As students of Wright State, it has not escaped our notice that many of our professors will strike
beginning Tuesday January 22, 2019. There are many reasons for this difficult decision.
You can learn more about them, here and here.
As a recent 2018 alumnus and current graduate student, I want to share my story and express my support for my professors. We hope our administration and Board of Trustees will take notice of how much we value our education from our supportive faculty.
Although I had small bursts of interest in the healthcare field from a young age, I ended up disliking science classes. Other people identified me as an artist, and expressing myself through my artwork always came naturally to me. So the only reason I signed up for anatomy at Wright State, was because of the rapid deterioration I witnessed in my older brother.
When I was 17 and he was 20, he experienced his first psychosis at home. I stayed up with him through the night, and tried to make sure he wouldn’t hurt himself as he searched for “diamonds in our rug,” manically scraping the floors until his knees bled.
As the early stages of his disease manifested in behavior, my parents and all seven of us brothers and sisters, observed a spectrum of cognitive deficits and changes in his affect. These changes were accompanied by visual, auditory, olfactory, and even gustatory hallucinations that enhanced his delusions.
A psychiatrist later diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia.
I didn’t know anything about his prognosis, but I wanted to understand the mechanisms that changed him from a popular football athlete to a patient. The onset of his neurological disease was the beginning of my journey into the delicate constellation of circuits carefully wired in our minds.
In the fall of 2004, my second year at Wright State, it seemed taking an introductory anatomy class would be a plausible step for testing the waters of medicine that I had been drawn to through my personal experience. I signed up for classes through a telephone system for dialing class codes provided by the university newspaper. Again, this was 2004. The internet wasn’t a tool the way it is now, so there was a great deal of mystery about the content of this course (for me).
Once I found the lab in the basement of the Medical Sciences building, my stomach dropped when I realized we were going to learn from human donors. I don’t come from a family of scientists or physicians. My dad has a degree in business, and my mom earned her GED after having my older siblings. It never occurred to me that we would learn in this manner as undergraduates. I recall looking at the other students, questioning this peculiar custom that didn’t seem to bother anyone else in the room. I stood in the back of the first couple labs, sweating & holding my breath, afraid to broach any closer. I remember standing in a hallway of lockers after lab, asking myself, what am I doing here? Soon I stopped going altogether.
At the end of the quarter, I obtained an X in the course.
To be clear, an X meant that I did not pass.
It seemed like confirmation that I wasn’t a good match for medicine.
If I couldn’t tolerate anatomy, we were never going to work out.
So I left Wright State to earn an associates degree in Visual Communications from Sinclair.
I became a freelance photographer and graphic designer.
This allowed me to work primarily from home when my sons were young, but I always felt the pull of having unfinished business at Wright State.
Eleven years after I had left Wright State, I reapplied as a single mom. With both of my sons in elementary school, I just wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree. Resuming my studies at Wright State was not an easy or clear cut decision. It was bursts of little curiosities, obsessive diligent research, and two meetings with advisors approximately six months apart. After I spoke with a kind and informative advisor from the College of Liberal Arts, it was clear that I was no longer interested in a fine arts degree.
A few months passed as I continued to think about returning to Wright State, developed more curiosities, and continued to obsessively diligently research programs of study. Finally, I made an appointment with an advisor from the Psychology department. We spoke at length about my interests, my fears about taking statistics and research methods I & II, and what might be a practical first step while returning to college. He explained that the department now offered courses in Behavioral Neuroscience, Cognition & Perception, and I/O psychology as concentrations of focused study. He was patient while I asked about the differences between a B.A. and B.S. He supplied me with pamphlets about the details of degree options, and told me to take my time while deciding what to do. He recommended I take a light semester of electives as I adjusted to being a student again at Wright State. We talked about the importance of becoming integrated into the system as I acclimated to this new place in my life.
With his advice in mind, I signed up for Human Sexuality and Biological Anthropology. I was treading carefully, and trying to avoid anything chemistry related. Soon I received notice that I had been awarded a Transfer Scholarship, and was even more excited about this new chapter in my life. The divorce had been a long and brutal process, and I was ready to design a new life.
Then the billing statement arrived.
My eyes scanned the considerable amount due, even after application of my scholarship.
I thought about rent, the car payment, gas for my car, groceries… and I panicked.
I thought about my sons, in kindergarten and fourth grade, and I was overwhelmed with the idea of how to logistically make this work while I raised them alone.
After weighing all of these concerns, I logged into WINGS and promptly dropped both classes.
That could have been the end of my story and affiliation with Wright State, but it is not.
A few days later, my parking pass arrived. I opened it in my little kitchen apartment and noticed how the pattern caught the light at certain angles. I had forgotten that in my excitement of enrolling in classes at Wright State, I had bought a one-semester parking pass.
It was nearly $100 dollars.
It was a big sacrifice to me, and I cringed when I thought about not using it.
Could I waste all that money?
The pass also affected me in another way.
The shiny laminated pass was quite the foreign object to me. As someone who worked from home, there had been no use for parking passes hanging from my rear view mirror. It was the first hint of tangible evidence that a new pattern, a new chapter, was within reach. It just so happened that I was desperate to make changes in my life, and this is how I would start. I reenrolled in the courses, and opted for the payment plan.
The first day of fall semester arrived. My son, Kevin, gifted me his old Darth Vader lunch bag (which was quite the honor). Both my sons drew notes for my lunch bag that I couldn’t open until lunch. Their excitement was adorable, but I was acutely aware of the extra challenges ahead.
I resolved that I would make this work- even if it meant stepping into mid air without a hint of support underneath me.
I would make sure my feet would have a place to land each time I took a step.
If necessary, I would build my own road.
Initially, I was very embarrassed to be in my thirties and in the middle of divorce proceedings as an undergraduate. Thankfully, I’ve had the honor of having professors who were graciously accommodating when I had to miss class for divorce trial and associated court appearances.
It turns out that my professors were the bridge of support I needed to move forward; I didn’t have to build the road alone.
They encouraged campus involvement by inviting us to events that might interest us, lab openings, and pertinent extracurriculars. I benefited from becoming more acquainted with campus activities, such as becoming a Women’s Center intern, as a result of their suggestions.
As an undergraduate, I started to gradually build confidence to take classes that had previously felt out of reach- like behavioral neuroscience and anatomy. When I was nervous about working with cadavers in the anatomy lab, our teacher took me to the updated lab in White Hall during office hours so that she could give me a private tour to help ease some of my discomfort and reframe my fears. As she calmly answered all of my questions and explained some of the topics we would be studying, I saw the value of why we learn the way we do in anatomy lab. After all of the years of evading this exact scenario, it only took a few seconds to transform my physiological response to the lab. No longer nauseous or nervous, I was fully ready to immerse myself in my education.
I am aware that the conversation with her could have played out very differently. She could have recommended that I toughen up or redirected me from me her office and laughed at me.
I will be a physician because she was wiser and more compassionate than that.
Our professors do not approach their interactions with students as contractual obligations or sterile processes. They care about the opportunities to influence their students.
I am a product of their guidance and kindness.
Now I realized that I had come full circle to the same dream that I had years ago as a sister who wanted to help her brother and people like him. Except now there was a lot on the line, because I was bringing my two sons along for this journey. I figured out how to fill out the FAFSA form. With the support of professors and advisors, I began taking pre-med prerequisites. I was awarded scholarships that made a significant difference in my ability to support my family while devoting a substantial amount of time to my courses. I continued to work as a photographer, medical scribe, tutor, and researcher. My statistics teacher made the subject as painless as possible, and even… *gasp* fun?! I loved her sense of humor and enjoyed applied calculus with her too. I listened when my biological anthropology professor explained sexual dimorphism in species. She stressed that there was not an advantageous neuroanatomical region men had in relation to women that made them smarter. This opened me up to developing a growth mindset, and the next thing I knew, I was signed up for general chemistry. It had been 15 years since I had chemistry in high school. There were setbacks along the way, but I worked hard to catch up with my younger peers.
It was my responsibility to endorse my dreams and develop study techniques for classes I swore I’d never take. It was a tremendous help that my professors have held extended office hours, replied to numerous emails, encouraged peer-taught SI sessions, and held their own review sessions in the evenings and weekends. My sons were always welcome to attend these sessions if I needed to bring them. One day I emailed a teacher to let her know my son couldn’t return to school after his dental procedure, and he would need to accompany me to class. She designated the most comfortable chair in the room for him and welcomed him with his name on the chair. My research mentors challenged me to tackle an undergraduate thesis that 2004-version-of-me could have never accomplished. They were able to work closely with me, and give me feedback regularly. They have allowed me to bring my sons to campus when I needed to collect data in the evenings or weekends. Another professor helped organize a Misconceptions of Gender Differences in STEM course I took that helped broaden our understanding of how to build a more inclusive STEM environment on campus. This is something that I am very passionate about, since it wasn’t long ago that I would have laughed in the face of anyone who told me I’d end up in a STEM career. I didn’t think I had any talent for it or the innate skills that seemed to come naturally to some people. My biggest barrier was a lack of confidence in myself.
Below. A visit in 2016 to show my sons where I worked in my first research lab, the Human Neuroscience and Visual Cognition Laboratory, under Dr. Harel.
I have also benefited from the legal services at Wright State, when unforeseen circumstances required their counsel in civil matters related to, but separate from, custody & the divorce decree. It was a great relief to have a program available that is $11 a semester, and the ability to focus my attention on my classes, research, and sons. Otherwise, I likely would have needed to leave campus that semester. I considered this when personal obstacles seemed greater than my capacity to overcome them. My biggest fear and sadness came at the thought of not being able to finish my degree. One professor, with tears in her eyes, said obstinately, “No. Not this time. I won’t let that happen.” It meant the world to have someone believe in my potential that way. I stayed.
Another advisor, introduced me to Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the “father of modern neuroscience.” He explained that Cajal was the winner, with Camillo Golgi, of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in the advancement of the structure of the nervous system. I had often felt like being a former art student had made me less qualified than my classmates. My advisor wanted me to know that having a background in the arts was not a detriment to my future scientific endeavors, because Cajal had to draw the neurons he visualized in the microscope in order to share his findings with the world. This was the point when I realized that communicating science to the general public would be a personal mission of mine. I began to see my background as a strength. I was soon delighted to learn how to draw my way through understanding human physiology, thanks to another talented professor that guided us in drawing simple images in his lectures to understand complicated physiological mechanisms.
Studying anatomy, physiology, and behavioral neuroscience helped me develop a persistent fascination with the design of our existence. I learned that art is not limited to brush strokes on canvas. Or for me, the ability to capture wavelengths of light through a camera lens.
There is art inside of each of us, elegantly woven and meticulously arranged.
Those courses were my first introduction to the dynamic alliance between art & science.
This relationship is so finely embedded in our world, that I couldn’t outrun its pull or avoid its influence. Every step away was part of an ordered sequence to bring me back here.
In summer of 2018, I graduated with a bachelor of science degree in Psychology, with a concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience. I completed all pre-med prerequisites. I wrote and presented an undergraduate honors thesis on the effect of social buffering on neuroinflammatory signaling molecules as a response to stress and an immune challenge. In fall of 2018, I began studies in the Physiology and Neuroscience graduate program. Just a few years after my first introduction to Cajal, I am now beginning to examine tiny structures in the nervous system that play a physiological role in neurodegenerative diseases. The idea to find a lab that would allow me to examine molecular expression in microscopy images came after a brief talk with a professor during a speed-mentor session. He asked if merging my photography past with my research future had ever come to mind. I’m learning that my craftsmanship as an artist is beneficial to techniques needed for this delicate research. Soon, I will be applying to medical school, and possibly as an MD/PhD candidate.
As a commuter student, my sons have been able to remain in our home community and attending Wright State has been least disruptive option for them. My sons flourish because their mother has the opportunity to accomplish her dreams in our backyard. They are able to continue to receive medical treatment at the nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base medical center as Tricare beneficiaries from their father’s military service. As my classes became more demanding, we moved in with my parents. Their support has meant the world to us. If I had needed to live on a campus, or if Dayton did not have an affordable public institution available, I would not be where I am today. Without Wright State and the professors here, I’d still believe that I wasn’t smart enough for medical school. Many students travel great distances to come here for the world-class opportunities we have available to us, especially in research. Did you see the Festival of Research, hosted by the College of Science and Mathematics last fall? It was a highlight for us to see so many of our professors, fellow students, and friends sharing their research.
Sometimes I wonder what would have brought me back here if that parking pass had not arrived. I share my story, because other students are attending Wright State on threads as fragile as mine were. The following statistics are probably not a surprise to anyone who understands the students of Wright State.*
Full-time WSU students average 14.48 credit hrs and part-time students 6.33 credit hrs
40% are first generation
86% live off campus
25% spend 10+ hours balancing school with caring for children & other family members
46% work 10+ hours a week
10% are international students, and English may not be their first language
69% receive some form of financial aid
4% receive GI Educational Benefits
5% are registered with the Office of Disability Services
President Schrader and Board of Trustees, please understand the depth of what is at stake. Please remember that you serve a diverse population of students, who have become associated with Wright State for distinct reasons. We are resilient, but the overspending of our 130 million reserves, being on the brink of fiscal watch, faculty layoffs, and the looming faculty strike have been hard on us.
Some of us have clear goals that have been nurtured by the faculty here. While we despise the extra burden you’ve place on our shoulders this semester, we are firm in our decision to stay the course.
Some of us are here sampling courses in the hope to uncover perspective for a possible major. We are trying to integrate into this new phase of life, but we are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of our own leadership. It is a tragedy that the nebulous campus climate could be the final deterrent to ever finishing a degree. It is likely I would have left if the upheaval had happened a couple years ago during semesters that were already overwhelmingly difficult for personal reasons. I have compassion for students and faculty who are trying to come to terms with these unfortunate circumstances, while also attending to their private obligations and challenges.
While we carry on and focus on our courses, we need you to open negotiations with faculty. Please. We want to move forward, and see our campus thrive again. The discord has been a distraction and thief of our mental resources and time. We need to be unhindered by the politics that should have been managed more efficiently and diplomatically.
Please do not let this situation continue to be another barrier to our success.
We enrolled with plenty of our own.
-Andrea L. Bell
WSU Alumnus 2018
WSU Graduate Student in Physiology and Neuroscience
To our community,
Many alumni continue to work and reside in Dayton. While we often take Wright State for granted, many of us are connected to this campus. It is unfortunate that mismanagement by leadership has dampened the achievements of faculty and students.
I’d like to think we can reclaim some of the momentum that has been taken from us.
On social media, please share two stories of two professors that impacted you. Include an image from your time at Wright State or change your profile picture to show how many of us appreciate this institution and the people who inspired us.
* Statistics provided by a Graduate Training video, supplied by The Office of Institutional Research WSU | 937 775 4296
Many parts of this post were taken from a speech I wrote for the Boonshoft School of Medicine Anatomical Gift Foundation Ceremony in fall of 2017. You can listen to the original speech here.