Teacher appreciation: This professor is my motivating force

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Victoria Bankowski
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Being invited to my former community college’s retirement reception as a guest of one of my professors was such an honor and privilege. I met so many wonderful past and present professors of the college. While standing in the buffet line, a gentleman introduced himself by name and we began to talk. I was unaware he was one of the English instructors hired to take the place of a recent retiree. I spoke fondly about my experiences with all my professors and the importance of student appreciation. He smiled at me and thanked me for the exchange, adding how a short simple message on a piece of loose paper could mean so much to a professor. I am fortunate to have had instructors who have my best interests at heart and care about my success. I think it is important to tell teachers how important they are in your success.

Since transferring to the University of Michigan to complete my degree, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory. The level and degree of difficulty at the University has far exceeded anything I ever expected. I felt as though I did not really belong in the world class learning environment of the University of Michigan and contemplated finding a university that was less challenging. My first semester did not go exactly the way I wanted it to go and I earned my very first B+. I previously was able to keep a 4.0 GPA at my community college and I began to have self-doubt. In my second semester things began to look a little brighter and I began to feel more optimistic when I enrolled in Environmental Sustainability with Professor Sara Soderstrom. I had previously spoken to Professor Soderstrom before the start of the class and shared my insecurities with her. Professor Soderstrom actively listened to my issues and offered that while I might feel as though I lacked the traditional skills the other students had, I gained in the life skills that most likely the traditional students lacked. This helped me realize that my contributions in the class were as important as the other students’ contributions.

I remember the first day of that class so clearly. Professor Soderstrom was centrally located and walked about the classroom with such poise and confidence, portraying a vision of self-assurance. When she spoke, we listened, and we learned. Her words were like a security blanket and gave me a sense of direction that was heartfelt and filled with enthusiasm. I was assigned to a group which worked with the Alumni Association’s camp project. Professor Soderstrom created a learning environment that allowed me to shine. She met with me several times throughout the semester to discuss how the group was treating me. She would walk around the room and make suggestions often including the importance of the diversity of each group. She shared that it was our individual skills which would make us successful at the University. She made me feel relevant. After the class ended, I wanted to learn more and later worked on an independent study research project with Professor Soderstrom as my mentor.

The classroom is a nicer place with Professor Soderstrom in it – she is my inspiration. She helped me to adjust my perception of myself and recognize my true potential, and continues to encourage me to push for what I believe in. I am honored and privileged to have sat in her class room. There has not been a day that passes that I don’t think about the impact that she has made on me. Thank you so very much, Dr. Soderstrom, for your patience and guidance helping me to take pride in my path. I will forever cherish the thought of you in my heart. I hope not to disappoint you for you are such a determining factor in my success at the University and in life.