David R.M. Scott
On one especially bleak Seattle afternoon soon after completing two-thirds of my sophomore year, I sat in quiet terror waiting to see the academic dean for the College of Forestry (now Forest Resources). Like some abandoned breached vessel, my cumulated grade-point average had steadily deteriorated since my first quarter at the UW and it now had slipped beneath the 2.0 surface of acceptability. Flunking out seldom promotes positive feelings of self-worth and hopefulness, but in the mid-1960s it also guaranteed the loss of a student deferment and the possibility of a tour of Southeast Asia courtesy of the U.S. government and accompanied with its own dark uncertainty. After an appropriate time for reflection I was ushered in to meet Dr. David Robert Main Scott, the man with whom I was to eventually complete a Ph.D.
Fortunately, on that day in Anderson Hall I met not just an academic dean and college professor, but an educator with insights and qualities fitting a top-ranked academic institution such as the UW. Yes, it was within his authority to grant reinstatement, thereby giving me another chance at college life, but Dave Scott did much more for me on that fateful day. Along with academic forgiveness this friendly, unassuming, and non-judgmental individual praised my latent capabilities and encouraged me to modify my approach to school. His hope was to have professors welcome, rather than dread, my decision to take their classes and to have them expect me to end up at the top of their grade curve rather than the bottom. Of course, this would require a major attitude change and much more discipline on my part, but he knew I was capable of meeting this challenge. I left with a newfound confidence ready to tackle another 10 weeks of higher education.
Shortly after our friendly chat I found myself, UW notebook in hand, sitting in Dr. Scott's introductory forest ecology class with about 50 other hopefuls. And what we witnessed that quarter has stayed with me for decades. Image the appropriately attired college prof, adjustable glasses tilted skyward, carefully building a complex ecological argument along with a hand-rolled cigarette, a struck match ignites both, and the take-home message is delivered simultaneously with the initial puff of exhaled smoke. Sometimes such crescendos were orchestrated within a column of sunlight stemming from an overhead skylight, which provided a level of divine acceptance to his words of wisdom. Of course, public smoking was more widely accepted in those days, but I am sure that today's students would be no less awestruck and inspired by such a scene than we were over 30 years ago. For the first time in my college career, I understood the difference between those who lecture and stifle interest and those who teach and arouse lifelong learning. One day during that course I discovered a role model and secretly decided to become a college professor. Somewhat to my surprise, and certainly to the puzzlement of friends and family, A's and B's replaced my typical mediocre grades that term and Jim Lassoie's future changed forever.
I became a "DRMS groupie," but quickly found out I was not alone. This professor befriended many a lost undergraduate and helped scores of us survive the trauma of college as we prepared for successful professional careers. His confidence in our collective abilities was notably unshaken and widely recognized. I spent the rest of my undergraduate experience surrounded by classmates with their own stories. My own dream began to materialize when Dr. Scott asked if I was interested in an undergraduate summer research internship focused on interesting capable students in pursuing graduate school--finally, I was able to publicly articulate my hopes for a faculty position one day. I entered the UW's Graduate School in 1968 and eventually became one of the almost 100 master's and doctoral students who eventually finished their advanced studies under the tutelage of Doc Scott. My mentor remained a supportive and positive force in my education throughout another tortuous personal and professional period of time for me. Near the end of 1974, he remarked at my final dissertation seminar that his interactions with me had spanned over half of his UW career. Well, they had spanned all of mine! I then began my professional moves eastward leaving Doc to continue his educational magic until retiring at the end of 1988. We still see each other now and then.
I am now exactly where I had hoped to be when I sat through introductory forest ecology many years ago. I have students of my own and have become well known for the helpful and caring way I contribute to their education. I can easily trace my success to my days as a UW student and what I learned thanks to Dave Scott--facts and figures certainly, but also an approach to higher education that is missing from pedagogic texts. Doc always said that his job as an educator was to ignite the interest to learn in students and give them the freedom and confidence to educate themselves. I hope he knows how successful he was with this job.
James P. Lassoie, '68, '75
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