In Response to: A Combustible Mix 

I took Professor Jones’ “Orgo” in the academic year 1989-90, and in my view it was my first true college course, since much of my first year was a review in many respects of high school courses such as basic chemistry, writing, foreign language, and math. I remember being intimidated before starting the course and, somewhat embarrassingly, started reading the textbook in the summer before the class started. This turned out to be a ridiculous waste of time but it did assuage some of my anxiety. I remember being completely enthralled by the class. Whether it was how it made me think, or the cool visuals and seeming ease of Professor Jones’ ability to draw electron orbitals of various shapes and colors, or just the zeal and energy that he brought to the class, I was highly motivated to learn this new subject. I was also motivated by my fellow students, some of whom wanted to major in organic chemistry, as well as my dream to attend medical school. The concept of learning how we know things rather than just memorizing was also novel. Unfortunately, all of this excitement and energy came crashing down after my first exam result was a 33 (yes, out of 100). I remember calling home and telling my parents that I will need to set some new dreams and drop the class. My parents urged me not to. After my second exam grade came back with a 66 (yes, out of 100 again), I was pissed at my parents and myself for not dropping the class and now it was too late. I went to Dr. Jones for extra help, and things started to click. The rest of that the semester and the next were some of the most memorable and rewarding academic times of my life as I gained confidence in learning how to think deeply and solve problems.

As a parent, a spouse, and spinal surgeon, I am faced with problems every day that force me to think deeply and solve for unknowns. I have shared this story repeatedly with my children to emphasize the importance of learning over grades and that what you think is a horrible performance may not be that bad when compared to the whole. This class forced me to get way out of my comfort zone as a student, it forced me to think differently about my priorities, and made me think much more carefully about how I budgeted my time in college. It would have been much easier and a massive mistake to have dropped the class and taken it at a local college as many of my friends did.  I am truly grateful for the 10 months learning “Orgo” from Dr. Jones, and although I still get a little nauseous when I walk by Frick, never in my wildest imagination would I ever have thought to sign a petition because the class was too hard. In life, we all get kicked in the teeth some day. It is how we react that makes the difference. Thank you Dr. Jones.

Justin Tortolani ’92, M.D.
Towson, Md.