Suzanne Shaffer on the Slide Rule and Picking Her Battles

Noodle Expert Suzanne Shaffer explains how she fell into college counseling, why she sought chemistry help from a tutor, and the advice her mother gave her that she holds onto to this day.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Billy Graham. He is a giant among Christians and a friend to all the presidents in recent memory. His commitment and his unquestionable values are an inspiration to me. I would like to hear his stories of meeting with the presidents, especially John F. Kennedy. I would like to learn how he has maintained a balanced life and an unending commitment to his work and his followers in spite of his fame and financial success. I also admire his ability to communicate effectively through his writing and speaking.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

My mother told me early in my life as a young mother to “pick my battles.” It has stayed with me in dealing with my children, spouse, and professional contacts. This one piece of advice has saved me from catastrophic confrontations that at the time seemed important, but later were minuscule in the grand scheme of things. The teenage years were more enjoyable because I learned how to pick my battles and saved the conflict for life principles and values.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Europe. These countries offer such a wide variety of experiences and climates. They are, for the most part, tourist-friendly and you can usually find someone who speaks English to help with the language barrier. European countries offer convenient and easily available rail transportation and a wide variety of hostels. The history and the architecture alone are an education in themselves: museums, cathedrals, and historical monuments. A European adventure offers students the chance to gain experience traveling abroad with convenient modes of travel and affordable accommodations.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I was an exceptional student, except when it came to chemistry. Tried as I might, I could not master the chemical elements and all the experiments involved. The slide rule was the bane of my existence. When my first semester grade was published, I was devastated. It was the first C I'd ever received. Instead of settling for the average grade, however, I sought help from a tutor. This was difficult for me, since I had never needed help with any of my classes. From this experience I learned that asking for help was nothing to be ashamed of, and often a necessity to learn and master complicated tasks.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I fell into college counseling quite by accident. Although I was always creative and fancied myself a writer, I never expected to be advising parents about college admissions. After spending a considerable amount of time learning about the process with my own children, I began offering advice to family and friends. They suggested others could benefit from my expertise. The best part of this career field is that I can offer counseling and advice and also pursue what I love — writing.

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