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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Tuesdays with Ellen

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Tuesdays With,” a program based on the premise of the novel “Tuesdays With Morrie,” brings a professor from Brandeis into close proximity with students as they tell the tale of their lives and what brought them to Brandeis. “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Brandeis alum Mitch Albom ’79 is a famous non-fiction novel, topping the New York Times Bestsellers list in 2000. It describes Albom and his interactions with an aging former sociology professor at Brandeis, Morrie Schwartz, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. These interactions, which started out quite awkwardly, resulted in a true bond between the two men despite the very different stages in their life cycles.“Tuesdays with Morrie” is relatable and touching; it features Schwartz reminiscing on his life and the lessons Albom learns from him.

In this same vein, “Tuesdays With” is a program sponsored by Academic Services designed to have professors speak about their lives. This past Tuesday, Ellen Wright (PSYC) spoke. She is a well-known psychology professor teaching Intro to Psychology, Adolescence and Transition to Maturity, and Research Methods.

The great benefit of “Tuesdays With” is that it humanizes professors. The classes Wright teaches all have more than 50 students, with her intro course having almost 200 students, making it difficult to have a personal relationship with her since she is shared among numerous students. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to separate professors from the material they are teaching. Students often view professors as just the pathway to knowledge—that they are merely machines and not humans.

“Tuesdays With” combats all of this in a very intimate setting. Wright was able to explain all the twists and turns of her life, painting herself as a very vivacious person while still imparting wisdom.

Because of her importance in our community, it seems as though Wright has been at Brandeis her entire adult life. It seems that the opposite is true, however, because she has been here for only a short span of six years in which she wasn’t even initially involved in studying psychology. The daughter of an Air Force pilot turned minister, Wright lived a sheltered life in Colorado. She loved biology and was interested in becoming a veterinarian until she realized that she was incapable of euthanizing the animals. She “dabbled” in college, majoring in biology and taking classes she thought were interesting, eventually ending up as a teacher. She described the horrors of inner city schools, where students would threaten to rape her and she would pray for their absences on the attendance list.

While taking psychology classes during a summer, she soon fell in love with the subject and eventually went to grad school. She studied depression and its effect on women, taking an internship in the Boston area and going on to teach at Simmons. Her husband left his post at Brandeis to write his novel about the state of America’s health care, inspiring her to transition to Brandeis. Wright claims she loves the Brandeis community, commending the school for the fine liberal arts education it offers.

The benefits of “Tuesdays With” are apparent. I discovered information about Wright that never would have been available in her large lecture classes and facts that made me understand more of the person she is. For example, after college she toured for nine months with a Christian band, singing alongside her brother. While it may seem that she is all knowledgeable and capable, she too has human faults: It took her a large amount of time to finish her dissertation. Wright also imparted wisdom that could be applied to anyone else’s life, true to the spirit of “Tuesdays With Morrie.” She believes that you can live to work, or work to live, because both cases are acceptable, but it is wise to pick the one that would make you happier. She advises students to dabble a little in all subjects and types of work because a person does not have to be stuck doing something they don’t want to do. Per her example, switching jobs many times doesn’t keep a person from leading a successful, happy life. Wright does seem to have finally found her niche: She claims to love teaching because it gives her the greatest rewards and the chance to make a difference.

At this week’s “Tuesday’s With” event, there were very few students in attendance. Members of Academic Services are proposing to shut the series down eventually since such a small amount of the student body seems to be taking advantage of it. Students should start showing up. Not only does the program bring the spirit of “Tuesdays With Morrie” to our campus, where the book originated, but it also allows students to get to know their professors on a basic, human level and learn knowledge from them that is impossible to get from a textbook.