Four Professors Present Last Lectures Before Retiring
Galloway, N.J. — Four Stockton professors had one final chance to impart some wisdom to the campus community on April 6 during the second annual Last Lecture.
Each professor had about a half hour to talk about anything they wanted, even if it sometimes had little to do with what they had taught during their time at Stockton.
“This is a great event to showcase the talent and the dedication that some of our faculty have and give them an opportunity for a presentation to the campus community before they retire,” said Leamor Kahanov, the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
The four professors who spoke were:
- Janet Wagner, professor of Computer Information Systems. She came to Stockton in 2007 as the Founding Dean of the School of Business.
- Karen York, professor of Biology. She arrived at Stockton in 1995 and has specialized in microbiology and molecular genetics.
- David Lechner, a librarian in the Richard E. Bjork Library. He arrived in 2001 and has taught several undergraduate seminar classes. He’s a certified translator in German, Norwegian and other languages and is also a musician in the Faculty Band.
- Juan Tolosa, professor of Mathematics. He came to Stockton in 1986. He’s taught a wide range of classes, including Geometry, Calculus and Russian.
The event was held in the Board of Trustees Room in the Campus Center. Here’s a look at what each of the professors discussed in their last lecture:
Janet Wagner: ‘A Data Analyst Looks at Life’s Bigger Questions’
Wagner focused her lecture on a book titled “Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions” by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa.
“Why this book as a last lecture? As a data analyst, that’s what I study,” she said. “How do people make decisions? How should people make decisions? And how can they make better decisions?
Your life is the sum of the choices that you make."
Wagner said the lessons from the book “really changed her life” and helped her make major decisions including, for example, early in her career about whether to move to New Mexico to take a dream job at Los Alamos or stay in Boston with her boyfriend.
The book discusses a process dubbed PrOACT, which stands for Problem, Objective, Alternatives, Consequences and Tradeoffs, and is a way to break down a problem into different outcomes to help make a decision.
Another method of decision-making discussed in the book, Wagner said, was decision trees to map out the possible alternatives and give you the best outcome.
“It’s not a mathematical book in any way, shape or form. But if you broke down in tears in my office as dean, I probably handed you this book,” she said. “Both of my children, when they graduated from high school, were given the book and forced to read it. This book can change your life.”
Karen York: ‘A Steady Diet of Curiosity and Wonder’
York became a little emotional at the beginning of her final lecture, in which she provided an overview of some of the things she has studied in microbiology and molecular biology during her 28-year career at Stockton.
“I have enjoyed being able to surround myself with smart and creative people and to follow wherever my interest and creativity can take me,” she said. “And in that process, I have cultivated a lifelong habit of learning.”
Teaching is a rough magic. What knowledge is clear in your head that you are trying to convey to somebody may come out quite differently in their heads. But when the magic works, it can be beautiful and transformative.”
Those major discoveries included the double helix of DNA in 1964 when she was 7 growing up with horses in Kentucky; DNA sequencing in 1977 when she was in college; Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR testing, in 1985 and the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003.
“All of these unfolded in my lifetime, and it has been remarkable,” she said.
She closed the lecture by talking about how she’s not just a scientist, but also an educator.
“Teaching is a rough magic. What knowledge is clear in your head that you are trying to convey to somebody may come out quite differently in their heads,” she said. “But when the magic works, it can be beautiful and transformative.”
In showing some slides of some of the students she has taught, York mentioned students have gone on to a wide variety of careers, from doctors and nurses to laboratory techs and jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.
“It’s been a tremendous honor to be able to share my enthusiasm for research with these students and learn from them at least as much as they have learned from me,” she concluded.
David Lechner: ‘Irregularities in International Crime Fiction: When Words Go Wrong’
“I retired in December, and I have to say it’s kind of a really neat experience to wear real clothes for the first time in three months,” Lechner said, beginning his final lecture, which focused on the potential problems of translating European crime stories into English.
I retired in December, and I have to say it’s kind of a really neat experience to wear real clothes for the first time in three months.”
“I had to consider how students were perceiving the translated prose,” Lechner said. “From the beginning, I asked students to watch for phrases they didn’t understand and any passage that didn’t make sense or seemed counterintuitive to the developing storyline. I made it a point to get my hands on the original text so we can see what’s going on.”
Lechner also spoke about the Three Principles of Translation:
- The translation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work
- The style and manner of writing should be of the same character with that of the original
- The translation should have all the ease of the original composition.
Juan Tolosa: ‘Why Math?’
“Before I begin, I took some notes from the previous speakers. Math is much easier to translate than literature,” Tolosa began his lecture, eliciting a laugh from the audience. “I don’t want to call this a last lecture. That sounds like something terminal. I want to call it just another lecture.”
The problem is that many of us get the wrong idea of math. We don’t really learn what math is when we are young, and many of us learn to hate it when we are forced to do some things in school like learning fractions."
Tolosa then talked about a whole series of industries that have direct ties to math, including economics, geosciences, astronomy, artificial intelligence and engineering.
“The problem is that many of us get the wrong idea of math. We don’t really learn what math is when we are young, and many of us learn to hate it when we are forced to do some things in school like learning fractions,” Tolosa said. “But math is much more than most of us get to learn.”
He then spent the second half of his last lecture talking about his globe-trotting life and how he came to Stockton. Born in Argentina, Tolosa grew up in neighboring Uruguay, studied in the former Soviet Union and Scotland, and taught in Venezuela and San Francisco before arriving in Galloway Township in 1986. He has taught several different math classes at Stockton, including Geometry, Algebra, Calculus I, II and III, and even Russian.
“This is not my last lecture. I’m still passionate about math and about music and about everything,” Tolosa concluded. “Any questions?”
— Story and photos by Mark Melhorn