In today’s post for SQL University, which kicked off Women In Technology week, Jes Borland ( blog | @grrl_geek ) ended with: “I’d like you to write a blog post or leave a comment about the teacher that inspired you the most, particularly in the math, science or tech fields. Who was the difference in your life?”

I still haven’t written this month’s T-SQL Tuesday post (hosted by Jes, “due” tomorrow!), but this one struck home so as is typical of me, I’m procrastinating and writing a response to the WIT post first.

Susan Brown, Ph.D. made a difference in my life. I reference Dr. Brown on my About page, but that brief mention does not do her justice.

I first met Dr. Brown my junior year of undergrad at the University of Michigan. I had switched into Kinesiology at the end of my freshman year, then spent sophomore year taking the intro classes and was planning to take the 300 level classes my junior year. There were two different instructors who taught MVS 320 (Motor Control) and I had a friend ahead of me in the program who recommended I take it with Dr. Brown. This meant I had to wait until second semester, and also meant I had to take the class from 8 AM to 10 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays. Even though I already felt like I was behind, I waited. It was worth it.

I never missed a class. Dr. Brown was a passionate teacher, one of those who cared so much about the subject that you wanted to care about it just as much. She was a wonderful storyteller and had numerous real life experiences with patients and subjects that she would weave into lecture to bring topics to life. She cared about her students. If you did poorly on an exam, she would look at you point blank and say, “What the hell happened here?” Her class was one of the hardest I had taken, but I loved it. I wanted to take every one of her classes, even though I had no idea what I was going to do with my life at that point.

During that same semester my advisor recommended I try to write an honors thesis during my senior year. I approached Dr. Brown to see if she would be willing to take me on as a student, and luckily for me, she agreed. That year marked the beginning of an era that continues to this day in her lab. Dr. Brown was born to mentor; she thrives in teacher-student action. We were taught how to think, how to run good tests, how to analyze, how to problem solve, and how to write. “You have to tell a story, Flansburg!” she would exclaim, as she read my thesis and marked it with red ink. How I dreaded that red pen of hers. Dr. Brown had a passion that was unmatched, that I had never seen in another professor, and she believed in me before I believed in myself.

Dr. Brown provided so many opportunities that helped create the person I am today. While I no longer study Kinesiology, so much of what I do every day was built upon principles and behaviors learned from her. She received two grants during my senior year, and offered to fund my graduate education. In return, I ran her entire lab, one of the grants, mentored undergraduates and taught one of the intro-level courses I had taken just a few years before. She encouraged me to speak publicly at a school-wide research day. I only had to talk for 10 minutes, and I was terrified. I would not be the speaker and teacher that I am now, were it not for her.

Dr. Brown was also well published and well regarded within the field of Neuroscience, and we spent many long hours in the lab together. She took me to conferences, helped me submit abstracts and present posters. She pushed me beyond what I thought I could do, because she knew I could do it. I believe I owe much of my work ethic to her and to my mom, but I also owe Dr. Brown for the faith that I have in myself and what I can do. Of all the gifts she has given me, it is that for which I most grateful.

I worked with Dr. Brown for five years, and in that time she was a professor, mentor, friend, sister and mother. We shared a love of chocolate, caffeine and Beanie Babies. Dr. Brown taught me about Canada (she was from Nova Scotia), good food and good beer. I taught her about Peeps, movies and a little bit about football.

When I left, she wrote me this, “What can I say that would accurately convey the contributions you have made to my life…While I may have taught you something about motor control, you taught me a great deal about myself.” Tonight, over 10 years later, I realized that it was important for me to stop and reflect on all the contributions she made to my life. Thanks Jes, for the inspiration. And to Susan, I can never say it enough…thank you for your faith in me.

11 Responses to 83
  1. Julie Smith
    March 8, 2011 | 3:01 pm

    Great post!

  2. Erin Stellato
    March 10, 2011 | 1:18 am

    Thanks Julie!

  3. Jorge Segarra
    March 10, 2011 | 1:24 am

    Wow, that’s an amazing story Erin, thanks for sharing! Are you still in touch with her today?

  4. Erin Stellato
    March 10, 2011 | 1:40 am

    Thanks Jorge! We are still in touch and I see her about once a year. If I don’t get to Ann Arbor for something work-related, I will find a weekend to go visit. She is still a great source of encouragement for me. There is a part of me that misses having her in my daily life (because she was part of it for four years), but when I’m really stuck I try to imagine what she would do or say in a situation. And when I’m really struggling, I call her 🙂

  5. John Szefcyk
    March 13, 2011 | 9:42 am

    Inspirational read. “She believed in me before I believe in myself.” Incredible! Who pushes you today in your current field of work?

  6. Erin Stellato
    March 13, 2011 | 1:39 pm

    Thanks John! And a great question… Nowadays, the push to do more, to work beyond what I think I can do comes from within. I set expectations for myself that are often way too high, and sometimes this works well, sometimes it doesn’t 🙂
    I think that members of the SQL Community serve as inspiration today. There are SO many people in the community who work hard, know an insane amount about SQL Server, put together great content and are completely accessible to everyone. I want to contribute as much as I can, so their efforts encourage me to do more.

  7. […] this trip because after the meeting I was planning to go to Ann Arbor to see my friend and mentor, Susan.  As I write, I’m in a hotel in Farmington Hills because as I was leaving yesterday, I received […]

  8. sqlbelle
    March 9, 2012 | 9:58 am

    This is another awesome post. Thanks for sharing Erin. Sometimes we are always too busy with stuff that we don’t get that one moment to reflect and thank people who had made a difference in our lives. Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Jason
    July 28, 2012 | 9:05 am

    Come on! “I taught her about Peeps, movies and a little bit about football”. the way you said it, youdid not teach here anything. That is not true. We can all learn something from another person, good or bad. At minimum, from Canadian to American. I don’t see why Cannadian wants to become American except the weather is too cold up there. The reason I am reading this because it reminds me about my robotics research years ago, how different our advisors are.

  10. […] goes back to graduate school.  I’ve blogged before about my mentor, Susan Brown, and in my original homage I mentioned that I would not be the speaker […]

  11. […] goes back to graduate school.  I’ve blogged before about my mentor, Susan Brown, and in my original homage I mentioned that I would not be the speaker […]

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL http://erinstellato.com/2011/03/sb/trackback/