Dr. Hirt and Dr. Maitland Share Learning Hacks with Students

Pictured right to left: Dr. Sam Hirt, Dr. Sarah Maitland

Professors Sam Hirt and Sarah Maitland shared their experiences about learning how to think and how to use challenging times as opportunities to stand out in Friday’s forum at Southern Virginia University.

Dr. Sam Hirt, associate provost and assistant professor of biology, shared his perspective on how college is a “time to shine.” He explained that while college can be fun, it can also be one of the hardest times in a student’s life, as students are “under immense pressure, stress, expectations, responsibilities [and] relationships.”

Although this point in a student’s life can often be lonely, unfamiliar and strange, Dr. Hirt also noted that these times can provide some of the greatest opportunities to “shine” through one’s personal learning and growth by overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.

To illustrate his point, Dr. Hirt shared one of his own college experiences. After returning from a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Winnipeg, Canada, Dr. Hirt expected to excel in college. However, despite attending every class, taking notes, having an interest in the subject and loving his professors, he struggled with getting good grades.

“The worst part about it,” he explained, “was I didn’t understand why I wasn’t doing well. So, if hardships are a great time to shine, this was a time for me.”

Knowing that education was going to be fundamental to his career goals, he decided something needed to change. After befriending some pre-med students, he observed how they studied and realized what he was missing. His friends met in the same part of the library every day, spent hours studying until they could explain concepts in detail as if they were the professors and were always sharing what they learned with each other.

“It dawned on me. They were nerds,” said Dr. Hirt. “They had fallen in love with a subject that wasn’t necessarily popular. I came to the realization that if I wanted to do well, I was going to have to do what they were doing.”

After adopting the same study habits, he found himself falling in love with the subject and achieving much higher grades. Dr. Hirt explained that he and his friends, like most people, were not geniuses, but it was the amount of effort and time put in that made a difference in learning.

“College, and especially Southern Virginia University," he said, "is designed for you to succeed when you put in the time and the effort and develop a love for your learning.”

Dr. Sarah Maitland, assistant professor of English, spoke to students about the importance of learning how to think.

“Knowing things is really great, but not as important as knowing how to think about things,” she said. “They are actually two totally different things.”

According to Dr. Maitland, in order to understand something complex, you must first understand how to think about it.

She elaborated by using the example of poet William Wordsworth, who theorized about the development of thought “from the moment you encounter any kind sensory experience to the moment that you learned how to think in some productive way about that experience.”

Upon thinking about the space between the encounter and the emotional reaction, Wordsworth concluded that through self-awareness, one can reflect and think, “Do I want to feel that way about that thing? And if I don’t, what do I want to feel instead?”

“I hope that’s what education does,” said Dr. Maitland. “Not just helps us know things, but teaches us to think about them, in a way that is useful to us and the world around us, in a way that we can be changed by and in a way that can change other people. That’s what I love about teaching, and it’s what I especially love about teaching here at Southern Virginia.”