Next fall, one of my closest friends at Ohio State will begin the long and arduous task of earning a doctorate in something chemistry related. Another will begin pursuing his in biological anthropology. My younger sister’s favorite part of the school day? Her AP Chemistry class.
Me? Well, I am a perfectly content and successful student in communication. In March, I will receive my diploma and journey out into the real world with no foreseeable plans to do anything related to science. And yet, in my very last quarter, I am enrolled in Chemistry 101 and I kind of love it.
The hallmark of a true liberal arts education is the requirement that students take courses from a breadth of disciplines. For the most part, I appreciate it. I took an incredible course on civil liberties. I got to channel my inner Aaron Sorkin in a second writing course called “Criticizing Television.” Fulfillment of the foreign language requirement inspired me to complete a minor in Spanish. The liberal arts have been good to me. But I have been dreading my lab science, which is why it is not so surprising that I put it off until I couldn’t any longer.
On the first day of chemistry, my lecturer told all 275 of us that this would be the hardest class we ever take. If she was trying to weed me out, it was working. Then she said something that included the phrase, “All of you freshmen.” How embarrassing. Far removed from my high school chemistry class, I sat there wide-eyed and dumbfounded as every single voice in the lecture hall except my own recited in unison the three states of matter. I was thoroughly panicked.
The first chemistry lab was stressful. The first homework assignment impossible. But there was something about the delight in my sister’s voice as she walked me through the steps of dimensional analysis (a personal favorite of hers) that made it all seem just slightly more bearable. I started finding success in the class. And then it got fun. Certainly not because of the 8:30 a.m. lectures, but because of the labs spent observing chemical reactions and solving for the missing piece of the puzzle. And because of the opportunity to become even closer to my sister as she tutors me and shares her pure joy for the science while I inspire some jealousy because she thinks my labs are so much cooler than hers.
My chemistry friend and I have never wanted for conversation, but now we have even more to talk about. I can make lame jokes about supersaturated resumes and he daydreams about an odd alternate reality in which I discover my chemistry “talents” early enough to become his study buddy.
So, liberal arts gods, listen up. I don’t say this often, but I was wrong and you were very much right. I can’t say what practical good it will do me that I have hand-crafted tin oxide, but I do know that my undergraduate education and my life are fuller for it.