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This Just In!
"Academia is a Mind-Altering Substance"
by F. Craig Littlejohn

 I was a lousy student in high school. If you compared my transcript now with the one from high school, you'd probably laugh your ass off... and then wonder how the hell I ever got into Clark.

 I wonder that myself sometimes. But to be fair to admissions, Clark has a reputation for cracking people out of their shells and giving them room to explore their potential. Maybe it's the faculty here, with their generally caring attitude toward students. Or maybe it's just our collective burning desire to get out of Worcester.

 For me, it was respect. Professor respect students who care about what they are learning. Forget studying your brains out, trying to impress with your amazing knowledge of course material. You don't have to work that hard. If you genuinely care about what you're studying, then you are probably working hard enough.

Clark in the News:

Unconventional Dole Devotee

[the Associated Press]

Ilion, NY.-- The Republican Party's streamlined, scripted convention went off without a hitch.

 Or so organizers may think. They didn't plan on 14-year-old Patrick Dunn.

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Pat Dunn ('90), famous Clarkie and Vax personality, with inflatable goat at President Traina’s house
 The young Republican devotee flew out to San Diego on his own, from his home outside Utica. There, he hobnobbed with the New york delegation at the ritzy Hotel Del Cornado, posed as a waiter to get onto the convention floor, and even had a photo taken with former President Gerald Ford before police caught on and sent him back home Wednesday.

 "When I got out there and everything it was a big thrill for me," Dunn said Thursday, back home with his grandmother. "I walked right past Steve Forbes."

 The resourceful teenager from Ilion, NY, 168 miles north of New York City and 2377 miles from San Diego, saved for months for the flight.

 Dunn arrived in San Diego, alone, on Tuesday morning. He hired a limosine to take him to the Hotel Del Cornado.

 What he really wanted was to see the convention itself. So the honor roll student simply slipped past the Secret Service, grabbed a tray, and went in posing as a waiter.

 Someone noticed, and asked him to leave. But on his way out, Dunn came across former President Gerald Ford. He introduced himself as a Dole volunteer, and got his picture taken.

 While Dunn was rubbing shoulders with Ford, his limo driver called police, expressing concern over the young man traveling alone. Dunn was interviewed by police Wednesday and sent back to upstate New York.
[courtesy the Boston Globe]

 It is far more important that you show the professor you are thinking intelligently, not merely memorizing. Memorization is for dweebs, anyone can memorize. My dog can memorize. Spinoza can memorize. What my dog, Randy's cat, and stupid people can't do is critically and creatively analyze information. This is what your professors hope you are doing.

 Do your homework, write your papers, but be sure to set aside time (maybe during class) to really think about what the professor is saying. Go talk to the professor about it. Most actually enjoy having guests in their lonely offices.

 After meeting with the professor, think about it some more. Tear it apart and mentally glue it back together in your mind so many times your brain starts to overheat from all that thinking.

 This is actually good for you. Something is really happening that you ought to know about: you are making physical changes in your neuroanatomy. You may not have the first clue what the word "neuroplasticity" means, but you are already very good at manipulating it, or else you wouldn't be at Clark.

 When you learn something, a physical change in the biology of your brain occurs. When you start thinking in diffeent ways to solve problems, physical changes are occuring then too. Intricate neural connections are made and broken; your central nervous system continually reconfigures itself, always seeking more efficient pathways to accomplish mental tasks.

 The more you use your brain to solve problems, the better those conections become, the more precise your critical thinking will be. This is why you came to college, not to learn a bunch of facts, but to turn your brain into a lean, mean, intellectualizing machine.

 The changes you make in your thinking can't be wiped out as quickly as you forget the details of "Paradise Lost," or the Hell-Volhard-Zelinsky reaction (of course, you'll never forget the name of the HVZ reaction). What you do with your brain now will stay with you all your life, so you might as well make the most of it.

 The first time I noticed this at work was when I started doing mental gymnastics on neuroscience problems, using thought patterns I learned in English Poetry. For the first time I felt like I had truly learned something.

 I still see this at work in various ways, and now that I know what is being manipulated in my classes, I can better organize my thinking to maximize its effect.

 I have come a long way from that 2.6 student in high school, so far that I'm applying to medical school this year. But my paper achievements pale in comparison to the profound reworking of my brain, which I am proud to say happened because of Clark.