September 22, 2013

OH: Learning More From TC3

Print More


I have a confession to make: I’m dual-enrolled at TC3 this semester. I’m one of many Cornell students who chose to take other classes instead of — or in addition to — Cornell classes for various reasons. But, why on earth would we — Ivy leaguers — choose to take classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College, a community college?

With the termination of my undergraduate career on the horizon, I have been making good progress toward graduation, except in the area of Physical and Biological Sciences. Daunted by the fast-paced rigor and cut-throat competition of Cornell’s introductory science lectures with 300+ students, I decided to look into other options and was told I could transfer credits from other schools. With affordable tuition (roughly ⅕ of Cornell’s) and close proximity to Cornell, TC3 seemed like a good place to take care of my science distribution requirement.

Besides its economic value and location, I was pleasantly surprised by TC3’s academic quality. Both of my professors hold doctorates — something you cannot take for granted at community colleges — from highly reputable institutions. Comparing their educational qualifications, I honestly couldn’t find any major difference between the TC3 professors and my professors at Cornell. Uber-competitive faculty hiring processes with dirty inner-politics can deter anyone aspiring for a position in academia, but students inadvertently benefit from the over-supply of highly-educated scholars.

The small class-sizes at TC3 also allow an unmatched level of personalized attention and interactions that are systematically impossible in Cornell’s introductory science courses. I’ve had small seminar courses at Cornell in the past and they were undoubtedly challenging and rewarding, but I still sensed a certain aura around tenured faculty members at Cornell that intimidated me (to be fair, it was probably my own lack of confidence more than their sense of authority). At TC3, on the other hand, I have to restrain myself from calling them “Mr. Last Name,” instead of “Professor,” because their friendliness and approachable nature remind me of my high school teachers, though their qualifications deserve the same respect I would give to any other college professor.

The most important lessons I’m learning, however, are from my classmates. My classes are in the evenings, hence most of my classmates are adult learners who often have full-time jobs and families, as well as the the associated responsibilities. Aspiring nurse, Jane, had to leave a lab in the middle because her son was hospitalized for pneumonia. A construction worker, Joe, gives his best effort to stay awake, but the sheer force of gravity always wins over his eyelids.

After missing a few more classes, I heard Jane had dropped the course, delaying her dream to be a nurse yet another semester. Despite my best wishes and hopes for her, I think the odds of her ever making it as a nurse are dismal. In her hints of grey hair and deepening crow’s feet, I sense the weight of reality wearing on her. Her children will require even more attention as they grow up. When will she be freed from her obligations? When they get out of high school?

Giving up on pre-med at Cornell means becoming a businessman, lawyer or scholar instead, but dropping a course at TC3 means going back to your daily routine of a minimum wage job. My classmates may be racially and socioeconomically homogeneous, but I am exposed to a whole new meaning of diversity at TC3 that I rarely find at Cornell.

I frequently whine about the impossible amount of academic work I have to complete each day, but I overlook the fact that I don’t work on constructing the Klarman Hall from 9AM to 5PM; I study art history and philosophy inside Goldwin Smith instead. I don’t have mortgage bills piling on my dining room table; my monthly rent goes out of my parent’s account via direct deposit. When I’m buying late-night snack with my parents’ credit card, my main concern is how many essays I have to write, not how much I’m about to spend.

I used to wear a Cornell T-shirt to TC3 everyday like the other Cornell students, because God forbid anyone mistake us as TC3 students — that would be a gross injustice to our “superior” intellect and accomplishment. I pretended not to hear when another Cornell student in my class bluntly announced that he doesn’t care about TC3 classes because “he only needs a C,” in front of hardworking TC3 students. I’m fed up with the “I’m the shit” mentality here at Cornell and within myself. I’m grateful to TC3 for letting me take classes there and honored to be sitting in the same classroom with hard-working regular people rather than snobby suburbanites. Maybe, I’ll wear a TC3 T-shirt to Cornell tomorrow.

Don Oh is a senior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He may be reached at [email protected]. Bi the Way runs alternate Mondays this semester.