How Joy Can Quickly Overturn Disappointment

The Spring 2012 semester has ended, and my results were smack on par with what I suspected going into finals week.

I wound up with a B in both Introductory Chemistry and its companion lab. That was the sole disappointment in what had otherwise been a wildly successful return to college studies after more than 20 years.

Someone reading this post might think, “How can you be disappointed to get a B in Chemistry?” It isn’t the final course grade that was a downer as much as the knowledge that I went into the final exam still with a shot at an A in the course. I needed an A on the final to achieve that, and I fell short by a good 10 points. That, and the limited preparation time I had because of work commitments, was the disappointing factor.

Still, it’s funny how an unexpected and pleasant surprise less than 24 hours later can lift your spirits. In my case, the surprise came in the form of an e-mail from the University of Texas at Tyler’s Financial Aid Office. I had earned a scholarship for next year, which turned out to be a Sam R. Greer Presidential Scholarship for $2,500.

That will put a nice-sized dent in my registration and class fees for my final year of undergraduate studies, but I’ll confess that is not the aspect of the award that really puts a smile on my face. No, the thing that puts a little smugness in my step is the notion that this type of scholarship is what you expect to be awarded to an 18-year-old just graduating high school – not a guy who has a son older than that.

I have a handful of detractors around who think I’m little more than a washed-up, insignificant newspaper hack, some old man who thinks he’s still hotter than habaneros.

Well, this “washed-up old man” just ended nine months with his name on a four-year university’s presidential honor roll (4.0 for at least 12 hours), a 3.69 for a murderously difficult 13 hours this semester, a 3.84 GPA for the year, straight As in a foreign language, an A in a higher mathematics course, wrote, produced and hosted a 10-minute TV show that scored another A, and was top student in a literary analysis writing course where 90 percent of my classmates were half my age or younger, earned a major scholarship for next year, and is now a member of two national collegiate honor societies….all while holding down a 40-hour-per-week reporting job and commuting nearly an hour just to get to classes.

Dear critics and haters of Terry L. Britt: What have you done lately?

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Excuse for an Absence

I haven’t posted on this blog for several months. There is a good reason for that.

Since my triumphant debut at the University of Texas at Tyler — a fall semester that ended with a 4.0 for 12 hours and my name on the Presidential Honor Roll — I went into the Spring 2012 semester with a sense of confidence and ambition that I could continue to carry a full-time job as a newspaper reporter and still produce top-notch work in all of my classes.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, although I haven’t fallen off significantly. Still, if last semester was like a 3,200-meter run at a track meet, this semester has felt like a survival run on a twisted ankle. Truth be told, I’m surprised I’m doing as well as I am at this point.

Part of the difficulty may be in the difference between 12 hours of lower division courses and 13 hours that include two upper division courses. The work requirements are obviously tougher in 3000-level and 4000-level courses and require more time, which is the one thing I haven’t got.

In addition, unlike last semester, I was not able to get all of my courses on a three-day-per-week schedule. The commute hours, not to mention the increasingly painful cost at the gas pump, have simply worn me down physically and mentally.

Toss in the fact that I am still expected to put in 40 hours on the clock at my job and produce articles and photos substantiating that amount of time, and you can easily see why things like maintaining a blog have gone by the wayside.

Unfortunately, things like exercise and proper rest have been relegated to said wayside as well and the unwanted result is that I’ve put on extra weight I worked so hard last year to eliminate.

As I hit the last week and a half before finals, I’m left hoping to get something great to show for my struggles.

There is no doubt I will earn an A in Intermediate Spanish and it looks as though the same will be the case in my Writing Textual Analysis course, the English course that serves as a gateway to the 4000-level literature courses I will have to complete next year. I am clinging to an A at the moment in Multimedia Production and the final result will be largely dependent on the show production work we are doing this week and next.

Introductory Chemistry — a course I am taking only because prior science course credits did not match offerings for core courses here — has been the big challenge thus far. Still, for a guy who hasn’t set foot in a lab in more than 25 years, to carry a solid B into the final unit test and the comprehensive final exam is not a bad showing. I still have a shot at finishing with an A if I do very well on the final exam and the likelihood of a significant curve given on final course grades becomes reality. It was the same situation for the lab portion of the course. As of this post, I was still waiting to learn my score on the second exam but was sitting at about an 89 going into it.

If I do somehow manage another 4.0 for the semester, it will have been a greater personal accomplishment than that of the fall semester. Then, maybe I can turn my attention over the summer to getting the weight off again and enjoying a full eight hours of sleep each night.

Down The Homestretch

Only two weeks to go before fall semester final exams.

It seems hard to believe I have reached this point on my grand return to student life. If the time has passed quickly, though, it has done so with the brightly colored decorations and joyous music of success.

That is a flowery way of saying I’ve got a great shot at posting a 4.0 grade point average for 12 hours this semester. With the finish line nearly in sight, I’ve made a few rough calculations for each of my four classes to determine what is needed to make that dream start a reality:

Texas Politics — An “A” has already been secured in this class. My professor uses a pure points accumulation table to determine a student’s letter grade for the course. It took 450 points to reach the promised land, and a perfect 30 points for three 10-point online quizzes over the weekend put me at 478. Done and dusted, and I’m exempt from the final exam.

Modern World Literature — Like Texas Politics, this was a lower-level course I had to pick up for degree requirements. It’s also a subject I know quite well. My lowest grade on anything thus far has been a 95, so anything short of a disastrous performance on the final exam and I’ll have an “A” here as well.

Trigonometry — This is the one course where my final grade is really hanging in the balance of the final exam. I will get an official weighted grade report on Wednesday, but if my own calculations are accurate, I need an 84 or better on the final exam to hook an “A” and subsequently bury the ghosts of two “Ds” from the 1980s at Memphis State. Considering my lowest grade on anything thus far has been an 80, the smart money is on Mr. Britt. I told my professor for this course in her office at the start of the semester that I would prove my higher math skills or die in the effort. Looks like I get to live.

Intermediate Spanish — Of the four, this is the one course where I’ve surprised myself most often at how well I have scored on tests. They have all been in the “A” range (including a 101 earlier this month) and so has the first of two compositions. What remains is one more unit test, a second composition, and the final: an oral interview entirely in Spanish, counting 15 percent of the course grade. With such high grades already on the books, though, I’m going to estimate that an “A” on at least one of the three aforementioned items and no worse than a “B” on the other two should be enough to complete “el cuatro grande.”

Of Scores, Blood, and Bearing

I had two very important tests on Friday and am, for the most part, pleased with the results on both.

The first was my first major trigonometry exam in that course.  Even though I had scored quite well on three in-class quizzes prior to this test, I was a little nervous about it.  I was also prepared, and it showed in the result – a 92.

The only question I lost points on had to do with ship bearing (direction), distance traveled and finding the distance between the origin and ending points.  Even with that problem giving me a little fit at the end of the test, it turns out I had one of the higher scores in the class, with the average being a “high C” according to the professor on Monday.

The other test result was even more important, in a sense.  That was the blood test for cholesterol levels, three months after a similar test showed I needed to go back on a cholesterol balancing medication and make some diet and lifestyle changes.

I did, over a long and hot summer, and once again the work paid off.  My triglycerides, which had been at a scary 402, had crashed all the way to 116 and my HDL (good cholesterol) level was up from 23 to 42, where it should be.

The only negative was my LDL (bad cholesterol) at 137, a little too high.  It basically means continuing on the medicine, continuing to exercise regularly, and maybe cutting back on some dairy products like butter and cheese – nothing I can’t handle.

Now, if I can just get a handle on changes in navigational bearing…

Smarter With Age?

I’m at the end of my third week of the fall semester at UT-Tyler and, despite some difficulties getting as much time to study as I would like to have, things are going very well thus far.

There is one burning question for myself, though, and it has to do with two of my four courses in particular.

I am taking Trigonometry for the third time at the collegiate level after barely passing it twice at Memphis in the mid-1980s.  My intermediate level Spanish course is another such class,  my second try at it.  It’s still early, but right now I am pulling an “A” average in Trig after three in-class quizzes and six homework assignments.  As I am writing this, I do not know my score on the first major Spanish exam, taken Wednesday, but I did not leave the classroom that day with a bad feeling.

Which leads me to this: How did these two subjects suddenly become easier 25 years after flailing in their respective waters like a non-swimmer?  In answering this question, I feel I am becoming a living argument for why some young people should NOT go to college immediately after high school.

Here are a few factors I’ve considered in this self-examination:

1. Maturity:  This is going to sound rather harsh toward myself, but I really had no business attending college while I was between 17-19 years of age.  Oh, it wasn’t because I could not do the college-level work, but rather because I had the emotional maturity level of a 12-year-old and a sense of self-discipline to match.  I am finding out for myself just why every “returning adult” college student I’ve ever met has said his/her experience at college was vastly more successful and more enjoyable than when they started straight out of high school.  Going through the “school of life” changes so much for the better.

2. Better instructors:  I took Trigonometry the first time in my very first semester of college.  Unfortunately, my instructor spoke such accent-laden English that I felt lost within five minutes of the lecture.  There has been no such problem this time around, and it shows in my notes.  My Spanish class instructor is very friendly and works well with his students in helping them grasp such difficulties as irregular verb conjugation and reflexive verb structure.  Alongside this factor, I would add the vast difference in resources that are available on the Internet now, something I certainly did not have 25-plus years ago.

3. Desire:  This may be what carries the most weight of all, the simple matter of wanting to complete an undergraduate degree program much more than I did two and a half decades back.  It is the difference between thinking it is important to earn a degree at that time and knowing it is important to do so now.  The “now or never” element I’ve ascribed to this effort is a potent fuel, to be sure.  It has certainly helped me in keeping focused enough to do homework, studying for tests and quizzes, and truly understanding the course material before me.

Trigonometry and intermediate-level Spanish are not any easier than they were in the ’80s.  The Terry Britt taking these courses now, however, is much better equipped to be successful at them.  If that translates to “smarter with age,” so be it.

My New Comfort Zone

I am sitting at a small table on this Friday afternoon, two more in-class quizzes behind me and heading into the first holiday weekend of the academic year.

The table in question is located in UT-Tyler’s “rec room” – officially known as the Patriot Zone – inside the University Center.  It isn’t a large place, occupying what is essentially a cul-de-sac overlooking the cafeteria downstairs, but the university has somehow managed to pack a lot of places to sit and things to do in here.

There is a Chick-Fil-A Express near the entrance, if one should ever feel like a chicken sandwich or nuggets while kicking back in here.

I like it here after just two Fridays to check it out.  The Patriot Zone has a bit of a retro ambience to it, in my opinion, with an area that features a couple of pool tables, air hockey table, table tennis and a shuffleboard set.  That said, it incorporates the present with HD flatscreen televisions, a couple of which are linked to either a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 system.  You can check out various video games to play from the rec desk.

In an odd way, being in here takes me back to the old University Center game room I frequented at Memphis State back in the mid-1980s.  That was a rec room and then some, cavernous and filled with about a dozen pool tables in the center and a number of coin-operated arcade games along the back wall.

I used to spend a lot of time there the first two years I was at the university (probably too much time, judging by some of my final grades), but as I was living in one of the dormitories on campus and had no car at that time, it was the only spot within reasonable walking distance to have some fun after classes.

I understand that the University of Memphis finally opened the old UC’s grander and more modern replacement early last year.  I have not yet seen it, but from the description on the U of M’s Web site, it sounds pretty fantastic – sans game room, however.  I guess pool has declined in popularity there, and anyone with a laptop, smartphone or iPad has all the arcade games they need.

I have those, too.  But every now and again, I still need to chalk up a cue stick and sink the 6 in the left corner pocket.  Thankfully, my new school totally understands.

The first hundred yards

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I am sitting here enjoying a well-earned soy mocha after my last class today. Through the first two days of classes, things have gone well.

Granted, that is like saying you have no issues after the first hundred yards of a marathon.

My mind full well knows it will soon begin to feel the burn, the stress, the challenge of keeping up with assignments and preparing for exams. One sign has already presented itself. Setting aside aside enough study time each week is going to be a challenge within the challenge.

My case in point: I spent two solid hours on trigonometry homework alone late Tuesday. Three other courses now await my attention and so it will go for the next 3 1/2 months. It would be easy to feel a little overwhelmed already.

That is where my previous work experience comes into play to provide a little inspiration. Really, if I can handle sports coverage for seven high schools in four weekly publications, what is analyzing Tolstoy or solving sides of a triangle? If I can transmit a breaking story from Dublin, Ireland, an hour before deadline, what is conjugating a handful of verbs in Spanish?

My mom used to comment often on how it seemed we were given strong backs, individually and as a family, for all the setbacks and general crap we had to bear at times.

So here I go, testing her theory once more. The mocha is gone, the cup is empty, yet I thirst for more. That might be enough to get me to the weekend.