May 14, 2014
Thirteen full-size candy bars. That, to my 8-year-old self, seemed like a pretty incredible prize. All I had to do was to learn my times tables from zero to 12 and recite one each day in front of my teacher for 13 days without a mistake. If anyone made a mistake, he or she had to wait until the next day to try again.
The first student to recite them all correctly got the candy. I’m not talking about plain chocolate bars. The bag had Snickers, Milky Ways, Reese's—everything my younger self loved. (Heck, who am I kidding? My older self still loves them. I still know my times tables so if anyone is offering…)
But I digress. I’ve always been a bit competitive (right now anyone who has ever played a game with me is laughing at the understatement) so I was out to win that candy. I had always studied hard for spelling tests, even without a treat at the end. But that bag sitting on Mrs. Trice’s desk made it a whole new ballgame.
Needless to say, I didn’t make a single mistake for 13 days. Neither did Matt, the smartest boy in the class, but the teacher made good on her promise and we each got a bag of candy.
Aaron Levin, assistant professor of mathematics, had a similar experience when he was in fourth grade. His teacher asked the class to estimate how many jellybeans were in a jar and the winner would get the jellybeans.
I was good at memorization. Levin was actually a mathematician, even at that young age. Instead of just guessing, he used math formulas to come up with the winning guess, thus starting a fascination with the power of math and the start of his successful career. Read his FACULTY VOICE: Spilling the Beans About Math, to learn more about Levin’s work.
Who knew that a jar of jellybeans, and the promise of eating them, could start a young mind down a career path that has resulted in number theory research, cultivation of potential of undergraduates at MSU and the award of a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation?
It’s always fascinating to me to talk with faculty and students and discover where they found inspiration that eventually led them here to be a part of the Spartan community.
For College of Osteopathic Medicine student Sister Mary Lisa Renfer, inspiration came from a much higher calling than candy bars or a jar of jellybeans.
Renfer is a nun with the Religious Sisters of Mercy, an order whose mission is, in part, to reach out with love and mercy in situations of need. Education is also essential to the order so Renfer is pursuing her medical degree at COM, a place she feels complements beautifully the spirit of her religious community and fulfills her calling to serve others in need. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Respond in Love, to learn more about her.
Renfer also talks about the freedom and acceptance she found at MSU and the enriching opportunities she’s had to meet others from varied backgrounds.
That’s one of the great things about MSU. You can meet a brilliant mathematician one day, and a nun studying to be a physician the next. You can study accounting or zoology, and everything in between. You can find students and researchers from next door, and others from around the world. You can learn about black holes in the morning and malaria in the afternoon. You can sit in nature by the Red Cedar, or be inspired at the crazy-modern Broad Art Museum. You can play Big Ten athletics or on the campus Quidditch team. The possibilities here are endless.
Getting back to my original inspiration for learning my times tables and to quote one of my favorite movies, life really is like a box (or bag, in my case) of chocolates, you really never do know what you’re going to get. In that aspect, Michigan State is just like life. With so many things to explore and so many different people to meet, you really never know just what you’re going to get. So, next time you’re on campus, look around, find inspiration, explore—take a bite, you’ll be glad you did.