lisa macon: the inspiration of students who defy the odds

BY LISA FISCHER MACON, PHD

As a child, I was often labeled “overachiever,” or, sometimes, “geek.” The term applied depended on who was doing the labeling. None of these semi-derogatory names vexed me in the slightest, because I knew I was going places. I was going to do the big things and, consequently, make the big bucks. I knew this without a doubt and no one dared to contradict me.

Flash forward to the year 1995, and my life was proceeding as planned. Following my BS degree – completed in 3.5 years, thank you very much – and my first master’s degree, I was working in a very exciting, fast-paced environment as a software developer for a highly priced, highly skilled consulting firm. We were doing cutting-edge work for high-profile clients and there was never a dull moment. My paychecks were big and my skill set was growing ever larger.

And I wanted to throw myself out of a fourth-story window every single day.

Here is what they don’t tell you in school – or at least, they didn’t tell you back then. Bosses are demanding and very often, mean. Your best work, which you were taught to produce as a student, is TOO good, and it won’t encourage the clients to call us back in to do more work and pay us more money later on. Profit-oriented business can be cut-throat, painful and completely unfriendly. I was making all the money in the world, but I had no will to spend it and my child was growing up behind my back while I missed most of the experience. It is difficult to explain how much I hated my work environment without resorting to some sort of profanity.

So, I left the business, went into temporary financial ruin, and re-evaluated my situation.

Life can take some strange and interesting routes to get you where you are meant to be. Following certain events such as divorce, moving to another state to sponge off very wonderful parents and learning to deal with single-motherhood, I found myself standing in front of a classroom of somewhat willing yet none-too-eager finite mathematics students at UCF when the thought occurred to me that for the first time in a long time, I was doing something I actually felt good about. And there was icing on the cake – I was getting paid to do it. Not much, mind you. But, still… getting paid, and most importantly, feeling good about it and not at all like jumping out of a window. This, my friends, was progress.

More than 10 years have passed since that day and much has happened. There was a full-time faculty position, a cute Math professor who said, “Will you marry me?”, a dream to complete my PhD fulfilled and a thousand students along the way who made waking up every day worthwhile. So many of them stand out in my mind, and several of them have touched my heart. I’d like to share with you just one story, about a student we will call Evelyn. Evelyn is a mother of four and grandmother of seven. She’s been married three times and is not yet 50 years of age. Five years ago, Evelyn began her studies at Valencia – her first college experience – working toward an AS degree in information technology. My introduction to operating systems course was her first class here at Valencia. Life attacked Evelyn’s dreams of a degree many times, but Evelyn emerged the victor, and she is finishing her last course (poetically, with me) this summer, and is scheduled to graduate in August. When she walks across the stage, I will be there, and no one will be more proud of her and her accomplishments.

Students like Evelyn inspire me in a way that a paycheck never could. Serving as a witness to her perseverance, I learned more than I have in any master’s class. I applaud Evelyn and the myriad students just like her who walk our halls at Valencia every day, making it easy for me and countless other devoted faculty members to get out of bed in the morning and stay away from that window.

Lisa Fischer Macon is a professor of information technology on Valncia’s West Campus. Originally from New York, she has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Hofstra University (1991) and a master’s degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1993). After the winter of 1996, she eagerly became a Floridian and obtained a master’s degree (1999) and PhD (2009) in mathematics from the University of Central Florida. Lisa plays guitar, is an obsessed fan of the New York Mets and New York Giants, and she and her husband Brian have three children.  Lisa has been teaching at Valencia full time since 2000.

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One Response

  1. thanks for posting this text . I’m totally agree with Lisa !!
    I also read Lisa’s PhD thesis and it was wonderful , actually i was doing some research about regular graphs and that thesis directed me nicely !!

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