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During Women's History Month, Columbus State is profiling women professors in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medical) fields. Here, Biology Prof. Sue Longenbaker tells her story in her own words.
As a lackadaisical (at best) middle-school student, I quickly learned how to escape from classroom tortures such as the advanced rules for badminton in gym class. (You can't make that up. There are such rules.) If I was sneaky, a great book could sit in my lap.
That's how I first discovered the inspiring autobiographies of Dr. Tom Dooley, a 1950s-era physician who served the poor in the jungles of Indochina (as the Vietnam-Cambodia area was then known). Following that great man's footsteps as a physician in a lifetime of service (perhaps in the Peace Corps) became my life goal.
Thanks to several amazing teachers, I didn't need hidden books in high school science, and a college biology major was an easy decision. I was awarded a unique undergraduate research opportunity, studying drugs used to control and prevent abnormal heart rhythms. Suddenly, graduate school and further research seemed my opportunity to benefit others.
As a person of faith, I believe that everything in our lives happens for a reason (though we often may never know what that reason is). Graduate physiology research was frustrating and tedious—as anyone who has done it will tell you—but tutoring undergraduate students definitely wasn't. Suddenly, I'd found the niche where I could make a difference in other people's lives. Columbus Technical Institute (as Columbus State was known back then) just happened to need physiology teachers, and I've been here ever since.
Our college has a unique role in higher education. We take students who might struggle and fail elsewhere, and show them that, with hard work, that they can succeed. I've met so many wonderful people: the homeless woman who came to every class with all of her belongings in a cart (she completed an associate degree). The blind woman who lost both eyes at birth (she earned an A in a basic anatomy/physiology course, proving that one can learn a skull just by touch). A premed student who completed prerequisites and is in medical school. A former student, now an accomplished dentist, who serves the needy in a free clinic. The young lady whose grandmother told her she was "too stupid" to ever go to college (she earned As in all of her Math and Science classes).
Teaching science is my Peace Corps. I have my profession and vocation, and I am blessed.
To all of my sisters, young and old: follow your heart, and never let anyone frighten you away from majoring in a STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, medicine) discipline. Your talents, imagination and creativity are needed! If you don't understand at first, there are many people—both men and women—just like me, waiting to help you succeed.
Want to learn in a place where instructors are dedicated to your success, with great teachers like Prof. Longenbaker? Get started!