73. I Survived PSYC 497

73. I Survived PSYC 497

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

I Survived PSYC 497

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called “truth.”

~Dan Rather

I had to take the class; all Psychology majors did. Psychology 497, Applied Research, was a graduation requirement. And it had to be passed with at least a C.

I heard about this course as soon as I transferred to Coastal Carolina University. Rumors about the infamous class circulated campus. I noticed seniors wearing navy blue T-shirts displaying the message, “I Survived PSYC 497.” It was also the primary discussion topic for Psychology majors. They complained about the weekly deadlines, off-the-cuff oral presentations, the final paper, and, most of all, the professor.

“Dr. Piroch is evil,” some students said. “She never smiles. Ever.”

“A couple of my friends had to take her class twice before they passed,” others commented. “I’ve heard she’s the hardest professor here.”

For two years I listened to the nightmarish tales of Dr. Piroch. I successfully completed all the other requirements of my major, knowing that the worst was yet to come. I would still have to take a course with the Stephen King of professors.

I enrolled in 497 in the spring semester. I attended summer school the year before so I would only have to juggle two other classes that term. I had prepared the best I could but I was still very nervous, and for good reason.

“Welcome to Applied Research,” Dr. Piroch boomed on the first day of class. “In this class, you will design your own research study. You will conduct your research under my supervision, write a paper in accordance with APA guidelines, and then report your findings to your peers and other members of the Psychology faculty.”

So far, what I had heard was true. She was assertive, stern, and a bit intimidating. And she did not smile. Not one time during the first session. But my anxiety was slowly giving way to excitement. I wanted to do well in 497. I wanted to impress Dr. Piroch.

I decided to conduct a correlational study on the relationship between the number of alcohol establishments in a college community and campus crime rates. Dr. Piroch seemed to like my proposal. She said it was unique.

For the next several months, I reviewed prior studies and wrote multiple drafts of each section of the paper. I consistently turned in drafts early and was able to make necessary corrections before they were graded. I had weekly conferences with Dr. Piroch to ensure I was on the right track. And, as required, I gave weekly, impromptu speeches in preparation for my final presentation.

I volunteered to present on the first day. For fifteen minutes, and with the help of two graphs and a note card, I explained the purpose of my study, the colleges and universities I had chosen, and the statistics I collected. I proudly informed my audience that I had found a positive correlation. It was slight; but it existed.

Throughout my presentation, I made eye contact with all members of the audience. But my gaze kept drifting back to Dr. Piroch — I saw her scribble notes and wrinkle her forehead. But when I finished answering questions from my classmates and other professors, I saw her smile. Dr. Piroch stood up, clapped her hands, and smiled at me.

A few days later, I went to collect my paper and find out my final grade in the class. On the way, I thought about how many of Dr. Piroch’s students had misunderstood her. They confused her passion for the subject with being rigid, dry, and overly serious. Sure, her expectations were elevated. But they weren’t unreasonable. And she set the bar high because she knew that some of her students just might reach it.

I noticed my name, written on a manila envelope, hanging outside my professor’s door. I opened the envelope and found my paper and a typed letter. It read:

Your grade on this paper is an A, and that’s also your final grade for this class. Your work habits, achievement goals, and desire to learn will all serve you well no matter what you choose to do in the future. Your presentation was excellent and you responded well to the seven minutes of questions that were asked of you. It has been my sincere pleasure to have you in this class and to have you as a major in our department. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. In addition to being an outstanding student, you are also a truly fine person with a lot to offer. I wish you the very best in your future and hope you have some time to relax this summer. Please keep in touch with me.

I wish I could say that I have kept in touch with my professor. But I can say that she has touched my life. Dr. Piroch is, without a doubt, the best teacher I have ever had. She is the reason I went to graduate school and one of the reasons I became a teacher. She encouraged me to write. And by teaching me to never be satisfied with a first draft, she made me better. I am proud of all I accomplished that semester and especially of the fact that I made Dr. Piroch smile.

~Melissa Face

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