I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, and I had just gotten back into school after flunking out my freshman year, so I thought I was ready to get serious, but I wasn’t exactly confident about my prospects. I took a course on African-American Music & Literature with Craig Werner, and for the first time, a light went on. He played songs I was listening to on my own time, and showed me how to find the deeper meaning and connect it to a larger meta-narrative that was all around me.

For the first time I saw that the world was far more connected, and complex, than I’d previously imagined. The stories we read opened up new worlds for me, and tapped into my innate curiosity about people, culture and identity. Professor Werner challenged me to fulfill my own intellectual potential, in ways that made me work harder than I’d ever worked as a student. Because of his class, I discovered that I really loved to learn, and that it was possible to combine all of my passions. And I decided to become an educator largely because I wanted to give other people the gift that he had given me.