The Stro­sacker Science Center is, for human­ities stu­dents, a shadowy wasteland of lab­coats, strange smells, impen­e­trable jargon, and bad grades. But it is also home to a close-knit com­munity of pro­fessors, teaching assis­tants, and stu­dents.
The time and effort that Hillsdale science stu­dents put in together estab­lishes an informal mentor system. Upper­classmen TAs, having expe­ri­enced the trials of lower-level classes and lab work, guide younger stu­dents.
Senior Luke Bessmer said his own early expe­ri­ences inform the way he approaches freshman and sophomore stu­dents now.
“I encourage ques­tions. I asked the most ques­tions out of anyone in my class,” Bessmer said. “It’s just who I am. I try to help them through it. I know I asked a lot of ques­tions when I got started, and I try to make it easier for them.”
Hillsdale TAs are valuable sources of infor­mation. They also lead new members of the Stro­sacker col­le­giate com­munity through the first woes of higher edu­cation.
As a TA, junior Kadence Ribbens said that watching stu­dents gain con­fi­dence and ability in the general chem­istry lab is incredibly rewarding.
“You have a bond,” Ribbens said. “Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve done what they’re doing. [TAs] have already been through all of it. They’re looking back. They have advice to offer.”
Besides learning from upper­classmen, freshmen and sopho­mores spend sig­nif­icant amounts of time working alongside each other, devel­oping a strong network.
“As a human­ities major, you take a lot of the same classes, but they’re all at dif­ferent times,” Ribbens said. “As a bio­chem­istry or chem­istry major, you take all of the same things at pretty much the same time as everyone else in your grade. You feel all of the same stress, wade through all of the same chal­lenges, and you end up being really close.”
Being a TA also means that you get to introduce younger stu­dents to new expe­ri­ences and observe the results.
“There’s one lab where they could have made a contact explosive,” Bessmer said. “It’s a pre­cip­i­tated solution and, if it dries out, it can turn into an explosive. It’s fun to explain that and watch their faces.”
“People make a lot of inter­esting deci­sions in lab,” senior Matt Dro­gowski said. “But nobody has been hurt — at least, not in my time here.”
But being a TA is far from a one-sided expe­rience. Dro­gowski said his time spent in the lab has helped prepare him for medical school.
“Everyone under­stands things in their own way,” Dro­gowski said, “and I can learn from their per­spective as well as my own. It was not some­thing I expected to do here at Hillsdale, but it was one of the best expe­ri­ences I’ve had. You gain all of this knowledge and yes, it’s edi­fying, but it’s also great to be able to apply that knowledge and impart it to somebody else.”