Professors talk about their life away from the office

Priyanka Sharma

Staff writer

Kenneth LaBrant, associate professor of Spanish, who has been teaching for the past 26 years, said that early in life he never thought he would become a professor.

“At 18, if somebody would have said, ‘you were going to be a professor and have your PhD,’ I would have said no,” LaBrant said.

“My absolute best part about being a teacher is working with people as I love people and talking with students all day. I enjoy being creative and this job also gives me plenty of time to be with family.”

LaBrant said that if he was not a teacher, he would love to be a surfer or do something sales- related.

“If my skill level was good, I would love to be a full time surfer and surf on the beach and make money doing that. That would be very exotic,” LaBrant said.

In his spare time, LaBrant said, he loves reading C.S. Lewis and Christianity-inspired books, spending time with his family and riding his motorcycle.

One of the most unforgettable experiences he had, according to LaBrant, was the surprise trip to Michigan that he and his wife put together for their kids one Christmas.

“It was almost a 15-hour ride, and when we got there a blizzard had come in,” LaBrant said. “It snowed a foot overnight and everyday it snowed, and it got down to -9 F one night.”

He said that his kids got to snow ski on the mountains of Caberfae, and that they go to play in the snow and throw snowballs. “It was just very interesting because they had no clue.” LaBrant said about the surprise trip.

Richard Nokes, associate professor of the English department, who has been teaching for the past 24 years, said that he loved the challenges and freedom that his job provided, and that he was inspired to become a teacher by his own English teacher, who was terrible. According to Nokes, the teacher confronted him after he challenged her methods.

“She told me ‘if you think you are smart, why don’t you go and teach the class?’” Nokes said. “I went in front of the class and did it.”

That, according to Nokes, was the moment when he thought of studying English instead of biomedical engineering, which was the field he initially wanted to study. Chance decided his final choice.

“When I was applying for schools, I ended up getting a full-ride scholarship to a school that did not have biomedical engineering but had English, so that’s another reason I went for it.” Nokes said.

When it comes to things students don’t know about him, Nokes said that his life is a swirling maelstrom of weirdness.

“If I tell stories in class that might sound unbelievable, it is always true; but, if the story sounds believable, I might probably have gotten rid of some details,” he said.

Nokes said that his stories range from applying for a job at the White House to being a professional bowtie model.

“Somewhere in Abu Dhabi, there is a mansion that has a large portrait of me. I do not know this person, but they approached a photographer who had taken some pictures of me wanting to buy them, so I am an international professional model.”

He said he does not like semesters where he has to teach many freshmen or sophomore classes because he has to be mean all the time, which gets tiring.

“Honestly, I want them to be afraid of me,” Nokes said. “I want them to be terrified that bad things are going to happen if they disappoint me to make them work as hard as possible.”

“I don’t need their essay, I got a whole library full of essays from smarter people who are lot more educated than them who have written about it. They need to work as hard as they can so that they can learn as much as possible”

Apart from teaching he likes PC gaming, reading, tabletop role-playing games and cooking.

Jay Valentine, associate professor of philosophy, who has been teaching at the university level for seven years, said that the introduction of new ideas to students is the best part of his job.

“I love the looks on people’s faces when I tell them something that is completely new to them which expands their horizons and adds a contrast or context to the thought that they already had,” Valentine said.

Ever since Valentine took a world religions class as an undergraduate student in the university of Delaware, he said he saw himself as somebody who would be teaching that class to other college students.

As for midterms and finals, Valentine said that the professors dread them just as much as students.

“It’s just like how your exams all come out once, our grading also comes at once,” he said. “Sometimes, I am literally staying up all night drinking coffee and reading very similar answers to essay questions over and over again.”

Valentine, who is also a musician, said he enjoys the beginning of the semester although he gets a few seconds of stage fright just like the one he gets before going on stage.

“Even though you know the songs, even though you are going to play them well enough, you still get a little nervous at the beginning.”

According to Valentine, his alternative dream job is to work with one of the companies that specialize in study-abroad programs.

“There is an organization called ‘Where There Be Dragons’ and a couple of others who take undergraduate students though India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, etc., and I would love to do that. I am trying to fit that in this job with the university’s study abroad program,” he said.

Valentine said he enjoys travelling, particularly to Asia, to get contrasting experiences and to see firsthand the cultures that he’s studied. At Naropa University, a Buddhist university in Colorado where Valentine studied for his master’s degree, he had practice week – a week off from classes in the middle of the semester – when he had to meditate for the same number of hours as the number of the class hours he was taking that semester.

“At some point in two years we had to do the Dathun, which was the one-month meditation retreat, so I did a one-month meditation retreat at the Rocky Mountains, Shambhala Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It was a very interesting experience and something that is very unique,” Valentine said.

Apart from teaching, Valentine said he enjoys kayaking.

“I just love being on a boat like that; it is very calming and relaxing in a lot of ways,” he said.

Marna Barnett, a lecturer in the chemistry and physics department, has been teaching for 44 years, or, as she likes to say, for twice as long as most of her students. Barnett also said she loves students’ moments of discovery the most.

“I enjoy seeing students learn and seeing the light bulbs come on when they finally are like, ‘I’ve got this! I can do this!’ That’s the best reward because educators do not make much money,” she said.

She said that she was never very adventurous and wanted everything like it was supposed to be – in order. “I was always very afraid of disappointing my parents, so I was not much of a wild child. That’s the part of who I am. If it needs to be done, get it done,” she said.

Barnett said that teaching is fun for her and she will try to do it for as long as she can.

“Unless I am unconscious in the hospital, I probably will show up for class,” she said.

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