Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Emily on 21-11-2012

I am supposed to write about what frustrates me. So here it goes.

Getting into arguments with my parents is something that frustrates me. It’s like this: I love you guys, but sometimes you drive me crazy. Which is one of the reasons I don’t live with them anymore. So, now I am back in their house for Thanksgiving, and we are already not getting along. My parents were working on a home fixer-upper project when I came over, and my dad was annoyed that he couldn’t find one of his favorite sweatshirts. I tried to help, which ended up backfiring, because my mom wanted me to do something for her at the exact same time. I can’t be at two places at once. We all ended up bickering at each other.  Why is it that the people you love the most seem to irritate you the most?

I am having an R.E.M. marathon. It is helping me to study. Listening to music can be a great escape from reality.

Anyway, my dad just went to his boat storage place so he can have his “mancave” time. He brought his favorite tools-wrenches, his brand new soddering gun, and a lot of other somewhat familiar but I-don’t-know-what-they-are-for type things.  It’s a part of my dad’s life I still don’t quite get. He and I have talked about it. It’s been his life-long dream, for the past 40 years, to build a boat and sail it down the Mississippi River. He loves working on his boat, not having to deal with anyone interupting his solitude.

The thing about frustration is that, for me at least, it comes it small spurts. It doesn’t last forever, even when I feel like it does. I have to remember not to fixate on what is frustrating me at the time, not let it get ahold of me. I can’t pretend anymore, like I did when I was little, that life will and should go exactly the way I want it.



Cats make me happy. I don’t own any cats (my landlord doesn’t allow pets), but I am going to have a cat in the future. If and when I get married, my husband must love cats. When we are dating, if he thinks they’re just ok, or he detests them, we probably won’t have very many dates in the future. Yes, I’m obsessed with cats.

I have seen the musical Cats  twice, the first time in Des Moines during a February blizzard. I love cats. I love it that they are everywhere, whether they are real cats, cats in books, cartoon cats, cats on slippers, cats on pajamas, cat calendars, cats on tv, cats in movies, cats in plays or in mewsicals. Meow! Here are some famous cats: Garfield, Hobbes, Tom Kitten, Moppet, Mittens, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser, Mooch (from the comic strip Mutts), Hello Kitty, the Cat in the Hat.

My love of cats began when I was in second grade. I drew them in the margins of my homework assignments. Today, when professors pass around the attendance sheet, I often sign my name with a cat next to it. It’s kind of like my trademark. I don’t mind standing out in this way; I think the cats add whimsy to an otherwise ho-hum list of signatures.

The reasons I love cats are many. I love it when they curl themselves into a ball on your lap, kneed their paws into wherever they are about to sit down, tuck in their paws underneath their fuzzy tummies. I love kittens and their playfulness.

When I was in fourth grade, my mom made me a cat Halloween costume. I had fuzzy, velvety black ears with pink inside, fuzzy black little paws and a long fuzzy black tail. I loved it so much, I wore it in fifth grade, too. My classmates made fun of me, but I didn’t care. My need to embrace my catness trumped any of their opinions.

As I was going into middle school, my parents became concerned that I was too obsessed with cats. They were afraid that people would make fun of me if pretended to be a cat at school. This idea was way over my head-being succeptible to others’ criticisms. I felt that I was in two worlds-my own, and everyone else’s. There were times when it was easier to be in my own world-lots of anthropomphic creatures, a utopia of sorts. I gave objects voices. I still do. Today, it is more accurate to say that feel like I am in two places at once, with my feet on either side of both worlds.

While still puzzled by my cat-loving behavior, my mom stumbled upon an article talking about a young person with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. She thought that the person seemed, “just like Emily”. Soon after that, I started to get pulled out of class to work with a speech therapist. We had a lot of fun-I got to talk about cats, and write about Harry Potter. She was so nice, but I was mystified as to why I was there.

After I was officially diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in May of 2000, we were given answers to questions that had so long been asked. My parents’ concerns for me changed. There was a scary, new world that we were about to explore-special education, iep’s, accommodations, AEA specialists. My teachers in middle school were not prepared to face this world either. They didn’t seem to know much about autism.  The idea that a student could have an iep (individualized education plan) but still be in all regular education classes was completely foreign to them. I was the Martian among the Earthlings.

A few years ago, a book was written titled All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome. It was so cute! The book explains how many cat behaviors, such as prefering activities alone rather than in groups and having very particular eating habits, are similar to human behaviors in autism. I wonder if this is related to my love of cats. I’m not sure.

Well, it has been fun talking about cats and how it relates to my autism. Meow, purr! >”<

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Emily on 08-11-2012

Larry Sensenig answers a student’s question about the Premack’s Principle. “I call it “Grandma’s rule: If you eat your broccoli, you get dessert. A subject is motivated to do something in order to get what they want. How does this relate to what your rats have been experiencing?”

It is a Friday afternoon, at precisely 2:10 p.m. Sensenig’s Learning and Memory psychology class of about 20 students is reviewing questions to prepare for their upcoming rat paper. The students participate in labs, where they have been given the responsibility to practice classical and operational conditioning techniques on white lab rats.

Surprisingly, very few students have their laptops open. Most of them take hand written notes. The few students who are using their computers are typing their notes. Sensenig has mastered the art of keeping his students captivated and not distracted by their computers and cell phones. One way he does this is in his use of humor. While giving examples of Hull’s Drive Reduction Theory, he lists basic drives that people have: food, water, shelter… “College students don’t have those, do they?” he asks with a chuckle. The class giggles in response.

Sensenig is quite tall, standing at about 6”2, with gray hair sprinkled with white. He has a white goatee, a gray moustache and very dark, thick eyebrows. In the pocket of his collared, button-plaid shirt is a pen. He wears glasses, khaki pants with a brown belt and dark brown shoes. If I didn’t already know who Larry was, I would assume he was a doctor rather than a professor.

When asked about the challenges he faces in teaching, Sensenig says that technology is a big one. “It’s been hard to keep up with advancements in technology. There are generational differences-I’m not as comfortable with technology like Powerpoint and Moodle as the younger professors or my students are. I don’t think that technology is not the secret to being a good teacher.  I don’t like to confront students about inappropriate use of technology.”

“I’ve never come to work thinking, “Oh, I hate my job,” Sensenig tells me. He didn’t set out to become a teacher. When Sensenig was an undergraduate at Bradley University, he wanted to go to graduate school for psychology. “There were two different paths I could take: either do psychology research, or teach psychology. I was told that teaching was a lot more satisfying,” he says. Sensenig is in his 39th year of teaching; he began at Morningside in 1974. “I was very nervous on my first day of teaching, especially when I was meeting students,” he says. “My favorite part of my job is watching students grow in their knowledge and expertise, and to realize I’ve been a part of that.”

Sensenig’s love of psychology goes beyond the classroom. He has been the faculty advisor for Psy Chi, the national honors society for psychology since 1975. Morningside’s chapter began in 1939 and was the 34th in the nation. “It gets the students active and enthused. It’s the highest undergraduate association for psychology.” Psych Follies, a psychology group exclusive to Morningside, started in 1993. “Psych Follies is run by the students who are “movers and shakers”. It it sponsored by the psychology department. Students and faculty make light hearted fun of each other,” Sensenig says.

Jessica Pleuss, a 2002 Morningside graduate, is a psychology professor who is now a collegue of Sensenig’s. I ask her what the biggest difference is between being his advisee and being one of his fellow professors. “I call him “Larry” instead of “Dr. Sensenig,” she says. Pleuss recalls a time when she was a student. “It was his birthday. I found a picture of him when he had just started back in the 70’s. He had big hair-a fro! It was not flattering,” she says, laughing. She brought the picture to a Psych Follies event. Sensenig thought it was funny.

Another way Sensenig defies the stereotyped “professor” is that he avoids using a monotone voice.  He speaks smoothly, with good pitch variations. His voice conveys the enthusiasm and passion he has for his students’ learning and the subject he teaches. After the class is done, I speak with Victoria Dentler, from Omaha, whose rat’s name is Cheesy. “He cares about us. He connects to his students,” she said. Kelsey Strohbehn, who named her rat “Ratatouille”, agrees. “He’s a pretty fun professor. You can tell he really loves the rats.”

I ask Sensenig about his plans for retirement. “I want to travel, especially in the fall. I want to go to Louisiana, London and go scuba diving. John Pinto and I go fishing in the boundary waters. Maybe we’ll go in September instead of June.” I ask him about what he will miss most about his job. “I’ll miss social interaction with collegues and students. I’ll miss coming to work every day. It’s an important part of one’s life.”

Sensenig will miss the joys of his work, but he looks forward to retirement with a positive attitude. “I see retirement as writing a new chapter in my life.”