It is never impossible to do well


Contributors: Ashley Manalel and Tam Nguyen

With a warm and friendly smile, Dr. Mary Tam welcomed us into her cozy office located in Roop Hall. After a few introductions, she had no hesitation in sharing with us her very honest and sincere thoughts on being a part of the James Madison University community.

Dr. Tam is a passionate Chemistry professor whose goal is not simply to teach her students the knowledge of the subject. “I want to change the students’ perspective towards chemistry,” she shared. Through her lectures and step by step instruction, Dr. Tam seeks to prove to her students that while chemistry is undoubtedly difficult, it is never impossible to do well. Interestingly, her favorite type of students is the C-range student. When asked why, she replied that her “teaching hobby” is to create very close relationships with these students and give them an encouraging push. Dr. Tam acts with the purpose of helping students believe in themselves so that they can achieve academic success.

My favorite classroom size is just over a hundred students. I like the challenge of trying to know as many students as possible on a personal level. Students usually don’t know their professors very well outside of the classroom setting,” Dr. Tam shared. Her success in this goal is clearly illustrated at the end of the semester; approximately half of the students in these large classrooms are able to foster a close relationship with Dr. Tam. This is the primary reason of her decision to be a part of the JMU community.

Biology Professor Dr. Mary Tam

Teaching has always been one of Dr. Tam’s dreams, and she wanted a place that was neither too far from her home nor too small in size. James Madison University, with its large student body and beautiful surroundings was a perfect match. Dr. Tam has been working as a chemistry professor at JMU for the past six years, and specifically as the Science coordinator of the Science and Math Learning Center (SMLC) for five years. While two different focuses in a career may seem hectic for some, Dr. Tam joyfully states “I have a job that no other has. I have my dream job.” 

A typical work day for her begins with teaching one chemistry class in the Phys/Chem building on east campus. Afterwards she goes directly to Roop Hall on west campus where her work shifts to coordinating the SMLC, tutoring students and also mentoring tutors. “My typical work day is not the same every day, but it is relatively the same every week,” she said. When discussing the commute from one end of campus to the other, we found that Dr. Tam is in much agreement with the students when she expressed her least favorite aspect of campus:

The gates! That is my least favorite about this place. The gates!

While we laughed and agreed that something should be done to resolve the issue we found it interesting that the gates affect professor commute just as much as they do with student commute. When asked about her favorite part of campus, Dr. Tam simply replied with one word: “connections”. She loves having the opportunity to build connections with many different types of students and to be able to positively change their views on chemistry. “You don’t have to love chemistry.” she said, “but you need to at least have an appreciation for this subject.”

Dr. Tam carries the same zeal she has for teaching through her hobbies outside of work; she is very passionate about spreading her Christian faith onto her children. In addition Dr. Tam shows a deep interest in adopting and rescuing greyhounds. She shared with us that people race this specific breed of dogs, and after they age and/or lose the ability to race, they are at risk to be euthanized, unless a loving, adopting home is found to rescue them. With the amount of knowledge and passion she shows when explaining this issue, it is undeniable that she loves dogs. When we asked Dr. Tam for her one piece of advice to students at JMU, she replied:

Each person is capable of more than they think they can do.

She cannot be more right. Students often have a limited mindset in their potential to succeed and it is necessary to erase this illusion. With her passion for others both in and out of the classroom, it was transparent that Dr. Tam is a very kind, welcoming and insightful professor at JMU. Through the many relationships she forms with her students, Dr. Tam emulates the LINK program’s motto of making connections with others. 

[Insights are a series of blogs written by
our globally minded LINKers and occasional guest writers
about their own JMU experiences. Click here to read more insights]

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Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2017

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