Getting personal
By Alec T. Young 03Ox 05C

I had a history of struggling with my required math and science classes at Oxford, but each time I faltered, I was pushed into seeing why they were essential to a liberal arts education.

I passed chemistry, but still had one more lab science to go and took Professor Steven Baker's introductory biology course. This class struck me as quite a challenge as well, and due to a mix of dealing with exam stress and trying to create my new "creative writing major" image, I made the ill-advised choice of taking up smoking cigarettes. Because the school was so tiny and everyone knew everyone's business, I assume Baker had seen me with a cigarette quite a few times.  

When the human respiratory system came up as a subject in class, Baker (left) continued to lecture as he had done about the many other subjects, which challenged my memorization skills. But while teaching me that smoking kills the cilia in your lungs, which causes the characteristic smokers cough, he also made sure that I put on rubber gloves and touched the human lung that he was displaying to the class from a cadaver, a man who once was a heavy smoker. Baker insisted that I noted how spongy and visually deteriorated it was compared to a healthy lung.

Baker wasn't judgmental towards me about my decision to start smoking; instead he took time to make sure I understood what I was getting into. During that week's lab he made me test my blood pressure and skin temperature before and after I smoked a cigarette. Because of this I saw how inhaling the smoke from one cigarette raised my blood pressure and also dropped my skin temperature by ten degrees.

Living on a campus that was smaller then most public high schools, I can recall more then a few instances where I felt my privacy had been invaded. But looking back I can see the distinct advantage attending such an intimate campus environment. While these vignettes allowed me to value my science requirements, they didn't make them any easier. I still had to give them what seemed to be a disproportionate amount of studying and brain power, but I have taken away experiences from these courses that I know will remain with me for the rest of my life.



© 2005 Emory University