Sunday, February 10, 2013

James Maxwell and Some Personal Redemption

This past week everyone has been sick, including myself.  It's not just been a regular cold either.  It's a pretty nasty one with lots of snot and lots of coughing!  Even the baby has it now which always makes me nervous.  I've had two babies get RSV in the past.  So I've been watching him like a hawk.  This morning I'm home from church with him and Caleb as they convalesce a bit.  Poor little baby needed to get a good nap in his own bed!

I know I promised a post on that chocolate cake.  It simply is divine.  And it will come.  But for now, I'm going to have to shift gears.  Too much has happened since then and I wasn't able to comment on it until now!  The biggest thing going on in our house right now is Steve's final project on mathematician and physicist James Maxwell.  Hang with me here.

Currently Steve is smack dab in the middle of writing his Final Oral Examination Project (a fancy and deceiving way of saying thesis).  Way back when he started at Texas A & M, we thought he wouldn't be doing a thesis but rather a final, cumulative exam.  And boy was he elated.  He doesn't care to write long papers and I don't care to be up late with him cheering him on while he does!  So when he emailed his graduate committee at the beginning of this semester about what he should be studying for his final exam in April, they wrote him back that he had to pick a topic that he didn't have any prior coursework experience in, research it, write it up, present it and then defend it.  That's their oral exam.  So much for not having do a thesis.  Sneaky little devils.

For a week he agonized over it.  He couldn't come up with a topic.  I didn't want to press him about it but I also knew that he needed to decide soon because he only had two months to do it.  And he is also in his last grad school class, he works full-time and has five kids.  I'm hyperventilating just thinking about it all.  After a few conversations, he finally had an idea and it was a good one.

There are two scientists who are personal science heroes of his.  They are Faraday and Maxwell.  Faraday proved the relationship between electricity and magnetism experimentally.  However, he did not have the Math genius to prove it mathematically.  But Maxwell, slightly younger than Faraday, did.  He had both the physics and math genius to tie it all together.  Both were geniuses.  Without them, we wouldn't have electricity, computers, modern day engineering, etc...Maxwell proved Faraday's findings with four partial differential equations.

Being a Physics teacher helps Steve have a good grasp of the physics/engineering behind the problem.  However, so far he has only known about it at a pretty elementary level (think basic bachelor's level physics).  This thesis has opened up the door for him to explore the math at a much more complicated level.  And he is absolutely, positively FASCINATED, riveted and entrenched.  To him, the whole thing is incredibly beautiful.  James Maxwell and his story has enchanted him and I couldn't be happier.  What a great way to go out you know?!  He is really enjoying the project.  Phew!  I am sure I'll still be up with him at the end, helping him shape and edit his paper but at least it will be in something he is totally in love with.

It's also a great topic for him on another level.  It's totally redeeming.  Sometime soon I'll have to explain the journey that my husband has been on over the last ten years regarding his math abilities and schooling.  When he was younger and an undergrad at Cal Poly he did not do well in school.  Not because he couldn't.  There are many reasons including laziness, lack of maturity, etc...But one of the main reasons he did not do well is because he lacked the confidence to really try.  He was too afraid of failing.  Before, school was easy for him so when he got to college and had to put some effort in, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to do it (don't even ask me why!!!) and so he simply thought it would be better to not even try.  That way, when he failed, he at least knew it was because he didn't put an ounce into it rather than him putting his whole self in and still failing.  Of course his logic was faulty because if he would've put in just a bit of work, he would've done amazing.  But don't tell the mathy about logic...ahem.

When I met him, he was pretty much at his lowest point; he was switching out of electrical engineering and into liberal studies (he later switched from that to just pure mathematics which was a much better major for him!).  Anyhow, more on that journey later.  But when I met him, he was in a partial differential equations class and he not only was doing poorly, he was not even on the map.  In fact, he has often told me the story about this low point in his academic career when he happened to see the professor of that class on the bus one day.  The professor said to him, "There are people in the class who are doing poorly and then there is you."  I think that comment still hurts him to this day.  That class came as he hit rock bottom academically speaking.  So it is etched in his mind that he cannot do PDEs (partial differential equations).  And truthfully, even most mathematicians think they are positively horrible to deal with!

But these failure were not at all indicative of his actual abilities.  Time has shown that.  Last summer he had a class that dealt with the mathematical modeling of PDEs and so he had to get over his fears and deal with them.  He worked really hard and succeeded!  And now that he is older, wiser, more mature and much more confident, he has been able to jump in with both feet to tackle a subject with gusto that was insurmountable to him in his youth.

To be honest, it makes me, as his wife, fall on my knees and thank God.  I have labored for years to build confidence in him.  To show him I believe in him and that I love him.  And over time, my belief has slowly morphed into his own.  I'm thankful because it isn't too late for him.  He can still pursue his dreams to be a mathematician.  He can still stretch his mind to the utmost.  And over time, God has worked with him on his character.  And that work, though painful, has enabled him to fly.

So we end on a high note.  James Maxwell.  Electromagnetism.  Michael Faraday.  Partial Differential Equations.

Steve's beauty from ashes.

1 comment:

  1. We're so thankful for you, Nikki. Your encouragement has enabled Steve to see the gifts that God has given him. Love you.