After the advice I talked about in Part One, I wound up at West Virginia University (WVU) having only lost credit for freshman English. I would have also lost credit for Phys-Ed (PE) if I hadn’t managed to fail that at Georgia.
Meeting WVU’s PE requirement wasn’t going to be the problem that it was in Georgia. The good news was that by getting Physics and Calculus out of the way in Georgia, I only had one hard science course to take during my sophomore year, Organic Chemistry – easy peasy.
The bad news was freshman English. I sat for the exam that would let me skip the course at WVU.
69 out of 100 and the minimum passing grade was 70.
One lousy point but a problem of epic proportion.
English 101 at WVU was only offered on M-W-F at 8:00 AM. I had other classes that I had to take at 8:00 AM. Classes required for my major. Classes I could not, not take. I would have 8:00 AM classes every semester throughout undergraduate school. I could take English in summer school but that would mean giving up my summer job at the Post Office, rendering me too poor to continue school. I needed help.
Enter Dr. George Humphrey, Associate Dean, Department of Chemistry, a.k.a. my advisor. I told him my pitiful tale. He excused himself to make a phone call and then said:
“Walk with me.” Just like in the movies.
We walked across campus to the office of the Associate Dean, Department of English.
“I’d like to you consider making my boy here exempt from English 101.”
“Like I explained on the phone, having English 101 on his schedule is untenable. It will require him to spend a fifth year in school.”
“English 101 is an absolute requirement for graduation. I don’t see what we can do.”
“He already took English 101 at the University of Georgia, the credits just didn’t transfer.”
“We don’t accept credits from any school for 101. I still don’t see a way around this.”
“Look, he’s a Chemistry major. He wants to work in a crime lab. He’s going to be filling out lab notebooks and police forms for the rest of his life. This isn’t some budding author here.”
“OK George, he can skip 101. But!” That “but” hung in the air the way the aroma from the neighborhood barbeque you weren’t invited to does. “He has to take six credits of English, IN ADDITION to any that he might take to meet Core-A”
I thanked Dr. Humphrey and headed to off to add an English class to my schedule. The only class that worked was Poetry, not a bad thing.
A year later, as I was starting my junior year, I still wanted to become a forensic chemist. Dr. Humphrey suggested I should do a two-year undergraduate research project in “Computer-Assisted Analytic Chemistry” – that sounded great because I had taken computer science courses in high school and I loved them.
I cruised through a couple of computer science courses and I completed four semesters of undergraduate research, writing FORTRAN programs that simulated a complex chemical process. I struggled with Physical Chemistry and Quantum Mechanics but I did well in Organic and Analytic.
In my senior year, I applied to The University of Virginia’s Doctoral program. I got accepted. I was happy, scared, proud and poised to turn the corner. I didn’t realize that I was approaching a very complex intersection.
I met with Dr. Humphrey one final time. He congratulated me on getting accepted to UVA. Then he said:
“I don’t think you should go.”
“Dan.” Another BBQ aroma pause. “You – Are – An – Adequate – Chemist.”
My heart sunk. Adequate? What the…?
“Adequate? There were 53 declared chemistry majors in my class. Seven of us are graduating in May…SEVEN!“
“Easy there, I didn’t say you haven’t accomplished something. You are getting a BS in Chemistry in May – I’m going to hand it to you myself. But, you have struggled to get A’s, B’s and the occasional D in chemistry. On the other hand, you have cruised through your computer classes, racking up a bunch of A’s without breaking a sweat.”
“Computer science is easy for me.”
“Did it ever occur to you that you can do in life that which comes easy to you?“
Dumb look on face.
“Go? Go where?”
“The University of Pittsburgh. They have a very quantitative program. They like BS science majors.”
Once again, my advisor had thought harder about my future than I had.
Frankly, I was relieved. I didn’t want to go to graduate school in Chemistry. I no longer had a passion for Chemistry and I loved computers. I was prepared to follow a path, as young people often are, simply because I didn’t know that I could get off.
Next week, Pitt and the best advice ever.