Cheyney University Blog

The Importance of Life’s Teachers

September 13, 2010

Sometimes people ask me when my love of learning began. My answer usually brings a smile to my face and ushers forth memories of sitting at my mom’s kitchen table doing homework with her cooking and gently guiding me through the assignments. These experiences seem to date back to when I was three or four years old.

One memory that seems to crystallize this experience for me is learning my “times tables.” Even though I left high school declaring I would major in mathematics (I later changed to English Literature, because I loved to read), learning how to multiply in second grade was a challenge for me. I remember being confused and struggling with understanding what it meant to multiply numbers. The concept seemed so puzzling to me. My mom understood my confusion and intuitively knew I needed to see what it meant to multiply numbers. So, she went into the kitchen cabinet and brought out several packages of pastel colored, cupcake liners. She used the kitchen table to demonstrate what multiplication meant by placing the pastel paper cupcake holders in rows and columns. We both began to laugh, as I instantly understood what it meant to multiply. I could see the rows and columns and actually count the number of cupcake holders. Je le comprehends!

There are many other stories of my learning around the kitchen table with my mom. When I reached my teen years and began to study Latin and pre-calculus, the conversations around the kitchen table were then more about learning about life, about boys, and about how to make good decisions. Somehow in the social climate of the 1950’s, despite persistent media messages to the opposite, my mom was able to convey to me, and my sister and brother, that we could learn anything with enough time and the proper way of approaching the subject. Probably more importantly, my mom also conveyed a positive message about the power of learning and how we could be anything. We could be the best at anything we wanted to do, “as long as you put our minds to it.” I later internalized these messages into an internal script that was abbreviated to –I can do it. These precious memories are even more treasured now, as my 80 year old mom is now struggling to cope with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though I am a mature adult, I am still learning lessons from mom. When I find myself approaching a tough situation, I often repeat out loud—you can do it!

Most of us would probably agree that our confidence in ourselves and our ability to handle situations began at an early age, as we learned how to interact with others, and we received verbal and nonverbal feedback from these interactions with others. As I interact with students on the campus of Cheyney University, it becomes very obvious to me that there are opportunities for the faculty, staff, alumni, and others to help shape the level of confidence and worldviews of our students who come to us as older teens and young adults. Even though these students are older, there is still an opportunity to help them develop a sense of confidence, clarity of purpose, and a sense of connectedness to the human condition.

This year at Cheyney University we brought in a robust class of freshmen and transfer students who come to us ready for help in transforming into the potential they can become. Because we know it is important for students to interact with faculty and staff and to have time to explore around the kitchen table, we are focusing on student engagement activities. We have required that every incoming student become engaged in a club, athletic sport, academic organization, student government organization, Greek organization, honor society, or other structured activity to optimize the opportunity for the student to interact with faculty, staff, alumni, and other students. It is expected that these interactions will, in a sense, replicate the kitchen table discussions I had with my mom in which there was the encouragement to learn, positive reinforcement, and the ultimate development of confidence. Additionally, we are using the focus of student engagement as a core function of a new initiative we are developing – the University College. Because retention is everyone’s business on campus, I recently charged a University-wide Task Force to develop a model for improving retention, progression towards graduation, and actual graduation rates at Cheyney University. The more students who acquire specialized knowledge and graduate—the more we are contributing to the intellectual capital and national security of the Commonwealth and the region. We can do this! I know we can!



Tags: life long learning , student engagement activities , student organizations , teachers

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I like your comparison of how settings in a university environment can be similar to learning from our parents at the kitchen table. It's true in my experience, a lot of my learning was done through informal interactions even in formal institutions.
Michelle Klein 10:30AM 09/20/13
Referencing an article from the Inquire (posted on Mon, Dec. 6, 2010) entitled "Stretch of Keystone Corridor rail line recognized for role in Underground Railroad:" I would like to know if Cheyney's Underground Railroad site being evaluated for funding, commemoration, and inclusion into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom?
Komposer MD 2:24PM 12/06/10
Sometimes the best teacher in your life won't be found in a school or classroom. Nice to see that you credit much of what you've learned to your mom, as many people have (including me)!
Kelly Farquar 12:26AM 11/25/10
This post brings me back to the excitement and anticipation of coming to college. Your whole life is ahead of you, and you are about to embark on on of life's biggest adventures! :)
Mike Rowan 1:31PM 10/26/10
Your article brings back fond memories of my years at Cheyney and the many wonderful profs I had; thank you. The article is a fantastic testimony of the heart and commitment of the faculty.
Bcreamy 10:57PM 10/13/10
Dr. Vital, I really enjoyed reading your blog. It's very inspirational, even for me as an alum. Please continue your good work and I trust that the University College model will grow and expand.
Dr. Karen L. Thomas [Komposer MD] 12:00PM 10/06/10
Thanks for this article! I also think life’s teachers are very important and have similar memory's as Michelle. I can also remember sitting at the kitchen table and being guided by my mother. That's when I also realized my love for learning.
Pirlo 6:25AM 10/05/10
Very powerful blog post. I really enjoyed reading it.
Dr. Matthew Lynch 9:06AM 09/28/10
Thank you Michelle for your words, sometimes we need them to bring back the romantic point of view...
The Linden Method Girl 6:17PM 09/23/10



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