Compiled by Michael Flatt. Illustration by Gail Anderson
t can be easy to think back on one’s college days as a blur of late-night library sessions, adviser meetings and—shall we say—extracurricular activities. But for many of us, the outstanding college memory is more specific and more profound: It’s a course. Not any course, but one that we toss around in our mind for years afterward, that comes to represent that ideal moment in the university experience when we felt a total shift in our perspective—on career, or life, or both.
With that in mind, we asked our alumni to tell us about that one class. We received many thoughtful and spirited responses, full of fond recollections of passionate professors, stimulating discussions and “aha” moments. Did you take any of these courses and have a similar reaction? Are we missing the one that blew your mind? Write to us and let us know!
Hands down, the best course I ever took was the renowned literary critic Leslie Fiedler’s Introduction to Shakespeare. His insights and psychoanalytic approach left us spellbound. The lecture hall in Capen was packed to the rafters. We didn’t want to leave and could have listened to him for hours. Despite the political and cultural turmoil, UB was a center of tremendous intellectual inquiry and debate in the ’70s. It was “a moveable feast” that has stayed with me my whole life.
Statistical Mechanics. Francis Gasparini taught how the behavior of molecules and atoms adopt both quantum and Newtonian properties. It was an eye-opening course on how the world behaves physically.
In my final semester, with more than enough graduation credits, I opted for Charles Olson’s class on Greek mythology as it relates to literature. Charles Olson was a major force in the new mid-century American poetry movement—his action-oriented, free verse poetry is akin to post-war jazz and abstract expressionism. Everyone said he was unorthodox, wild and far out.
Olson was the personification of energy. The Myth & Lit evening class started at 8 p.m., or whenever it was that Olson showed up. It ended at 11 p.m., or earlier or later—whenever he ran out of energy. He was extremely likable. He was also tall and muscular, although already gray-haired.
He arrived full of steam, usually with a brown sweater wrapped around his waist. The class was an eclectic mix of people—a straight-laced note-taker, a beatnik hanger-on, an older woman, a new-age mod-hipster, a Marlon Brando (“The Wild One”) motorcycle type in full black leather jacket and chains, a janitor who dropped in regularly to listen, and a couple against the rear wall who used the class for making out. Two non-humans attending included a dog that a middle-aged female student always brought and, soon thereafter, a scruffy stray dog that usually wandered in.
Dr. Harold Burton’s Exercise Physiology class challenged you to participate, think outside the box and engage yourself in the science of how our bodies perform under different circumstances. It was a true launching pad from exercise science as an undergraduate to physical therapy as a graduate student.
Graphics Programming with Dave Pape was an underrated, hidden and life-changing course. For me it was one of two classes that actually made me feel like I went to college and learned something. Very few courses encourage creativity and deviation from the norm.
I was a double major at UB, in psychology and dance. Within each major there were classes that greatly influenced who I am today. My first ballet class with Jeanne Fornarola helped me gain confidence as a dancer and form lifelong friendships. Laura Park taught my social psychology class. I was so captivated by the topic that I took an upper-level course in self-esteem with her and helped with research in her lab. This paved the way to my graduate education and current career in human resources.
The class I take with me each day is City Planning, taught by Al Price. It follows me around everywhere I go. My first class at UB was American Architecture with Jack Quinan. I had never been to Chicago but when I did go, after this class, I was able to tell the locals all about the architectural history of their city.
Nathaniel Cantor’s Introductory Sociology class back in the ’50s changed my life forever. He was someone who really got under your skin. I grew up in a very protected atmosphere. I had just joined a sorority, and one day he called on me and said, ‘I suppose you’re very comfortable now that you’re in a sorority, and you can do all the things that sorority gals do.’ The classes were relatively small, and he would go at each of us. He made me think about things I had never thought about before, and made me want to major in sociology.
When I took a job with the Navy, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was completely unfamiliar with how the military operates. In my 22-year career as a senior civilian, it took me probably ten years to win their trust. If I hadn’t had the exposure to Cantor’s teaching, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the job at all. As it turned out, I ended up having a very successful career. I was inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in the late ’90s.
Developmental Psychology, taught by Stephanie Godleski (who was a graduate student at the time I took the class), definitely set me off toward my current career path. After taking this class, I became very interested in conducting research with children. That led me to join Jamie Ostrov’s Social Development Lab, which Dr. Godleski was a part of, the semester after I took her course. Because of this experience, I am now conducting school-based motivation research as a student in Ohio State’s educational psychology PhD program and working toward my goal of becoming a professor.
Two classes had a major impression on me: Reginald Pegrum’s Geology 101, in which he announced that mankind is too puny to affect the global climate, and A.P. Sine’s English class, in which we studied the King James version of the Bible.
Professor Pegrum knew that the CO2 levels in our atmosphere had remained nearly constant for millennia. What he did not anticipate was the vast expansion of the human population and its ravenous exploitation of fossil fuels. In the 1950s, he envisioned the extensive use of atomic power, water and wind power. Not every family had a car, and hardly anybody had two. However, the science courses at UB did provide a foundation for my future.
Professor Sine led us through a historical review of the development of Jewish, Christian and English political structures, and then encouraged us to dig and delve for ourselves to come up with interpretations and understandings. Those skills served me well in my half-century career, and still prompt me to continue digging and delving as a jolly octogenarian.
John C. Mohawk’s World Civilizations class my very first semester. He taught world civilizations through the foods that different peoples ate. It was so eye-opening to learn that this topic could be taught in such a different and effective way. I loved it! It has allowed me to think about more creative ways to engage with students.
Robert Daly’s class on the 20th-century American novel gave me not only a new approach to reading, but a fresh look at the world around me. Critical readings of Willa Cather’s “My Ántonia” and Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking about life. To this day, I pay closer attention to what I am reading and what can be learned from the text. I look back fondly at my time in that first-floor Clemens classroom.
My favorite was American History 101. John Milligan’s incredible lecturing style entranced me; I took every course of his that I could during my four years at UB. My least favorite was Calculus 101 but it did provide me critical direction. I started as a math major, but calculus showed me that theorems, limits and derivatives replaced numbers in the study of math at the university level. So, it was not for me. I ended up being able to utilize my affinity for numbers in a successful career in supply chain management.
Molecular Immunology. What possessed me to take that as an elective I will never know! What an eye-opener, especially at 8 a.m. I was a biochemical pharmacology major, and I had taken a pretty easy class with a particular professor. I saw that the same professor was teaching molecular immunology, so I signed up.
However, it turned out that he was on sabbatical, and had been replaced by Sandra Gollnick. I remember the first day she came in, she said, “I’m going to take it for granted, and I do mean granted, that you all have an advanced understanding of genetics and biochemistry.” I looked at my friend sitting next to me, and he was panicking because he knew genetics but not biochemistry, and I was panicking because I knew biochemistry and not genetics.
Dr. Gollnick, who has worked at Roswell Park for a long time, was a great professor and smart as hell, but that was a much harder class than I anticipated.
Philosophy 101: Aristotelean Logic was a required course in the nursing program. The professor was wonderful in his approach and in the manner in which he encouraged each student to think past his or her preconceived notions and mental boundaries while providing a framework from which a logical approach to thoughtful inquiry could occur. Loved the class!
I wasn’t a history major but ended up taking two of John Milligan’s Civil War history classes just for the fun of it. He was, perhaps, the best and most engaging teacher I have ever encountered. Nonetheless, Narain Gehani was the most influential person on my academic career. If not for him, I would not have continued on in computer science and would have missed out on a 35-plus-year career. I think about his guidance to this day.
In the spring of 2002, I applied for the summer study abroad program to Cuba, which would ultimately lead me to José Buscaglia’s course called Cuba Today. Being Puerto Rican and from New York City, I was sure I already knew everything about being both American and Latino/Hispanic. I was wrong. In fact, it was this course, and the many Latin American and Caribbean studies courses that followed, that ultimately led to me changing my major from music performance to Latin American and Caribbean studies. This classroom experience allowed me to apply for the graduate program in Caribbean cultural studies. After receiving a prestigious fellowship and graduate assistantship upon graduating the following spring, I knew I would be forever grateful about the decision I had made. That was the class that changed my life.
Pathophysiology. Exams were formatted as hypothetical patient cases, where we had to diagnose a patient based on his or her clinical symptoms and lab results. This class was a phenomenal exercise in critical thinking.
Edgar Dryden was great with the English novel. Great
voice. Great sense of style.
The best course I have ever taken at UB is Advanced Interpersonal Communication with Frank Tutzauer. His energy and sense of humor kept everyone engaged and I couldn't wait to get to class on cold winter days. He inspired me to go to graduate school.
Hip Hop & Social Issues with Kush Bhardwaj got me to, in his words, "think about the way [I've] been trained to think". Professor B taught us far more than hip hop; he taught us about the conditions, issues, and history which led to its creation and the impact they have on society as a whole. No other professor can bring the energy and passion that Professor B brings to the classroom; after every class, it was all I could talk about for the rest of the week. As an educator, I strive to impact my students the same way he impacted us.
I took an Ecology course in Rachel Carson college taught by Sandy Gefner. It changed the way I think about the world and my career. I ended up moving out west (Colorado) and working in clean water. I often think about that class and things it taught me about myself and my relationship with the environment. LOVE YOUR MOTHER EARTH.
The class that changed my life was ENG 395. I had no idea what I signed up for when I first registered and it turned out to be the course associated with The Spectrum. After writing for two semesters and being a sports editor for two more, I made great friends, grew my love for the university and more than anything else, found that I wanted to work in public relations more than journalism. It's no slight to The Spectrum that I chose to jump sides. Contrarily, I credit the course for changing my life path and helping bring me to where I am today.
I have vivid memories of Prof. Pope teaching early American History. He could deliver the most amazing lectures ... talking about the great revivals the lecture would gradually take on the rhythm and language of a sermon delivered by one of the great preachers of that era. The class would sit there, completely mesmorized.