Readers share stories of professors who would stop at nothing to help students learn.
Blow, Blow, Blow Your Nose
By Tracey Bates Long (BS ’86), Las Vegas
Kent M. Van De Graaff was an icon in the Zoology and Human Anatomy Department in the 1980s. As a student in his human anatomy class and lab assistant for him for two semesters, I have “bone-deep” impressions from my experiences with him.
He taught with a passion and reverence for the human body that was inspiring. He knew and loved every one of the 206 bones in the human body and expected his students to do the same. His lectures were creative and fun. Instead of just dictating notes about the cardiovascular system, he drew the entire vascular system with veins in (washable) blue ink and arteries in red on my lab partner, who stood before the class on a table. Another time underneath his white shirt he wore a skeleton shirt, which he dramatically unveiled after teaching the skeletal system.
To help students with the arduous task of memorizing the intricacies of the body, he wrote more than 30 “anatomy sing-alongs” and came up with countless mnemonic devices. Students could laugh and learn while singing, “Blow, blow, blow your nose, through your turbinate; stratified squamos wears and tears, but sinuses feel great.”
Professor Van De Graaff’s passion was for his students to learn about the Lord’s masterpiece—ourselves. I was amazed when I would leave one of his lectures feeling spiritually edified and in humble awe of the Divine Architect.
The gratitude Professor Van De Graaff expressed for nurses during his battle with stomach cancer was life directing for me, inspiring me to become a nurse. He showed me that the body and all that comes with it—from bedpans to the birthing-process—is divine, or at least created by the Divine.
Running to Help
David R. Lambert (’05), Salt Lake City
One afternoon I stopped by the Heber J. Grant Building to see Professor Richard D. Draper (BS ’68), my Pearl of Great Price instructor, in his office. He invited me to sit down, and I pulled out a list of questions I needed help on for an upcoming exam. Professor Draper explained that he had an appointment across campus in five minutes but said he could help me in an hour, if I’d come back. I told him I might be back.
I decided to use the next hour to study at the Eyring Science Center (ESC). But while studying, I became too tired to think and decided to go home. On my way down the ESC steps, I saw an older man running awkwardly across campus. He was hunched over, and his legs appeared slightly crooked. Each step looked painful. Where was he going, and why did he look familiar?
As my mind began to work, I sprang down the steps. I caught up with him as he entered the Grant Building. It was Professor Draper. He was examining the students sitting on the floor in the hall. When he saw me, he said, “There you are. I really wanted to answer your questions and was hoping to catch you before you left.” We walked to his office.
Weeks later in a class lecture, Professor Draper told us about the polio epidemic of the 1940s. He was one of the unlucky children who had contracted the disease, which impaired his legs. His family had worried that he would never walk again, but Professor Draper said he had been blessed. Today he can walk well, but it is painful for him to run.
As I listened to his story, my mind returned to weeks earlier, when I saw an older man running across campus to help a student.
Dawne Albach Ashton (BA ’62), Woodside, Calif.
On the first day of an art class for secondary education students in the spring of 1961, the class had, as a group, arrived early. But when the minute for the class to begin struck, there was no professor. A couple of minutes passed, and we asked each other how long we should wait before abandoning the class. Just then a gentleman entered the classroom with intense physical energy, walked to the podium, pointed a gun in the air, and fired—BANG. Then he said, “I’m Richard Gunn, and I like to start class with a bang.”
In keeping with this memorable introduction, Professor Richard L. Gunn (BS ’47) led us skillfully through the most meaningful preparation for our future careers that I had thus experienced. In 37 years of teaching, I have always felt thankful for his powerful guidance and assistance.
Doing the Spider Shuffle
By Elasha Hanks Morgan (BS ’98), Pittsburgh
As a biology undergraduate student, I took Zoology 204 (Vertebrate and Invertebrate Strategies) from Professor Lee F. Braithwaite (BS ’59), who was kind, soft-spoken, and not exactly rousing in his lecture style. But one lecture in particular stands out in my memory.
Professor Braithwaite was teaching us about spiders’ mating rituals, including species-specific mating dances. Toward the end of the lecture, and without explanation, Professor Braithwaite had the lights turned off and doors closed and then disappeared behind a door. Imagine our surprise when he reappeared in the classroom dressed as a spider! With eight legs waving, disco lights flashing, and music pumping out a crazy rhythm, he entertained us with various interpretations of spider mating dances. It was fabulous! Educational? Maybe. Entertaining? Definitely! I laughed and laughed and felt a new respect for my professor.
The arachnid facts I memorized aren’t as sharp as they once were, but I fondly remember a professor connecting with students in a way that was purely his.
Conducting Class Off Campus
By Burke D. Sorenson (BM ’02), Orem, Utah
Professor Kory L. Katseanes was never afraid to cancel class. One day he decided to cancel our next class to take us to a Utah Symphony rehearsal. As the former assistant conductor of the Utah Symphony, Professor Katseanes had VIP access to its rehearsals and performances. He knew that the next rehearsal would feature world-renowned guest conductor Matthias Bamert. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for an orchestral conducting major like me to watch and learn from one of the world’s best conductors.
I arrived early at Abravanel Hall and waited at the back entrance. Orchestra members casually entered the backstage entrance as another graduate student and I tried to keep warm. Security guards kept an eye on us until Professor Katseanes approached. With a simple wave of his hand and a smile we were in!
Professor Katseanes took us right to the best seats in the house, where we waited for the magic to begin. To my surprise, Utah Symphony associate conductor Scott O’Neal sat down right beside us! Before long, I had been introduced to one of Utah’s finest conductors. I nestled into my seat and watched the orchestra members warm up.
Maestro Bamert stepped onto the conducting podium, and the orchestra fell silent. The oboe sounded an A. I sat transfixed for the next two hours as some of the world’s greatest music was rehearsed by one of the great conductors of our time. As we walked back to the underground parking garage after the rehearsal, I asked Professor Katseanes if we could cancel class every day.
As the Dews from Heaven
By Norma Jean Gile (BS ’97), Billings, Mont.
During winter semester 1994 I took Biology 130. The class was taught by three amazing professors: Paul A. Cox (BS ’76), Gary M. Booth, and Richard A. Robison (BS ’78). They made biology exciting, fun, and memorable. When teaching plant biology, they decorated the entire JSB auditorium with live plants, turning it into a virtual rain forest. Professor Cox shared his personal experiences of living in Samoa and his passion for preserving the plants and animals of the rain forest. To teach about pollination, Professor Cox dressed up like a bumblebee and enlisted a student to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the piano as he danced around the auditorium.
Professor Booth constantly admonished us to open our hearts and minds and let the “dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45) distill upon us. These professors invited us to appreciate the beauty of nature and God’s creations. We were encouraged to observe and investigate the natural world around us and to share these experiences with the class through artwork, music, and poetry.
At the end of the semester, the knowledge we had gained was tested with a final exam written in rhyme, ˆ la Dr. Seuss, complete with illustrations. We then had a retreat at Aspen Grove, where we had hands-on learning experiences. These professors made Biology 130 a class that I will always remember.
An Infectious Affection for Science
By Shannon Fry Paligo (BS ’00), Columbia, Tenn.
As a freshman, I took Biology 100, thinking this required class would be just another checkmark on my way to graduation. Then I met the teacher, Gary M. Booth.
Professor Booth had a love for biology that was infectious. Even though the class, located in the Joseph Smith Building auditorium, contained 900 seats, when he spoke you felt like he was speaking directly to you. He brought a lightheartedness and a humor to biology that was unmatched. When we studied genetics, he donned a burlap robe and dressed like Mendel. When we studied how plants produce fruit, he brought in enough strawberries, mangos, kiwi, and other delicious fruit for everyone in the class to have a taste. Having us lick the back of leaves, he demonstrated the production of sugar by photosynthesis. When we studied histamines, he threw out candy to the class. To catch our attention, he would shoot his “Bio-Blaster” with prizes in it. How could you not have fun in a class where the professor loved the material and loved making his students happy?
Needless to say, Biology 100 wasn’t just another checkmark in my education. Professor Booth’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I loved the class and felt excited about the knowledge I had gained. Professor Booth always talked of how knowledge would distill upon us as the “dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). They certainly fell upon me as I studied biology from him.
By Daniel H. Thunell (BA ’01), Pittsburg
In fall semester 1998 I enrolled in Professor Lee F. Braithwaite’s (BS ’59) Zoology 204 invertebrate course. Invertebrates would be a tough class even without the 8 a.m. start time, but the combination of my late nights and a dimly lit classroom made attentiveness nearly impossible for me.
After several weeks of sleeping through lectures, I decided to write him an anonymous letter, pleading with him to interact with the class before starting his lecture to help us stay more awake. I slipped the note under his door one afternoon and left it at that. To my surprise, the next morning he read my letter to the class and addressed me as “Who-Who.” He said he would like to dedicate a song to the author and proceeded to do a boisterous song-and-dance routine. Everyone roared and whistled when he finished, and I was wide awake. This wake-up call was repeated several times throughout the semester, and every member of the class appreciated his sense of humor. On the last day of class, Professor Braithwaite dimmed the lights, placed a chair on a table and left the room. Moments later he returned dressed up as a spider and demonstrated the proper mating dance of spiders (with the chair being the spider he was trying to impress). The class erupted, and he received a standing ovation.
After his performance, I decided I had better introduce myself to him and reveal my identity. When I told him I was Who-Who, he laughed a little and said, “I thought Who-Who was a female student judging from the handwriting.” I guess he had the last laugh.
When in Romania …
By Courtney Price Stubblefield (BS ’01), Des Moines, Iowa
As a student at BYU, I had many teachers who have influenced me to be more spiritual, more helpful, more studious, more fun, and more me. But the teacher who had the greatest effect on my life and will always be remembered for the extra time he took to help direct my path is John F. Seggar Jr. (BS ’62) of the Sociology Department.
As a sophomore I enrolled in Social Psychology because it sounded like fun. That class was a turning point in my life. Professor Seggar was more than enthusiastic about his job. He always came to class with great stories of all the places he had traveled and lived, the things he had done, his kids, and his life. Best of all he expected a lot from us.
Toward the end of the semester he came to me with an idea. He wanted to put a group together to work in an orphanage in Romania. I was just 19 and had never even been to a foreign country. The prospect of going to Romania was daunting, but he encouraged me. For the next few months I and several others attended special classes, all taught by Professor Seggar and some of his associates, to learn Romanian and the culture and to prepare us for an extreme experience.
My favorite assignment in this special class was to eat only potatoes, eggs, and cabbage for a week. I learned to be very creative with my meals and to appreciate having lots of different foods. The assignment proved to be a blessing later in Romania when I really only had potatoes and eggs and cabbage to eat.
Four months after beginning the classes, I left for Romania. I lived in Iasi, a large town in northern Romania that was in the middle of nowhere. I had the pleasure of working and living with Romanians. The orphanage was hard and tiring work, but I grew to love the kids. Through helping the missionaries, I also learned to love the Romanian people and my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel was strengthened. Every week I checked in with Dr. Seggar via email to let him know our progress.
Toward the end of the semester Professor Seggar made a special trip to Romania to visit us. He took us to a fancy dinner, went to the orphanage to learn about the work we had done, and even met with the missionaries to see what kind of work we had accomplished with them.
Now, years later, I am grateful to Professor Seggar for this wonderful opportunity. I have friends in Romania, I work frequently with organizations who help orphanages, and even though I never served a mission, my gospel experience in Romania has helped me to share the gospel with others wherever I have lived.
A Lesson in Sharing
By Carol A. Young (BS ’94), Houston, Texas
It was fall semester, 1992, and I was in a language development class when my professor, Bonnie Brinton, assigned us to obtain the language sample of a 4-year-old child. We had to tape record ourselves playing with a 4-year-old for 30 minutes. Being from Texas and not knowing a single child in Provo, I had no idea how to complete this assignment. Fortunately, I was not alone in this predicament, and Professor Brinton volunteered her daughter. On my scheduled day, I arrived, and Dr. Brinton met me at the door with her two children, Bob and Amanda. We went in, and Bob was the most helpful little boy, setting up my tape recorder and making sure everything was OK with me. Thirty minutes later we ended the language sample and, sadly, it was time to go. I pulled out some pretzels that I gave to Amanda since her mother had said she loved them. Just then her mother and brother came into the room, and Professor Brinton asked Amanda if she would like to share her pretzels with Bob. Now most 4-year-olds do not like sharing, especially something that is their favorite. But little Amanda reached in and gave a pretzel to her brother. Ahhh. There’s nothing like watching such unselfish sacrifice.
I am thankful to Dr. Brinton for letting me do my language sample with her daughter. She was definitely my most “gung ho” professor at BYU.
By Whitney Webster (BS ’02), Cleveland
Professor Robert D. Ridge (BS ’87) not only kept his two-and-half-hour-long night class in social psychology interesting, he also gave what turned out to be the funniest assignment of my BYU experience. Our task was to break a social norm and write about it.
I decided to go to International Cinema’s showing of Life Is Beautiful and read the subtitles out loud. The theater was packed—people were sitting in the aisles. As the movie began, I forced myself to open my mouth. “This is a story,” I read loudly. A few people glanced in my direction. I had gotten through about five lines when a girl turned around and asked, “Are you going to do this the whole movie?”
I meekly said, “No.”
“Good,” she huffed.
“I was going to move.”
My friends and I decided to give our seats to people who were actually there to watch the show, and we stumbled out of the theater, stifling our laughter.
All week I continued to see slightly weird occurrences. The strangest happened as my roommate and I were walking home from campus one night. On the darkest part of the street, under a big tree where there were no streetlights, we came across a young man lying facedown on the sidewalk. No one else was around. Startled, we gingerly stepped over him without a word. “What should we do?” we whispered when we were about a block away. Was this a real medical emergency? Or a serial killer waiting to trick two poor girls into helping him? We went back to the scene only a minute later, but he was gone. If he was indeed fulfilling Dr. Ridge’s assignment, his report probably related how two inconsiderate girls ignored him as he lay still and helpless in the middle of the sidewalk.
By Elizabeth Baker Given (BA ’02), Provo
The rigors of calculus had bonded us together—my Math 112 classmates and I had conquered epsilon-delta proofs and trigonometric derivatives under the patient tutelage of Professor James W. Cannon. In the intimate setting of that honors course, he encouraged us not just to learn the material but to get to know one another.
Consequently, I often spent the minutes before class chatting with my neighbors about the previous night’s homework. One beautiful fall afternoon, I was reluctant to turn my attentions to math. “We should start class with a musical number,” I joked with my friend April—anything to postpone academia for just one more minute.
I hadn’t meant to include Professor Cannon in on our discussion, but he had overheard nonetheless. Looking inwardly torn—I had inadvertently stumbled upon his passion for music—he replied, “We have too much to cover today, but perhaps later this week we’ll have that musical number.”
And did Professor Cannon deliver! One day a week for the remainder of the semester, we began class with a song. Often he would invite special guests to lead us: his wife taught us the latest Primary tune; Barbara A. McConochie led us in “Keep the Commandments” (which she wrote); Janice Kapp Perry sang several of her own compositions with us. As a first-semester freshman from New Mexico, it was a thrill to meet the Mormon celebrities he invited to class!
Whether the music stimulated our brains or simply lifted our spirits, I found my math skills much improved by the end of the semester. It was Professor Cannon’s personal encouragement that eventually led me to minor in mathematics (a rarity for a history major)—but it was the musical numbers that taught me to savor the balance a BYU education provides.
Making French Connections
By Bethany Lemon Christiansen (BA ’02), Pleasant Grove, Utah
I didn’t speak a word of le francais the day I stepped into my French 101 class as a freshman at BYU. Coming from a small town that didn’t offer French, I decided to enroll in the class at BYU. I was excited, and imagined a slow, leisurely process of letting the beautiful language sink in.
When our instructor Madame Sherianne Stone Schow (BA ’95) walked into the classroom smiling—blonde, blue-eyed, and energetic—I just knew I was going to love the class. That is until I listened to her explain the entire class schedule, assignments, and syllabus in French—every word, the entire class, in French.
I panicked. To make matters worse, my eyes caught the word skit on the syllabus. A large part of our grade would be determined by how well we spoke, acted, and performed in front of the professor and our fellow students in French.
I was terrified. Beads of sweat dripped down my back. Somehow, I stayed in my seat until the bell rang. Thankfully, a brilliant student named Shawna, who happened to live in the same Deseret Tower Hall as me, came over and introduced herself.
We went to work. I awoke at 4 a.m. to study verb conjugations and endless columns of vocabulary. Shawna and I made flashcards and quizzed each other for hours. We took copious notes, spoke our best “Frenglish,” and attended the Garrens Comedy Troupe performances faithfully (hoping to get inspiration for our skit).
The night before the skit, we combed stores for the best costumes. Since I was to be a French go-go girl, I looked everywhere for a long, blond wig. It was right after Halloween, and all we found was gray witch’s hair. So I bought some gold spray paint and “highlighted” the gray tresses. Costumes bought, scripts memorized, we were ready to nail this thing.
Then, as I awoke the next morning, to my horror I saw my wig: the gray hair had absorbed the gold paint, turning the braids into a sci-fi metallic silver. So much for the perfect go-go girl. My tongue was numb, and I could barely walk to class I was so nervous. Madame Schow ushered us into the room, smiling confidently, and watched with 30 other students as I danced the can-can in shimmering gray braids while Shawna belted an ode about pickles. We performed on sheer adrenaline as the class roared with laughter. It was the only time I saw a teacher cry in class. The tears just ran down her face as she laughed. Needless to say, Madame Schow’s creative teaching experience was perfect. It pushed me beyond my own capabilities, and we each got an A!
Seeing Through the Silence
By Lisa Stevens Higa (BA ’98), Avondale, Ariz.
Phillip A. Snyder (BA ’77)—better known to us as Phil—didn’t use any gimmicks. Well, perhaps just that one. By dropping his title and surname, he made us equals. As an introverted and somewhat insecure college student, I was relieved by this English professor’s attitude.
For some reason, Phil took a special interest in me. Most likely, this resulted from the contradiction between my classroom behavior and my class work. In class, I was silent; I hated to participate. I avoided eye contact with instructors to ensure that I never was called upon. This body language demonstrated that I was underprepared. Actually, I was over-prepared—just terrified. When speaking in class, my chest would tighten and my palms would sweat, leaving wet handprints all over the desk. These physiological reactions only obscured my thoughts, making my comments unintelligible. Technically, my voice was never heard that semester until the first essay was returned. Phil had written comments on it that suggested he was very surprised by the paper.
His praise transcended the notations on my essays. During class, he would intentionally highlight my work or choose me to speak. One time, in fact, I did raise my hand to volunteer a thought during a classmate’s presentation. Not being called on immediately (meaning the second my sweaty hand left my wet desk), I withdrew my arm. Phil noticed, however, and told the presenter: “Lisa had her hand up. I think she has a comment.” With this gesture, I felt that my ideas had substance.
Later, in a paper conference, Phil mentioned that if I wanted to do graduate work I would need to participate in class. The real intent of the remark was not what gripped my attention but the indirect one that I could attend graduate school. This was a choice I had never considered, but, eventually, I did and went.
I always knew I was a good student who worked hard, but Phil taught me I was a good, hard-working student who had talent. No zany antics could have taught me that; he knew I needed subtle yet direct encouragement. His insight into my needs transformed my entire academic career as well as my choice of profession. Only a genuinely gifted teacher can do that, not one who relies on gimmicks.
By Frankie Redden Crawford (BA ’64), Sandy, Utah
My story took place in the spring of 1962. I was taking a Shakespeare class. It has been so long I cannot remember the teacher’s name. But I remember that she was a niece to President David O. McKay. Our class was held in the David O. McKay Building, but one day she announced that Hamlet would be on television that week and invited the class over to her apartment to watch it. She provided popcorn and soda pop for us to enjoy as we sat around watching Hamlet. She made Shakespeare’s works come alive. She made his works interesting and exciting. She loved his works and wanted us to love them to. By the semester’s end the majority of the class did.
Because of her love and excitement for Shakespeare and her ability to explain things, I truly learned a great deal, enjoyed it, and got excited realizing I could actually understand his beautiful works and talent. Even the language of his day became understandable, which was basically the secret to it all.
A Professor, a Ponytail, and the Proletariat
By John L. Hilton III (BS ’00), Miramar, Fla.
It was Sept. 8, 1998—my first day back at BYU after my mission. I was in the Tanner Building for an organizational behavior class. When the professor arrived at the auditorium, I thought my eyes must be mistaken. The man was wearing a baseball hat and had a ponytail! “What has happened to BYU standards?” I thought.
The professor opened his presentation by asking us how our Labor Day was. I thought about mine—it had been relaxing. I was jolted from my daydream when the professor asked, “How many of you went out and marched for organized labor yesterday?”
I certainly hadn’t. I had always been very conservative, and organized labor was not high on my list of favored groups. I had never realized that was why it was called Labor Day.
The professor went on with his lecture. At the time I thought it was one big ranting session about corporate greed at the expense of the little guy. Not only could I not believe what I was hearing, I couldn’t believe a guy in a ponytail was telling it to me.
I had made up my mind to drop the class. But just before he dismissed the class, Professor Warner P. Woodworth (BS ’67) took off his hat and the ponytail came off too. He was bald—the ponytail wasn’t real.
The lesson I learned about judging was only the first of many I learned from Professor Woodworth. In his class I learned about organizational behavior, but more important I began to think about what charity and consecration mean. I visited him many times at his office, and he was always gracious and kind.
Professor Woodworth did more than teach—he helped me change the way I look at the world. And for that I am grateful.
A Slice of Learning
By Mary Bollman Parker (BS ’78), Cheney, Wash.
“Reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic?” Aren’t those the three R’s in education? No! The three R’s in education are “Recognition, Reward, and Reinforcement.”
How was that reinforced to me? Apple pie. That’s right. As Professor Gary Smith taught our class the importance of the three R’s in education, he served us apple pie. When we asked him why he was serving pie for us to enjoy as he taught, he responded, “You will never forget this lesson.” He was right.
The class was for those in business education who would be teaching for many years to come. Professor Smith taught us in an unusual and unforgettable way that day. I learned that every student needs the three R’s to succeed—to be recognized for good work, to be rewarded for accomplishments, and to be reinforced by continual positive feedback.
To Gary Smith, this lesson was not simply a concept, but a precept that he lived by. Never before in my college career had I received a birthday card from a professor. When May 31 rolled around that year, I received a birthday card from Gary Smith in my mailbox (and this was the semester after that memorable lesson). Never before had I thought so deeply and felt so strongly about the potential for good I could have as a teacher (or as a mother, wife, or leader). Positive actions breed positive results.
The pie was delicious. The lesson has lasted a lifetime.
By W. Scott Simpson (BA ’84), Woodbridge, Va.
Professor Michael Goldsmith of the J. Reuben Clark Law School is a good example of going “above and beyond the norm” to help his students learn. The legal “best evidence rule” states that the original of a document is required to prove the document’s content, unless an exception applies. When teaching this rule in class several years ago, Professor Goldsmith wanted to emphasize that the exceptions overshadow the rule. So he stated the basic proposition in deadpan—“the original of a document is required”—then he suddenly jumped up on the table at the front of the classroom, yelled, “Unless!” three times, then jumped back down, and stated the exceptions.
By Richard E. Turley Jr. (BA ’82), Taylorsville, Utah
During my undergraduate years at BYU, I took a three-semester series of science courses offered by the Honors Program for nonscience majors. J. Duane Dudley (BS ’52) was our professor for much of that time and had an uncanny ability to capture the students’ attention with his lab demonstrations.
The experiment I remember most had to do with liquid nitrogen. At the beginning of his demonstration, Professor Dudley put a peeled banana into liquid nitrogen and held it there until the banana froze solid. He then pulled it out and showed us how it shattered it into many pieces when struck hard.
He next put his hand into a rubber glove and stuck his fingers down into the liquid nitrogen. “I’m going to show you how quickly this liquid can cool human fingers,” he said. He held it in the liquid for some time while we wondered about the wisdom of freezing fingers. “They’re getting numb,” he intoned. “I have no feeling left,” he said a bit later.
Finally, he drew his gloved hand out of the vat. Holding it up, he said, “I will now tap on my fingers with a hammer, and you will be able to hear by the noise it makes that my fingers have frozen solid.”
He proceeded to strike one finger of the glove with the hammer, and to our horror, the glove broke open, spilling frozen pink flesh over the lab table.
For a brief few seconds, we thought he had permanently maimed himself. Then he laughed, withdrew his undamaged hand from the glove, and showed us that the shattered finger of the glove had contained a hot dog.
Sprechen Sie Deutsches?
By Kim Monson Poole (BA ’80), Orem, Utah
Registration for my first semester at BYU as a transfer student from Ricks in 1977 must have been bewildering, because when I attended what I thought was my first German 101 class, I discovered that it was the second. I’d missed the first. I’d accidentally registered for an accelerated 101/102 section that met eight times a week.
I quickly realized I was way over my head in the class. I remember writing “nine” instead of “nein” on a quiz to begin the day. Compared to me, the other seven students all had vast experience in German, having grown up speaking German in their homes, having taken four years of high school German, or having lived in Germany for a year.
At the end of the class, I approached the instructor, a graduate student named Bruder Keith J. Wilson (BA ’75), intending to drop the class. My dropping would cancel the class because a minimum of eight students was required. The other seven students all really wanted to be in that class. They promised they’d help study with me. They begged. And they eventually talked me into staying.
That German class had to be one of the best and most memorable classes I took at BYU. Teachers facilitate a good classroom atmosphere, and Bruder Wilson encouraged my classmates to keep their promise. Everyone took me under their collective wing. Many of us had lunch together during the week, with all communication banned unless it was in German—or something close to it. After studying together during the day, we associated with each other at cultural events in the evenings, arranged by Bruder Wilson, and always in German. The adequate grade I received was outweighed by the enjoyment of learning among friends.