Listen [or don’t listen] to your mother!

My entire life I’ve heard over and over again the phrase, “Listen to your mother.”
Those who raise us are our earliest teachers, and often have the biggest influence on the adults we become. I don’t know if my mother intended for me to be a hell-raiser strong willed child (and adult), but I very seldom listened to my mother. Apparently we didn’t get along too well from my infancy up until my twenties; just a few weeks ago she was telling a story about how as soon as my father would get home from work she’d hand me to him and say, “Here, you take her.” To that my father would just laugh and say, “It’s like spending a day with yourself, isn’t it?”


We spent a lot of time at the beach. I’m not sure where this picture was taken, but here is a picture of me and my mom. Don’t we looked thrilled?

Granted my life wouldn’t have turned out quite the way that it did if I had blindly followed my mother’s advice as some children tend to do which is an interesting path to wander down. First a little background – I graduated from an alternative high school, I wasn’t in a position to go directly to a four year institution in any capacity. Community college was the best option for me. I wanted to be a Marine Biologist so I tried to figure out the best way to do that – my mom suggest that I go into a more in demand field.


Path 1 – Mom’s Suggestion

Path 2 – Alex’s CC Decisions

HE out of HS

Go to Delaware Community College

Went to Maryland Community College



Started in Ocean Studies, switched to Biology & Environmental Science because I had a strong connection with a particular instructor

>Extra Curricular


Softball & Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society



Honors/Awards, Leadership Training, Scholarship Opportunities

4 Year Institution

Get a job that will pay you to get a BS

Applied to 4 schools


Accepted with Scholarship to: Richard Stockton College, University of Tampa, & Coastal Carolina
Accepted without Scholarship to: West Virginia University

So – I have my acceptance letters in order of arrival; Stockton, Tampa, Coastal, WVU. I had my heart set on Coastal for such a long time (SHARK WEEK!) – but I was accepted to WVU and their Honors College (the fact that I graduated high school was a surprise so this was HUGE) to study Biology. I was extremely conflicted about what to do. I was aware of the cost of getting a four year degree. It scared me especially being in 20 years old and having a better sense of the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. I didn’t know what to do – I called my mom while she was at work and just started crying. All she said was, “It’s your decision and we’ll get you through no matter where you decide to go.”

That’s what I needed to hear. I needed to be given permission to take this huge financial risk on my education and I needed to feel that my decisions were supported and valued. I’m so glad she’s what she said, because if she hadn’t said that I probably would have went with the cheapest school and this wouldn’t have happened.

I went to WVU starting in Fall 2009 – I had a rough first year it turns out that the pedagogical differences between community colleges and undergraduate lecture halls can have quite an impact and my love of Bio was lost in the bad teaching with good intentions. A series of domestic abusive incidents by my then [ex] girlfriend from home prevented me from attending several of my classes due to the anxiety of potentially seeing her. My GPA at the end of the semester was a whopping 1.64. Spring of 2010 it was suggested to me that I take a much easier course load and even consider changing my major. I thought about it – since I never talked to anyone about my relationship situation except my family and close friends that I was just dumb and shouldn’t be taking those classes. Fortunately for me I decided despite my bad grades (and the advice of the athletic department advisor) to take Calc 2 because I was tired of my then [ex] girlfriend (and company) telling me that I was bad at math and that I should just accept it and that I’ll never be good at it.

Guess what, I wasn’t all that bad at it. I mean I wasn’t great at it, but man did my confidence go way up. I had a really awesome teacher (Krista) which helped a lot. Once I learned how I learned my grades shot up toward the end of the semester. Krista gave me a boat load of confidence in an area where I had previously been uncertain, and essentially gave me what I needed to help make another huge life decision.

I changed my major to civil engineering without consulting anyone other than essential personnel (and ultimately evolved to the opinion of my mom for different reasons [?]). Since the rest of my schedule was so simple for that semester my GPA had been inflated to a cumulative 2.53.I was admitted to the College of Engineering with no issues for Fall 2010. The first summer my [ex] girlfriend left Morgantown I broke off that relationship so we had 3 months and over 400 miles between us. I met someone new – who was and is wonderful. She’s positively brilliant, supportive, and was crazy enough to agree to marry me. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet this wonderful, wonderful woman if I hadn’t gone to West Virginia.

From the time I switched to the COE I managed to have at least a 3.0 GPA every semester, one term I even made the Dean’s List. I graduated from WVU in December 2012 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. I graduated with just under a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Which really isn’t that bad considering where this all started.


If I hadn’t gone to WVU my major switch to engineering wouldn’t have happened – which means I wouldn’t be studying at Virginia Tech right now. I wouldn’t have met my best friends – I wouldn’t be involved in animal recuse (there wouldn’t be a kitten trying to steal my pen and attempting to co-author this blog post). My life would have been TOTALLY different, and I don’t mean different as in bad, I just mean not this.
I value and I am thankful that I have acquired many of my mother’s traits, and I am thankful that many of the things that I have learned in my experiences can be transferred to my practices as a professor and academic.

Be confident, stand your ground, but know when to pick your battles

Sometimes it’s hard to be confident, I can think of a handful of times in the past year where I needed to be the expert on something and was extremely nervous about it. When I feel like that I give myself some advice that my mother gave me (modified to suit my needs); I put on my sharpest suit, and I drop those facts like they’re hot [dress to impress and tell it like it is].

On occasion you will have disagreements with your boss and colleagues. If it’s really important – fundamentally essential to you, stand your ground and fight that battle. Otherwise, it’s important to be bipartisan and to hear all sides of the issue and be ready and willing to compromise. Because being the middle child of a middle child came with no perks my friends.

Learn to filter

Sometimes people give you advice that makes things better for them; like that guy who told me not to take Calc 2 – it would have inflated the GPA of the team and the athletic department, and if I failed he would have probably been reprimanded for allowing me to take the class. So ultimately I did what I had to do and it changed everything.

We live in a world where we have the opposite issue of everyone before us – we have entirely too much information coming at us; not all of it right, not all of it useful. Learning to weed out what is useful is essential to being successful and relatively efficient.

Model the behavior you want to encourage

This brings me back to something I’ve been harping on a little bit lately, empathy. It is important to have a genuine concern for your own well-being but also the well-being of others. I think that nowadays everyone is so concerned with looking out for themselves that they become disconnected with the well-being of others. My mother is a nurse – she modeled the behavior that was encouraged all my life by caring for others, beyond the nameless, faceless patients at the hospital. Both my great grandparents were on hospice care. I watched as their condition deteriorated and as my mother, aunts, grandmother, and other relatives cared for them relentlessly in their home right up until the end.
This can be practiced in the classroom too – be the kind of person you want your students to be. If you want your students to be punctual then don’t be late. If you want your students to feel relaxed and welcome, make it so!

In conclusion – Don’t listen to your mother, but pay attention you might learn something.


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