The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Debra Ferguson

The other day, I ran into Mike Roffe in the hallway as I was engaged in the massive task of vacating my office. We chatted about how it felt to be "leaving the nest" and moving on to bigger pastures. While I look forward with great anticipation and pride in entering my doctoral program at UC Santa Barbara, I can't help but reflect back to my first days on the campus here at CSLA. In looking back, I remember coming back to school in the Fall of 1991 with mixed feelings. As a returning student who was older and had taken a twelve year hiatus from school, I was a little nervous. I was looking forward to re-establishing an intellectual foundation in my life after years in the corporate world.

As I look back at the hopes and expectations that I had on that first day back, I can honestly say that most of them have been met or exceeded. This is due in great part to the support that I have received from various faculty members. In particular, my interest in stats and methodology led me to nag Weiss, Tate, Alperson, and just about anyone else who had an iota of knowledge in this area. For the patience you all showed me, I thank you. My research experience was made available to me by Dr. David Perrott and Dr. Jean Phinney. I thank them both for the opportunity they gave me. To the professor who was the first to not only accept, but to encourage, my thousands of questions in class as well as understand my insecurities and doubts, Dr. Nancy Cobb, who in her own quiet way reached me, as she does many students, with a wonderful combination of challenge and understanding that sometimes (often, perhaps) I had no idea what I was doing. It was no particular "incident," but her manner in general, that gave me my first bit of confidence that I could succeed as a student. To her, I will be forever grateful.

While each of these professors has done something above and beyond the call of duty in connecting with me as a student, not one has done what one other has, which is to make it possible for me to be looking forward to a doctoral program. When I told a fellow grad student last week that I literally would not be going on if not for Dr. Michael Wapner, the student looked at me with surprise. As she knows me to be a relatively independent student, she couldn't believe that I was saying this. When I came back to school, my only goal was to finish my B.A. and go back to work. I had doubts that even this goal was within my grasp. My first real interaction with Dr. Wapner was when my text for 412A was stolen two days before the final. Needless to say, I couldn't afford to purchase a new one to use just for the two days. After various attempts to beg, borrow, but not steal one, I went to Dr. Wapner. I was astounded when he went to the bookstore and bought one as faculty and let me use it to study for the final (he subsequently returned it).

That was only the first of many occasions I had the opportunity to see, first hand, the unpredictable dedication Dr. Wapner had for reaching out to and connecting with students. While some professors have given me help and support after knowing me as a student or having me in one of their classes, Dr. Wapner offered support with absolutely no knowledge of what type of student I was or whether I was "worth" investing his time in. I now realize that, to him, every student is worth his time regardless of how tired, overworked, or behind schedule he is. He is the professor who changed my goal from getting a B.A. to getting a Ph.D. and fully supported the route and time that I took to pursue that goal. I used to love to tease him about the disarray that he called his desk, but in truth, I realized this represented his dedication to people at the expense of paperwork. Of all the things that Dr. Wapner has given to me throughout my tenure at CSLA, none can compare to the experience of having him for the teaching seminar (Psy 588) and having the opportunity to teach Psy 150. Nothing can give you a "connection" to the material like having to get in front of a class and talk about it for 100 minutes twice a week! Even when I was giving lectures in the first quarter with my cohorts in front of Dr. Wapner, he always had a tactful way of telling me that I "sucked" (I dare any of you to lecture on schemata in front of him)! His unwavering support extended to students with an array of teaching philosophies. His only criterion was a dedication to the students and to the seriousness of teaching itself. I will never be able to repay him for all that he has given me.

As I prepare to "leave the nest" in which I have become so comfortable, I have even more dreams and ambitions than I had upon my arrival in 1991. But if I could roll everything together and sum it all up, I would have Dr. Wapner sit in his rocking chair one day, reading fondly a journal article I have written (and, of course, agreeing with every point that I make), and to proudly say that I contributed to my students as he has to me. Thanks for everything, Dr. Wapner. The distance is still great between where I am and where I want to be. As I stand in the face of fear, I gather my courage to take that leap...


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