Saturday, August 28, 2010

Course Round-Up and Gushing Praise for Garza and E-RG

I have successfully completed three days of this new semester. 5 new courses at a total of 18 credit hours, an undergraduate leadership program meeting, and three hundred dollars worth of books later, I have to say that I think I'm set up to have the best semester EVER.

Really. I think it could be that good.

Let me lay it out for you here. I have:

Research Methods (With the professor who has Hugh Laurie eyes.)
Child Psych (With the super nice hippie professor)
Fundamentals of Acting (does it even MATTER who the professor is?)
Intensive Russian (With Dr. Garza of Vampire Class fame)
World Literature (With Dr. Richmond-Garza, who is delightfully British and happens to be married to Dr. Garza)

Also, I've been accepted into a leadership program that has signed me up to take improv classes and promises to be a great help in the formation of my organization for students with OCD.

First off, that line up of classes is AWESOME. It took a little waitlist scrambling to get into Child Psych, and I was admittedly disappointed when I had to drop Linguistics to take it, but I've heard great things about the prof, and she seems absolutely lovely. Now that I'm taking a psych class in residence, I'll be able to officially add the major as my second. In theory. There's a slight chance that UT overadmitted psych majors and that they won't be accepting transfers/additions in the Spring.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Either way, Child Psych looks good, as does Research Methods. And no, it isn't only because my professor is a grad student with the bluest eyes. That helps, of course. They are very blue. And he is very cute. But I do love research for its own sake, and in this class, I'm going to have the opportunity to put together a research paper about a topic that interests me. Meaning, of course, that I'll get to conduct some secondary research on OCD. I just love it when my classes come together with my personal projects.

Theatre promises to be a lot of fun. But well... I love theatre. 

And then... then...

I am way too excited about my other two classes. I love that they're both with professors I've had before. I love that they're taught by two of the most amazing instructors I've ever come into contact with. I love that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to walk out of one, down the stairs in Jester, and straight into the next one.

It's like three hours of academic orgasm.

And to think, I ended up in them because of a mistake.

Last fall, I accidentally registered for an upper division class. Being a freshman, of course, I wasn't actually allowed to take the class I registered for, and was subsequently dropped from it the night before classes started. I sent my advisor a panicked e-mail (Kristen gets a lot of these from me. She really is a doll.) and the next morning, she responded with a list of classes I could take that would both fit into my newly opened time-slot, and fulfill one of my degree requirements.

My choices were Czechoslovakian Culture or a course called "The Vampire in Slavic Culture." As it so happened, I'd heard about this vampire course from a friend just a few days earlier.

"I'm told it's great!" Cat told me. "My friend took it, and she said you watch a lot of movies."

Now, contrary to what you might think, this recommendation did NOT make me more excited about the idea of taking the course. See, I don't really watch a lot of movies. And I don't really care much about vampires. And I REALLY hate Twilight.

Real vampires don't sparkle. Just saying.

But faced with the choice of Czech Culture (the course was subtitled "Robots and Beer Pubs") or Vampires, the decision was made easy.

I walked into the class not knowing what to expect, and within two minutes of Dr. Garza opening his mouth, I knew not only that I was glad I was taking "The Vampire in Slavic Culture," but that I wanted to take EVERYTHING this man taught. Three hours a week couldn't possibly be enough time to spend in his classroom.

The man... lights up. He sparkles (in a completely non-Twilightish way). He is so obviously passionate and excited about what he teaches, and that enthusiasm just spreads through his classroom. When he lectures, he captivates, because he is brilliant and he just has this way of making you look at things in a way you might not have looked at them before. And even with all of this brilliance, he's funny, candid, honest, and completely interactive. At the end of our Vampire class, Dr. Garza got a standing ovation.

He respects his students in a way that not a lot of professors do. He even dedicates an entire class period to giving his students a chance to get to know him as a person, not just as a professor. By the time this period rolled around in Vampire class, I was already completely hooked on him and had decided that whatever he was teaching in the Spring, I wanted to take.

Then he said he wasn't teaching in the Spring.

My heart fell. I couldn't possibly have a whole semester at UT without this kind of instruction. (You have to understand something about me. Knowledge is my drug. I can't get enough of it  - and when it's being transmitted by someone whom I respect and admire, it's nearly impossible to resist.) 

Luckily, I had heard a rumor that Dr. Garza was married to a fellow professor, and that she was just as amazing. So I asked him what he thought about her course, and was told that I simply must take it.

I did. 

And, in fact, Dr. Richmond-Garza (known to her students as E-RG, because well, Richmond-Garza is a mouthful) is every bit the professor that Dr. Garza is. 

Furthermore, she let me into a class that I was not technically qualified to be in, because I was only a freshman and it was a junior/senior level class.

The sheer amount of knowledge that this woman possesses amazes me. She speaks something like eight languages. Her lectures, which were technically in Comp. Lit. encompassed cultures, histories, and current events. She expects a lot from her students, but she gives a lot to them in return, and rather than forcing her opinions, she asks us to express ours. I think she is genuinely interested in our interpretations.

And she's British. With the most delicious accent, and so wonderfully proper. Not that that contributes to her ability as a professor. But it's cool.

When I found out that she also taught the required E316K Literature course, I knew I'd have to take it. I could take it with anyone, of course - but I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Richmond-Garza, and that will make the class so much more enjoyable.

The decision to take Russian was a little more complicated, and actually started out as a joke.

I remember calling my Dad on the first day of the semester and telling him about Dr. Garza. "He's so good," I said. "I might just take Russian from him."

I was kidding. I didn't have any reason in the world to learn Russian. RUSSIAN? Why would I take that, when I already had about three years of Spanish under my belt? Russian would require me to learn a whole new alphabet. And what good would it do me? This is Texas, after all. Not Alaska. If I were to go to our border and shout out "Zdrasvuitye!" (Hello!), I might get back a "Que?"

As the semester wore on, and I became more and more entranced by his teaching, I started going to office hours. Okay, so I did have papers to discuss, but the prospect of getting to have a conversation with this man was just too good to pass up. While in office hours one day, I asked him about his Russian classes. "If you'll teach Russian," I told him, "I'll take it."

I was only half kidding. 

When he announced, several weeks later, that he intended to run an Intensive First Year Russian class the following fall, my enthusiastic response was, "I'm in!"

And I wasn't kidding at all.

It's still not likely to be as much use to me here as, say, Spanish. But I've fallen in love with the language. Even if he weren't teaching it, I'd want to take it, because it's beautiful. I want to read Pushkin in the original text. I want to listen to Russian rock music, and understand it. I want to go to Moscow.

The fact that I'm being taught by Dr. Garza? And that he's also teaching the follow-up advanced course in the Spring? And the one in the Summer? And then leading a trip to Moscow?

Yeah. Gravy. It's like winning a new car and then being told you don't have to pay taxes on it.

We're three days into our class, and already starting to speak, write, and read in Russian. No false advertising here - the course is intensive. But Dr. Garza makes it fun, and even though it's hard, I look forward to going to class every day. I want to do well - because I always want to do well, and because I want to become truly fluent, of course. But also because I want to show my professor that I can.

The best compliment that I can give to an amazing professor is to be an equally determined student. I truly believe this. I work hard for me, because I accept nothing less than my absolute best. But I also work hard for my instructors. I owe that to them.

Now that I've written this love letter to my professors, someone will probably show them and I'll get kicked out of class for being a freaky stalker. Admittedly, some strange things have come out of my mouth regarding them, and indeed, I just want to... absorb them.

It's very vampiric of me.

I'm sure they'd approve. If they didn't run to get a restraining order, that is.

But really, it's not like that. I simply appreciate them. They make my education more enjoyable, and they challenge me in ways that I am seldom challenged. I respect and admire them both so very much, and even though my career path will likely not lead me to either Comparative Literature or Russian, they have inspired me. I want to teach in Social Work and Psychology some day. I want to lead groups in my field. And I can only hope to do as good of a job as they do. It is a privilege and an honor to be taught by them.

This semester is going to be a great deal of work, but I'm looking forward to it - all of it. The chance to do research, and to use my classes and my new leadership program to further my interests in advocating for students with OCD, is really exciting. I never, ever expected that I'd go from just another girl with hard-core OCD to someone who was working to improve the lives of others who live with it. Never really saw it coming. But I love the work, and I can't wait to see what this semester brings in terms of it. I'm looking forward also, to being on stage, and to pushing myself in Russian and Lit.

I'm looking forward, essentially, to being incredibly busy.

Just the way I like it.


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