Thinking beyond the possible?

Boosting the CWRU community

Heather O'Keeffe

Unless you are a completely unaware individual who spends 100 percent of free time with their noses crammed in textbooks, you probably know that Case Western Reserve University’s motto is “Think beyond the possible.” According to a quaint video on CWRU’s homepage, this means “asking new questions” and “imagining what’s never been.”

This is certainly true for many aspects of the CWRU community. Simply glance at The Daily and you’ll read stories of students landing awesome internships or professors doing groundbreaking research with the aims of finding a cure for cancer.

With a motto like “Think beyond the possible,” one might tend to believe that members of the CWRU community are always ready to face problems head on and find creative solutions that best meet the problem’s needs.

This semester however, while a professor of mine develops nanotechnology for targeted drug delivery, I ran across a series of linear thinkers.

This coming January, I am hopping on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa, for a year of studying abroad at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In preparation I have had to apply for a visa, get vaccinations, and easily the most difficult of all: Attain course approval for the courses I want to take abroad, so that the classes I take at UCT will count when I return to CWRU in a year’s time.

As a biomedical engineering student going to a university that does not offer my major, I knew that getting course approval would be tricky. Thus, I put my compromise hat on and began preparing different scenarios.

I wasn’t expecting the roadblocks I received from the very professors whose creative thinking is changing the world. Here I was just trying to “think beyond the possible” and study abroad while still graduating in four years, and professors were telling me I was going about the course approval process all wrong. It was as if some were throwing their hands in their air: They didn’t think I could possibly go abroad for so long. The lack of willingness to compromise greatly frustrated me. I understand circuits is an important class but if going abroad for a year will be a greater benefit to my future career, can’t we just say the UCT course is good enough?

I ran into similar problems within the Cleveland medical industry. After two surgeries and over 16 months of knee pain, instability and troubles, I was desperate for answers and more importantly, solutions.

First I saw the Case Orthopedics division within University Hospitals, and saw doctors closely affiliated with the CWRU School of Medicine. They recommended I wait and see if things got better, a month later they offered the same advice. Rarely is waiting the answer. Furthermore, isn’t the definition of insanity trying the same thing over and over expecting a new result? Was it too much for me to expect that after years of school and over a decade with a world-renowned hospital, my doctor would put his thinking cap on and give me a better solution than resting?

Finally, in my math class a few weeks ago, our professor divided us into groups to work on our triple integration homework. I came to a different answer than my peers and accepted the majorities’ consensus, but I wanted to know why my attempt was unsuccessful. I persisted in asking my classmates until I understood the error of my ways; it’s not enough to accept the correct answer, it’s best if you truly understand the process. So, I pestered my peers, until someone finally spoke up and helped me out.

While there is much thinking at CWRU done beyond the possible, I would argue that the scope of this thinking is limited to traditional academics and research. Perhaps there is too much pride stored in the academics and research at CWRU? As soon as someone pushes the boundary outside the classroom or lab does the thinking beyond the possible stop?

As the semester comes to a close and 2013 winds the corner, I urge you to “think beyond the possible” in every aspect of your life. Not just the amount of information you can cram before a test or the research position you are gunning for. If you want to study abroad, spend more time volunteering, take up a new hobby or put your homework on hold and explore more of Cleveland, do it. Just because med school looks for a perfect grade point average and professors strongly encourage lab experience, doesn’t mean we have to heed their every word. This is college, you only do it once, so start exploring and find your own possible to think beyond.

Heather O’Keeffe is a second year student studying biomedical engineering and sports medicine. Her suite is full of over 120 balloons and on January 27 she will say deuces to America as she boards a nonstop flight to Cape Town.