Episode 12 from Hubbard, Wisconsin- “Marcus Begins College”

Monday, January 9, 2006 was a nervous evening for Marcus Harnack. After all, this was his first experience in a college classroom and at 23 years old he looked a bit out of place sitting amongst 18-year olds. Nevertheless, he showed up, fresh notebook and pen in hand, ready to attack Chemistry 201.

The other students seemed pretty casual about their circumstances, joking and kidding around before class. They were light-heartedly gabbing about their cars, boyfriends, girlfriends, Tom Cruise and the parties they attended over the Christmas holiday. Equipped with I-Pods, laptop computers and cell phones, they looked like little techie robots. Some of them weren’t saying anything but were giggling at their computers. Marcus glanced at the laptop of the fellow next to him to see what was so funny. All he saw was some words the guy was typing and a screen titled “MSN Messenger.” None of the fellows working with Marcus at the foundry owned a personal computer, let alone a laptop. Guys that spend 8-10 hours a day grinding castings don’t have much time for computers. However, the thing that really surprised Marcus is that prior to the arrival of the Professor not one student had mentioned a thing about Chemistry, the course for which they were enrolled.

Unlike the other students, who seemed relaxed and confident, Marcus was really up tight. First of all, the $1,100 he paid for the course had eaten up all of his savings from working at the Foundry, making this course serious business for him. Second, he was unsure if he could tackle the rigors of academia. Third, he was sitting there without any of the electronic gadgets of his fellow students. He did not wear the fashionable clothing they possessed, relegated instead to a clean pair of jeans and a new pullover his Mother got him for Christmas. He felt very much out of place. He was about to get up from his chair and leave the room when the Professor entered.

The Chemistry Prof was in his mid-forties, sporting a neatly groomed beard and dressed in slacks, shirt and tie. He wasn’t wearing a sport coat, importing to his students at least a hint of informality. He introduced himself and referred the students to the course website, where they could download the syllabus. Marcus thought the Professor would hand out a piece of paper but the syllabus was in cyber space, a fairly inconvenient location for someone who doesn’t own a computer. Prior to the arrival of the Professor Marcus overheard one of the students mention that he hoped the Professor would just introduce the course and dismiss class after 15 minutes. This often happened, according to the student. Marcus hoped otherwise. This course met only one night a week and was scheduled to run for three hours. Marcus wanted his money’s worth!

Marcus got his wish. The Professor lectured for the entire three hours, pausing for only a 10-minute break. What really surprised Marcus was that he didn’t have any problem understanding the material. Of course, Marcus had gone to the University Bookstore and had purchased the textbook ahead of time. He had even read the first three chapters prior to class, making notes about the items that had given him difficulty. Providing that the Professor had time after class, Marcus planned to discuss those things with him. When the class ended the students fled the room as if a fire had broken out. A couple of them were really upset that the class had lasted the entire three hours. Only Marcus and his Professor remained in the classroom. Much to his surprise the Professor greeted him warmly and mentioned that he was always glad to have “non-traditional” students in his classes. Marcus didn’t quite know what the Professor meant by this, but he proceeded to ask the Professor the three questions he had prepared. After explaining the concepts further to Marcus, the Professor asked him why he was so interested in Chemistry. Marcus mentioned that he worked at the Hubbard Foundry and had a particular fascination with metallurgy. “That’s interesting. I worked summers in a foundry in Racine to help pay for college,” said the Professor. “It was tough work, so I know what you are going through.”

As Marcus walked home in the cold January air he felt a sense of exhilaration. He could go to the University Library and use their computers. The Professor seemed interested and supportive. He didn’t know yet whether he could “cut it” in college, but this had been a good start. It was 10:30 p.m., only six and a half hours before Marcus had to report for work. He had better get some shut-eye. He could always start reading chapter 4 tomorrow evening.

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