I owe much more than just a song…

mentorOn my morning walk, my iPod shuffled upon the following song: More than just this Song by Brad Paisley. It’s worth a listen and a read of the lyrics (https://www.bradpaisley.com/music/songs/more-just-song).

While this song alludes to the guitar mentors of Brad Paisley and his fellow artists, it has always struck me as a song about mentors generally and has been a constant reminder of my undergraduate mentor Mary K. Sandford. MK, or Doc, as some of us call her, is…as the song says…the reason I get to do the things I do today.

I’m a reasonably bright fellow…more so before the bourbon induced haze of the past decade or so.  I was an OK student.  Certainly not one of those 4.0-types.  I had my share of Cs and even a D or two.  So I owe my career to a few very special people. One of these people is MK. It was her Physical Anthropology course that really solidified my love of Anthropology…merging as it did Evolutionary theory, skeletal analysis and a keen consideration of the impact of culture. And it was MK who invited me to be a part of her lab and be one of her teaching assistants. As her TA, I got to watch her amazingly mad teaching skills…while also learn how to teach myself. I got to hone my abilities and learn course material as only a teacher learns…which is far deeper learning than students usually acquire. My Punnett Square and Hardy Weinburg lectures…now staples of my Physical Anthropology course….were born in the classrooms of Graham hall at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro under MKS’ tutelage.

Moreover, I gained a fabulously sound grounding in human osteology working in MK’s lab in between classes. Nothing preps you as an osteologist better than hours and days and weeks ofsorting and IDing bone fragments in a lab. And in Doc’s lab we were encouraged to do more than that. Each of us had various projects to do. This was a time of emerging digital imaging of human remains and MK and many of the more advanced students were on top of that (way before it became fashionable). I spent some time working on a database for human osteology data. This was way before The Standards (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994) and I dare say my attempts were pretty pathetic. But WOW did I learn a lot about osteological data standards and database and unit construction. I didn’t understand then how influential that experience would be for me. It certainly influence my dissertation research and my subsequent teaching.

So tomorrow…or the next day…that song may come up on the shuffle as I walk. When it does, I will silently thank again the mentor who started me down this road and to whom I owe so much of my current professional and personal life. I have been graced with other amazing mentors and colleagues in my life…but I certainly own a special debt to Doc. If I do for one student what MK did for me, then I’ll have paid back the debt I owe.  You can read more about how MK has influenced my own work with students here.


One Comment Add yours

  1. docmks says:

    Thank you, Gordon. I’m coming out of the fog of a three-migraine week, and the sketchy sleep that accompanies these now relatively rare occurrences in my life, when I decided to check into the virtual world to see what I might have missed in the haze of the past week. Little did I expect to find a such a moving tribute by one of my most outstanding former students. I didm’t know about and “C’s” or
    “D’s” on your transcript. What I remember is a student who showed up in my office with articles about complexity and chaos theory, speculating on how they might be applied to bioarchaeology; a student who designed his own analysis of differential bone preservation at the Tutu site in the Caribbean. You now motivate me to work on my own project, one that will make clear the legacy that you and your students carry, one that started long before me, with names of some of our field’s most eminent founders….Brues, Hooton, Keith. For now, know how grateful I am to read your words and remember some of the very best and most rewarding years in my career as a Prof.

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