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By Dr. Harry Tennant

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Monday, January 23, 2012

In Mr. Hruby's Closet

I think that one of the most formative experiences in my high school years was second semester physics in my junior year. My family moved from Detroit to Chicago in January of my junior year. It happened the the material my physics class had covered in Detroit in the first semester was what would be covered in the second semester in Chicago and vice versa. So my teacher, Mr. Hruby, installed me in the equipment closet at the front of the room to study waves, optics, thermodynamics and other topics on my own while the rest of the class outside the closet covered the material I had already had. He would check on me, provide guidance, answer questions and give me tests but I felt largely on my own.

I felt on my own but I know I wasn't. Mr. Hruby's guidance was no doubt crucial. A couple of years before I was persuaded by a classmate that Algebra II was a waste of time. He said that if I just studied some over the summer I could take a placement test in the fall and skip Algebra II. So I studied through the summer, took the test in the fall and failed miserably. Without the kind of guidance Mr. Hruby would later give me in physics, my independent study yielded less than successful results.

A year and a half after my semester in Mr. Hruby's closet, when I entered the University of Illinois, I enrolled as a physics student. The independent study in Mr. Hruby's closet got me excited about physics and learning on my own. I also believe that the experience was part of the reason that I went on to graduate school, eventually earning a PhD. If you're going to succeed in grad school in science and if you're going to do research afterward, you need to have the skills and the desire for self-directed study.

I fell in love with self-directed study in Mr. Hruby's closet with Mr. Hruby's help.

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