “Prof” as we fondly called him, taught in the speech department, where I obtained a minor along with my major in sociology. I recognized the intrinsic power of speech and its influence on people, and I learned from Prof Hansen the need to treat this power responsibly. I was fortunate along with other class members to attend several forensic competitions on weekends, where we served as judges to the events.
He was a warm and caring person who instilled in me a love for forensics and showed me how I might use it in my life after college. I have done so. I recall his warm smile and caring manner, and I am glad he was a part of my life.
Bob Barta ’65
As a sophomore at SPC still searching for a major, I enrolled in general chemistry. Without high school chemistry, the course was a lot of work, but I loved it and chemistry became my major.
To make up for lost time I had to enroll in physical chemistry my junior year. The prerequisites, general physics and calculus were taken simultaneously. When I first encountered a partial differential equation in p-chem my thought was: What in the world is that? That year was challenging. But with Dr. Andrew Montana’s help I survived.
Organic Chemistry was on the docket for my senior year. What a relief! I had taken the prerequisites and organic is normally a sophomore course. It should be easy. Not with Dr. Montana. A recently minted Ph.D. in organic chemistry, he taught a demanding high-level course. One-and-half years of subject matter were squeezed into that one year. He presented more information in a class period than I could possibly record, sometimes writing on the board with his right hand while erasing with his left. In response to our pleas for help he placed his lecture notes in the lab so we could complete our notes. There were no photocopy machines in those days.
At the end of the year we took the often dreaded and difficult standardized American Chemical Society Organic Chemistry exam. Thanks to Dr. Montana, we knew the fundamentals so well that the test seemed elementary. One or more students achieved at 99 percentile, (the top 1 percent of all students nationally), about half of the class scored 90 percentile or above, while the lowest score was 75. Many of the students went on to earn M.D. or Ph.D. degress. The student that scored a 75 became a Ph.D. and did award-winning scientific research.
Dr. Montana was not only demanding, but was proud of and promoted his students. In May of my junior year, I received a letter from Prof. Joe Davis, Scholarship Committee Chairman, naming me the Crown Zellerbach Scholarship recipient for 1958–59. Dr. Montana had recommended me. At his suggestion I was asked to be the student speaker at the Faculty–Senior Breakfast in the spring of 1959. It was an honor to share the podium with C. Hoyt Watson, the retiring SPC president.
Before being officially accepted into graduate school at the University of Washington, I had to pass entrance exams in each of the four then traditional areas of chemistry, including inorganic, which was not taught as a separate course at SPC. Dr. Montana encouraged me to study diligently, and when I passed all the exams I was so excited that I drove to campus, found him in the snack bar in the basement of Tiffany watching the World Series, and shared the news.
After I obtained a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, Dr. Montana and I continued to be in contact. Early in my teaching career he visited me at Greenville College in Illinois. Then in the early ’80s, I stopped unannounced at his office at California State University Fullerton. As we reminisced about his time at SPC, he amazed and shocked me when he opened his desk drawer and pulled out my completed 1959 organic chemistry final exam. After his retirement he arranged for me to use an excellent online computer program being developed at Cal State Fullerton as an aid in teaching general chemistry.
In May of 2007, Dr. Montana informed me that he had terminal cancer. He died later that year on my birthday. He is missed.
He was proud of his students, promoted their welfare, and inspired them to do their best. His teaching instilled confidence that took many of us to rewarding careers in medicine and science. I am proud to be one of Andy’s boys.
Ron Richards ’59
I was a senior at Holy Names Academy taking a French class. A couple of us French students wanted to attend an exhibit of French Impressionist paintings at Seattle Art Museum (back when it was still in Volunteer Park). Sr. Bernadine Casey, our teacher, allowed me and another student to go during class time. She allowed us to leave school — without checking out in the main office — and trusted us to walk to Volunteer Park and actually attend the exhibit. We did go, and I remember this trust and kindness more than 40 years later. I still remember the exhibit and some of the paintings I saw.
Katherine McEwen ’81
Dr. Delbert McHenry changed my life in both small and large ways. One of the small ones is that I have not locked my keys in my car for 25 years, subsequent to Dr. McHenry teaching me how to use environmental cues. On a larger scale, I've found success at work by first looking for procedural errors as opposed to blaming myself or others for a lapse. I believe I learned this over several of McHenry's class topics such as Human Factors Engineering. Lastly, I've always wanted to thank Dr. McHenry for believing in me and taking the time to invest in my success as a human being. Blessings to you, Delbert!
Dr. Cara Wall-Scheffler has changed my life. She has given me the courage to pursue my calling and to know that I am good enough. She truly goes out of her way to interact with her students — to be more than a professor — to be a mentor and a friend. Her love for learning has been infectious to me, encouraging me to strive for excellence in my classes and in pursuing my future career.
Most of us can look back and trace key turning points in our lives to one pivotal decision, or the influence of a single person. Retired professor Abbie Dale, is that person in my life. A required nutrition class I took from her during the spring of 1976, influenced not only my major field of study, but the rest of my life.
Jann Wagner Provonsha ’79