Steven K. McCoy's Story
General Studies, '84
In the fall of 1982, I began my first semester at Williamsport Area Community College. I was a General Studies major, and my plan was to earn my associate degree and then transfer to Lock Haven University to earn my baccalaureate degree in Secondary Education. I wanted to be a social studies teacher. I was carrying 16 credits that semester, and the class that I knew I would like the most (and I was absolutely sure that I would “knock out of the park”), was American National Government.
After taking the first test, however, I was disappointed to discover that I had earned a grade of “C.” The instructor was Professor G. Robert Kissell. I remember Professor Kissell telling the class that no one had done especially well on the test, and that each of us should find some time to meet with him during his office hours to discuss our performance.
“You know, just because a rookie football player has a bad first game, it doesn’t mean he won’t ultimately be a Heisman Trophy winner.”
As a first-year college student, I was apprehensive about seeing my instructor during office hours. To make matters worse, I truly thought I had aced the test. I recall walking to Professor Kissell’s office with a range thoughts running through my mind: “This was mostly a multiple choice test - how could I possibly have messed up a multiple choice test? Maybe I’m not really cut out to be a teacher after all.”
When I sat down with Professor Kissell, we reviewed each of the questions that I had missed. Beginning with the first question, he asked me to explain my rationale in choosing my answer. After I explained, he let me know that, although my reasoning was sound, I needed to re-read the question and consider whether my choice completely addressed every aspect of the question. Very quickly, I came to realize that I had not been deliberative enough in considering the questions. I also realized that every choice was correct to a certain degree, but there was only one choice that best answered the question in totality. I made a mental note - Professor Kissell was clearly a master craftsman when it came to multiple choice questions!
As we were wrapping up our meeting, I expressed my thanks and let Professor Kissell know that my performance on the test had initially made me wonder whether I “had what it took” to navigate my way through college and reach my goal of being a Social Studies teacher. Bob Kissell, well known as an avid sports enthusiast, gave one of his classic sports analogies: “You know, just because a rookie football player has a bad first game, it doesn’t mean he won’t ultimately be a Heisman Trophy winner.” He also reiterated the fact that the class grades overall were lower than he had expected. After taking a moment to look at his gradebook, he smiled and said, “Well, it looks like the highest grade in the class on this one was a “C,” and a student by the name of McCoy got it. I think you’ll be fine, just be more careful.”
Even now, I can’t help but smile as I recall his reply and the generosity of spirit that came with it. Bob Kissell proved to be one of the best instructors I had during my entire college career. I achieved my goal of earning my baccalaureate degree and taught briefly at the secondary level. Ultimately, I came full circle, spending most of my career at Penn College.
Now more than 30 years later, in my current role as an academic skills specialist, I work with first-year students in similar situations every day. I think about Bob Kissell often, and I’m very conscious of how that seemingly inconsequential conversation helped to shape me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I owe much to him, as well as many other outstanding educators that I came to know at Williamsport Area Community College. I’m privileged to work with a couple of those same people still today, and I think that Bob Kissell would be pleased to know that we’re still encouraging, equipping and producing those Heisman Trophy winners!